It wasn’t till I read my therapist’s email that I realized I’d been having a panic attack.
“[X] can help stop racing thoughts,” wrote my counselor, replying to a message where I explained I didn’t know what to do, and something was wrong, because I was at work and I couldn’t stop crying. And I hated myself, and I couldn’t do anything right, and I could think of about two things that might make me feel better, and they were not positive, healthy things. I’d been back and forth to the bathroom multiple times, trying to hide the fact that I was falling apart for no reason from my colleagues.
I didn’t know it was a panic attack.
That sounds strange. Didn’t know? It feels strange, to type – that a thing happened to me, a thing that’s happened before, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. But then, that’s anxiety for you. What my counselor said about racing thoughts made me focus more on the qualities of the thoughts, rather than their content, and that was when I flipped from thinking, “this is a depression issue, it came out of nowhere, and I’m fucking terrified because I thought my medication was working” to “Oh. Anxiety attack. So that’s what it was.”
When I’m in the midst of a panic attack, I don’t think of these thoughts as “racing” anywhere, I suppose. They careen back and forth in my head: the critical self-hatred, hopelessness, rebellious nihilism.
Fuck this. Fuck this. Fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this. It’s a basic mantra, and nonetheless comforting – in the same way wrapping your arms around your knees and rocking back and forth in the corner of a dark room can be comforting. It’s about battening down the hatches, shutting off the inputs. Isolate everything. Deal with one thing at a time.
Only you can’t, because there are shit-flinging monkeys of the mind flinging shit back and forth in your brain.
Fuck this fuck this fuck this. Fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this fuck this. And then, as the mantra fades, the repetition falls into a more familiar pattern. Hopelessness, disgust, dread. Self-loathing.
Panic attacks are good at sneaking up. What they suck at is sticking around once they’ve been identified.
It took multiple trips to the bathroom, a metric shit-ton of Kleenex, kind words from friends and a matter-of-fact email from a mental health professional to do it, but I’m glad to say, once that fucker got named it split in two and turned to stone.
I’ve spent three hours writing this blog (you have no idea how many times I’ve deleted everything and gone back to the start), and I’m still not sure how to bring it to a close.
So yeah. Panic attacks suck. Don’t have them.
But if you must (and sometimes, many of us must)…make sure to have them around someone who’ll tell you to call your doctor.