Walking out the door of my 6th grade hallway, when all of the sudden all of the air left my lungs. You know the feeling when the wind gets knocked out of you? It was like that but I hadn’t been hit. As I struggled to catch my breath, a sharp pain hit my chest, right where my heart is. I reached for my chest and I almost hit the ground. I was terrified. Convinced I was having a heart attack, I made my way as best as I could to the school nurse. About three quarters of the way there, the air returned to my lungs and I could catch my breath again. When I got to the nurses office, my chest was still really tight, and it was hard to speak full sentences. My brain felt cloudy and scrambled as I tried to explain to the nurse what I had experienced.
“Oh honey” She said, “You’re having a panic attack”
But that couldn’t be right. I was in physical pain. My chest felt paralyzed. How could something in my mind, create a physical response?
Why did this happen? I wasn’t even feeling any anxiety. I wasn’t thinking anything negative, but still, I lost complete control of my body’s physical responses. How could something like anxiety send my body reeling into a physical panic? What even was anxiety?
My experiences with panic attacks would only escalate from there. After awhile, they became such a natural part of my existence, that I would just sit there calmly and wait for them to pass. No one knew what I was going through. No one knew I was fighting a war with my own head and body every single day.
Living with constant panic attacks started to really wear on me. I was fatigued all of the time, because I was spending so much energy just trying to regulate my body. My body was constantly in fight or flight mode, as I was constantly prepared for the next attack. Existing was exhausting.
The first time I spoke to a counselor about my anxiety, they minimized my struggles, made me question my own emotions, and made me feel as if I was being a brat by being in distress. The comments they made, about how I should feel lucky to be fed, housed, and safe, just made me spiral even more into a depression. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be normal? Why was I so distressed all the time? I began to believe my counselor. The words “dramatic” ringing in my ears at all times. It was something people described me as often.
As I became more and more used to the panic attacks, I began to find ways to cope with them..sometimes in a healthy way, and other times not. Through therapy, I have learned to weed out a lot of the unhealthy coping mechanisms I developed to keep myself safe. Old habits die hard though, and some of the methods I developed have felt nearly impossible to let go of.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, please consider speaking to a mental health professional. It doesn’t have to be like this forever. Healing is possible.