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I have opinions. Wanna hear them? Describe an anxiety/panic attack

Updated: Apr 6

I was asked recently what an anxiety/panic attack feels like. I’m generally involved with breathing and convincing myself that I’m not dying to worry about documenting an attack for science. But I tried.


Be somewhere random. Like a doorway. You there? Good. Now, there’s a discordant roaring in your head like you’re standing next to three waterfalls and people have to yell to be heard over the noise. That sort of loud. And no, you can’t cover your ears. Sorry.


Now. You can’t hear voices over the noise but you can hear some voices from somewhere because those people are real, right? Suddenly what they’re saying is awful: things about you. Like how worthless you are. Why you shouldn’t take up space. That the doorway would be better off without you. That sort of thing.

Keep that white noise going, okay? The waterfalls and all those real but imaginary voices that are just mouths silently yelling so you make up the words for them. It’s so noisy. And you can’t block it out.


You are utterly convinced that words that you can’t hear but assume from the people yelling over the waterfall noise are not kind. You know they’re not kind. Why would they be? Okay, keep it up. You’ve got it.


Waterfall noise, real but imaginary yelling people, words about how much you suck. You’re allowed to sit down if you want. Better if you do, actually.

You might like to rock back and forth a little. Bend your knees. Bring them towards your chest. Sorry. That’s going to hurt.


Hold onto your shins or knees or some type of bone because at least your bones are solid although it doesn’t feel like it. Yes, you’ll have white knuckles and indentations in your legs. Waterfall noise, adrenalin, real but imaginary people screaming awful words about how much you suck.


Keep it up. Just be aware that you won’t be able to let go of your body until the anxiety attack finishes.

So settle in for maybe an hour. Roaring gushing waterfalls, real but imaginary people yelling awful words that you believe, holding your body lest it fly away. Let’s add—spins the wheel—the paint moving about the mark wall which fixes your gaze.

People--maybe they’re real this time-- try to release your fingers. It hurts so much. You’ll tighten your grip, I promise.


Let’s do a bit of shallow breathing. Add the hitch, and the hiccup to the loud, loud, loud white noise, the real but imaginary people yelling awful words that you believe, tiny but is it rocking? gripping your body so it doesn’t float away on the torrent. Shallow breathing makes you light-headed. Hang in there, even though you believe you’re going to die.

Prepare yourself for the little dots in your vision. Wait for it. Aaaand… there they are. Green? That’s normal. Are your teeth still clenched? Keep breathing through the gaps. It’s okay. It’s only a little bit of spit.


So, the loud, loud, loud white noise, the real but imaginary people yelling awful words that you believe, tiny but is it? rocking which becomes more pronounced, gripping your body so it doesn’t float away on the words all the words all the loud, loud words, shallow breathing through your teeth. How you going? You got all that? It’s a lot, isn’t it?


Right. Time for your eyeballs. They shake, but your gaze is fixed. Not on something. Just fixed. With shaking eyeballs. And those people helping but not helping? You can’t see them. Don’t try to. It hurts. Besides, you believe your brain and your brain says that all voices tell you how insignificant you are.


And in the sounds escaping through your teeth, and the spit, and the loud, loud, loud white noise, the real but imaginary people have settled in your head yelling things that are true, the tiny but big rocking, and your frozen shaking eyes, and your hands gripping your body so it doesn’t float away on the words of the mean people, you...you say a word.

It’s only a single word, then you say another word, then another and some words are hard to say because some words don’t form with clenched teeth. Try an easy word, like a verb such as ‘stop’. But those people trying to undo your fingers won’t understand your verb. Those not-quite verbs.


Oh! Your heartbeat. So not only do you attempt words through your teeth, with the spit, and the loud, loud, loud white noise, the real but imaginary people screaming awful words that you believe, tiny--but is it?-- rocking, your frozen shaking eyes, gripping your body so it doesn’t float away on the torrent, your much-too-loud heartbeat sits in your ears like bookends to the roaring in your head. Those words slip in between each beat: Ba-boom—you are—ba-boom—so shit.

And then, suddenly, maybe an hour, maybe less, what is time, you’ll suck in some spit on a breath so tremulous that Bambi on ice is more solid. Do it again. Then, and only then, will you breathe like a person coming up for air from three hundreds metres below sea level. Maybe four hundred.


And then, suddenly, maybe an hour since, maybe less--what is time--you’ll suck, squinch your lips so only the corners open, in some spit on a breath so tremulous that Bambi on ice is more solid. Do it again. Then, and only then, can you breathe like a person coming up for air from three hundreds metres below sea level. Maybe it is four hundred. What is the depth of anxiety?

Your eyeballs are next. There’s movement. Proper movement. You get to look at something on purpose. It’ll be the floor but that’s okay. Keep breathing. That’s it. Those helpful people are still trying to pull your hands off your legs, and suddenly they can. They may even stumble back.


Slowly noise abates. It will feel very much like cotton wool gradually being removed from your ears, one fluffy bit at a time. The voices will stay for a while. Not loud, but there. Sorry about that but they were there first so they make the rules. You’ll need a special someone to tell you that those voices are mean and horrible and wrong and…well, you’ll need someone.

The voices will stay for a while. Not loud, but there. Sorry about that but they were there first so they make the rules. You’ll need a special someone to tell you that those voices are mean and horrible and wrong and…well, you’ll need someone.


Okay. Relax your legs. It’ll be slow and it’ll hurt. Now blink a lot. Breathe. You need to check that you’re breathing. Sometimes you can’t tell.


Also, your headache is going to arrive in about ten minutes. You can’t swallow at the moment but in about four minutes, try to take some Panadol. It won’t do much for at least half an hour.

Anxiety attacks are exhausting. Like ten hour gym classes, then hot yoga, with a marathon at five in the afternoon.

So you’ll sleep. You have no say in it.


The next day, you’ll have a hangover. One that is just as bad as the hangover after a night at the only lesbian bar in town and they’ve halved their drinks prices for a last hurrah before they’re closing.


Drink lots of water, okay?


Be kind to yourself, even if the mean voices are still whispering.

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