Friday, June 28, 2013

Exposed and Vulnerable

I am dizzy. The world turns on it side and my palms start to burn and become sweaty. My mind races but my thoughts are disjointed. Nothing makes sense. I taste the faint flavor of copper in my mouth and I realize I have been biting my bottom lip until it is swollen and bleeding. Noises, a pen tapping, pencil chewing, conversations, bird's chirping, car horns beeping in the distance, the the mechanical humming of the air conditioner, the television blaring all mingle into a glorious background noise. I see people in the room with me stare with concern on their faces. Their mouths are moving but all I can hear is a soft mumbling falling from their lips. My heart races. I only hear it's rapid beat and my shallow breathing becoming more and more labored. I feel like I am running but I can see my arms and legs as I remain stationary. The world is closing in on me threatening to swallow me whole and I feel as if I am drowning. Something warm and wet runs down my face and neck and pools at my throat. It cools as the collar of my shirt becomes soggy and uncomfortable. I feel puzzled because I can not seem to mentally connect with what is running down my face until I reach up and touch it and realize I am silently weeping. Then a haunting noise comes to the forefront of the mumbling background. It grows louder as I try to concentrate on it over my heart pounding and loud breathing. It sounds like a wounded animal whimpering in pain. I try to pick it out of the jumble of noise. I need to find out where the hurt animal sound is coming from. I need to find out what is making that noise. Then the realization hits me full force. The sound is coming from me. I am whimpering. I am making that noise.

I am having a panic attack.

When people hear the word panic attack they tend to roll there eyes. How bad could a panic attack possible be, they may wonder. It is hard to describe the uncontrollable fear that swallows you up and threatens to leave you lying broken on the floor. It's terrifying. It's a realization that you can no longer control anything. Not your surroundings, not your situation, and certainly not your emotions. You lose the capacity to think, the capacity to grasp what is being said or done, and worse still the capacity to function while you are in the middle of one. Usually there is no warning before you are fighting to regain composure. For me panic attacks are like walking around with a gaping weeping wound that is trying to heal. When a panic attack comes it is as if the scab is ripped away and my pain is bleeding onto to the floor. My dysfunction is laid out for all of the world to see. They can see my fear, my despair, and my agony. Instead of being able to keep these parts of me private I am displayed in public like a freak of nature. Like an emotional wreck of nerves and tears. Like a bad low budget horror film where the acting is par at best and the special effects are crappy. I feel exposed and embarrassed. Embarrassed that I can not control the fear inside of me before it pours out of me like a broken water dish. It splashes onto all facets of my life and I am usually angry after it does. Angry with my mental illness. Angry with myself for not being able to do what for others seems to be so simple. Angry that I exposed my inner worst fears again, in front of not just strangers but also the ones I love. There are some things even I would like to keep to myself and my blubbering,  snotting, and agony is one of those things. That being said, I realize that I have an anxiety disorder and panic attacks unfortunately come with that diagnoses. It is a fact that I will suffer from these occasionally and if put in a situation that I find to be very anxiety producing there is a good possibility that I will experience one. I can not change how others perceive me when I have a panic attack. It is not my job to make them understand. It is my job to work through the panic attack as best as I can and move on to better things. Learning to not be embarrassed by them is a little harder but I am working on it. Having a panic attack is not a sign of weakness. It is, however, a sign that I suffer from a mental illness and like everything else that goes with that, I just have to learn to accept that I may have moments were I am more vulnerable than I would like to be. I may have moments when I am not as composed as I wish I were. It happens.  All I can do is try to limit the amount of stress I am under. All I can do is realize that some situations I can not change and if a panic attack happens I will be okay after it passes. I just need to breathe. Breathe and let it all come out. Only then can I pick up the broken shards of myself I have let fall to the ground and start to glue them back together.

Panic attack symptoms for everyone are different. The only common symptom in almost all panic attacks is a rapid heartbeat and the feeling of not being able to catch your breath. If you happen to be around someone experiencing a panic attack, please do not judge them. They are not weak. They are dealing with something that is so frightening to them that their body reacts without warning. You need to take a second and realize that you have no idea what that person has gone through in their lives. That you have no idea what it feels like to drown from fear in a room full of air. You have no idea how scary it is when everything is happening to you but you are unable to process it. It is happening to you not with you and that is terrifying. So, take their hand and be there for them. Grab a cold washcloth and hold it to their forehead. Give kindness instead of ridicule. It is not easy to sit there exposed and emotionally eviscerated in front of everyone and know that some will laugh and mock you afterwards. That some will judge you after they have seen you at your most vulnerable. Be kind and considerate because you don't realize how strong someone has to be to still fight to have a life knowing that this will happen again and again when they least expect it to. It is not easy being the center of attention when you just wanted to go to the grocery store and get some milk, to the doctor's to get your check up, or your daughter's fifth birthday party in the backyard. We don't choose to have panic attacks but we do choose to live our lives in spite of them. That is possibly the greatest courage one could possess. That is possibly the largest display of strength ever shown.

Neurotic Nelly


  1. just wanted to say thank you for writing this, my husband has panic attacks and are alot like what you describe. I've always wanted to know it feels for others that go through this. you are a very special person to have shared this.

  2. Panic attacks, or anything out of our control that makes us so vulnerable, make going out in public so hard sometimes. Just leaving the house some days seems impossible because I just KNOW I'm going to lose it in the middle of a busy area.

    But you're right. It takes an incredible amount of strength and courage to go out and live your life regardless of what might happen and who might judge.

    You should be proud.

  3. Thank you Carees Vent. I am glad I could explain it in a way that makes sense to others. I was worried it wouldn't come through to others. It is a very scary thing to go through and scary to see. I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy let alone others. Thank you for your support, it means a lot to me.

  4. Elann Devoss, thank you very much. I wish I could say I am always able to be brave but I'm not. I do try to do what I need to. Panic attacks are just horrid. Simply and truly horrid. Those of us that have them are all brave because at some point we will have one and go through it. It's very hard and down right terrifying. You are brave as well. You are strong. Some days leaving the house is impossible for me too. That doesn't mean that we are weak. Eventually on a better day we leave the house. It's simply a battle lost but not the whole war on panic attacks.