Anxiety and Panic Attacks
A “Panic Attack." Two tiny words that so accurately describe what actually happens when you experience one. You feel panic and you can feel like you are under attack from an unknown source.
Having personally experienced literally hundreds of these monsters during a two year period in my early 20’s, that’s what it felt like to me, that both my body and my mind were under attack, and after each one abated, I felt a little more damaged than before.
Back then, I'd never heard of a panic attack and I genuinely thought that I was slowly going mad. It was utterly petrifying when they happened and the fear that I would get another one would absolutely guarantee that I DID get another one! It got to the point where I was having them throughout the entire day. My life was becoming unrecognisable and the attacks were making my life smaller each week because I was scared I was going to have one literally anywhere that I went. It wasn't until I had a complete meltdown one day when I'd been unable to get on the train to work for what felt like the 1000th time that I eventually went to my GP. Thankfully, he was absolutely lovely and told me I was experiencing panic attacks and depression (caused by trying to cope on my own with them for such a long time).
Once I knew what a panic attack was, and that I wasn't going to die from having one, I was able to free myself of them by learning what they were. I came to understand that the physical side of an attack was my body’s natural reaction to a perceived fear in my mind. I eventually learnt that the fear came from past fears and beliefs from my childhood that were now replaying in my adult life. I was going through a huge amount of change at the time and although the changes were all good and exciting, they were completely outside of my comfort zone and the less confident mind of my younger self was the one having the meltdown, even though my 21 year old self was having the time of her life!
It's still amazing to me that our unconscious mind can set off such a petrifying catalogue of physical effects that can gradually take over every area of your life.
Things gradually returned to a more acceptable kind of “normal” for me, and although I managed to stop having the actual panic attacks, I still experienced anxiety, the loyal friend that always accompanied my panic. Even to this day, I can still feel anxiety when I am going through periods of change. However, these days, anxiety is a familiar "friend" I have learnt to live with and it doesn't stop me from doing the things I want to do.
I want to reassure anyone who is experiencing panic attacks that with therapy and support, they CAN be overcome, you are most definitely NOT going mad and life CAN get back to normal. Although your experience will be different from mine, and the reasons for your attacks will be different from mine, the physical symptoms will have a familiar pattern that you will no doubt recognise.
Take a look at this page on the MIND website that lists the symptoms of a panic attack - I'm sure you'll be able to recognise quite a few.
If you would like to try counselling as a way to understand why you get them and how to deal with them, then I would love to hear from you. Although I have a good understanding of what it's like to experience panic attacks, I will be listening to your story, how panic attacks are affecting your life and helping you to get a deeper understanding of where your anxiety stems from. Awareness of how you think and feel about different areas of your life is the key to reducing your anxiety, hopefully freeing you of panic attacks and accepting that you can still live a content and peaceful life alongside anxiety. Here's my Contact Details if you'd like to get in touch.
In the meantime, here’s a creative piece I wrote to describe my past experience of Panic Attacks.
Panic at the Disco
A normal day was to become the way that you’d show me what you could do
Me fine one minute, happy and calm, the next petrified, utterly, utterly petrified Of what? I hadn’t a clue
It was just “you.”
That way you would finger your fear up my neck, tightening my scalp like a Dagenham Facelift
Squeezing my head with a vice like grip until my head felt light and I thought I just might.... pass out
‘Cos my heart, it would start to rave wildly in my chest
Like panic at the disco – utter chaos playing to a chaotic beat under my breast
A tune I’d come to dread and fear because when you were near
I could hear the rate of my heart
I would start to breathe in such an unnatural way that it has left a scar to this very day
The memory of you can still squeeze my lungs so tightly when stressed
But you no longer have the power to control me so lightly
That breathing. God, it was like I’d just run a 100 meter sprint but from the safety of my own chair - I hadn’t run anywhere
But I felt like I wanted to run like Forest Gump and never look back - I just never knew what the hell it was I wanted to run away from? You? Me?
That answer didn’t come for another 20 odd years but that’s another story that will only take the glory away from your 15 minutes of fame. I digress!
So the cherry on top of the cake that is you
Was the obsession I built with needing the loo!
I just had to be where I could see it
Me and Armitage Shanks became lovers, I’d sneak in to see him to hide from the others
Who didn’t feel like they were losing their mind
With him in full view I felt safe. Safe from what?
I had no idea, that bit was always unclear but he sheltered me from the perceived fear
And I’d sit there and I waited til the panic abated and I could leave without shaking and go back to faking that I was perfectly fine, fine FINE!
I lived through those years waiting for something JUST SO TERRIBLE to happen
In the most innocent of places full of kind faces
In my head, I just knew that if I didn’t get off that train
Out of that shop, off that plane
Out of that lift, out of that restaurant, then that would be it, I’d be lost to you
Soon, the only place I felt safe was my home, my Safe Zone.
But after a while, you even took that away from me
That final day, another attempt at trying to get on the train to work
But you wouldn’t allow me to - I tried and I cried but I couldn’t
So I made my way home, I’d never felt so alone, I cried and I sobbed, I felt robbed
Of the life I’d once had, of the woman I’d been, I felt like a child again, helpless
And you chose that same day to finish the job as I started to sob you got me
To a point that was so low I had nowhere else to go, you’d won and I let you feast on the remains of me for a while
But when you’ve reached rock bottom, the only way is up
The fighter in me wasn’t done yet
A different tune started to play in my chest, a beat of hope that I could come out of this stronger
No longer Panic at the Disco, more an anthemic “I will Survive” number whilst I tentatively danced around my bag
I began to realise that no matter if it FELT like I was dying, I never did
It might have FELT like I’d never stop crying, but I did
It might have FELT like something JUST SO TERRIBLE would happen, but it never did
I came to realise you were a liar – you made me think you were so scary but you were all mouth and no trousers in the end
No more than a bully, seeming so strong on the outside but with no inner strength - not like me
You may have attacked me hundreds, maybe thousands of times but here’s the thing Panic Attack
Copyright Samantha Lee 2019
I've always loved creative writing since I was quite young and more so lately, it's a great way to connect with people who may be going through similar experiences as those I choose to write about.
I have my own FacebookPage for counselling4essex where I post a variety of inspirational quotes, videos, my own thoughts on particular subjects to do with the reasons people come for counselling and I also publish my poems/writing there once in a while. Here's a small selection I've written over the past year. The links should take you to my Facebook Page where they have been originally published.
This is a poem about this wonderful role of mine. The Counsellor
I suffered with severe anxiety and panic attacks in my early 20's, it was one of the worst times of my life - here's a piece I wrote about it. Anxiety
This is a creative piece based on an emotionally abusive relationship. Bad Love