I had an experience recently which genuinely filled me with the fear of impending death. I was not dangling from a cliff, indulging in copious amounts of drugs or alcohol, nor was I involved in the kind of high-speed car chase where you think that any moment Keanu is going to pop up and yell “THERE IS NO MORE ROAD LEFT”.
No, when I experienced my particular episode, I was on the number 76 bus from South Bristol (because life is a cruel Mistress, who is reluctant to let you fall apart in a padded cell or cozy bed). I was on my way back from a meeting and had just had coffee with a friend so the day had not been a particularly fraught one. My hair was looking good and, having dropped a bit of weight recently, I still had an especially nice ass-related compliment ringing in my ears.
Halfway through doing what I always do on the bus (scribble in my Moleskine) the pen slipped from the page. It clattered to the floor, running down the foot well to the bottom deck. Nobody even looked up. I contemplated it’s retrieval…..
And then, the arse fell out of my world.
If you have never had a panic attack then you might be tempted to roll your eyes at what I am about to tell you. You might think that I am being overly dramatic or sensationalist. How can a person be fine one moment and totally paralysed with fear the next? You can’t really. It’s not rational, it’s not something you can explain. Add up all the components of my day and there is absolutely no reason why I was sitting on that bus, torn between wanting to stay in my seat and never leave and kick a window in so I could get off sooner.
If you have ever been carsick, you may be familiar with that horrible, urgent feeling that creeps up your torso just before you boff. For me, at least, a panic attack comes on in a similar way. I start taking tiny sips of air, as if the very act of taking in oxygen will cause a TERRIBLE BAD THING TO HAPPEN. I come over all clammy; that hot/cold feeling akin to telling a person you fancy them with a sure-fire chance of rejection, then the sickness and finally, the thoughts. The crazy, crazy thoughts.
As a person who has, in the past been quite depressed and prone to irrationality, I am, all told, quite sensible. I am the kind of person who will pep a person up by saying something life-affirming and positive. So it is a complete mystery to me that when I start to panic, my thoughts seem to abandon my brain and become replaced by those of Bungle, George and Zippy. I am fully aware that I need to breathe deeply, slow my heart rate and generally just calm the Fuck down. It is however, made immeasurably difficult to do this when the cast of Rainbow are conducting an orgy of insanity from within your skull.
Later, when I had calmed down and burst into floods of tears outside Greggs, my Doctor told me that it was just a panic attack JUST A PANIC ATTACK? It was a good thing this happened to me on the bus, imagine if I was driving or operating heavy machinery! Just a Panic Attack indeed.
Of course, I understand what he was trying to say. That, far from being the sudden death experience I thought it was, a panic attack is actually a wholly manageable affliction.
Not, obviously, when you are the fool having one.
I found the Mind website to be a wealth of information about how best to deal with Panic attacks in general. Remember that it is not “silly” or irrational to suffer from episodes like these, there are many different reasons why they happen and conversely, many different ways of dealing with them when they happen. They might just be a part of your life, or symptomatic of a deeper rooted issue or form of stress. Look at them as your body telling you something. One day I hope that when those sicky-waves start creeping up on me I will be able to rationally tell the voices to back off. I hope you can do the same.