What It Feels Like To Have A Panic Attack
Photography by Pixabay
Without help, a panic attack can be debilitating. One woman bravely shares the intimate details of what it actually feels like to experience one…
Women’s Health food and managing editor Amy Rankin suffers from panic disorder. Here’s her story:
“My stepfather got very sick, very fast and died nearly two years ago – in the same week that I started a new job. I thought it was good that I was keeping busy, but, in hindsight, I see that I buried my grief. Without Richard in our lives anymore, I felt I had to take on the role of caring for my younger siblings and, to an extent, my mom. I worried about her continuously and my anxiety began to build.
“It was at the end of a holiday with my mom in Thailand that I had my first panic attack.
“On the plane I suddenly felt like my heart was beating really fast. I couldn’t breathe. I felt nauseous and claustrophobic. I felt like I was going to die. I tried to brush it off, telling myself it was because I hadn’t done any exercise for 10 days – something I’ve relied heavily on as a stress reliever.
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“Back home, I began experiencing other anxious episodes. I would feel like I was going to collapse and then worry that there was something wrong with me – that I had cancer or something was happening to my body and I would spiral into a panic. I later realised that these thoughts were triggered by Richard’s cancer and the sudden death of my cousin, who had an unknown tumour and died at the age of 15, three years ago.
“Other times I’d have dizzy spells – on one occasion, I popped out to get groceries and I suddenly felt like I couldn’t move and had to sit down on the pavement. Some days I would feel so claustrophobic, I struggled to get into the lift at the office. I had to face the truth: I was not coping. So, I finally decided to see a therapist.
“When I arrived for my first session, I didn’t know what to talk about. I felt awkward initially, but then the words starting pouring out of me and I completely broke down. I then had the worst panic attack I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t breathe; I was crying; my heart was racing. It was terrifying.
“After a few more sessions, I finally agreed to go on a six-month course of medication. I felt like a failure. My therapist said that if it wasn’t for all the exercise I’d been doing, I’d have had a breakdown much sooner. A friend – who also struggles with anxiety – introduced me to her yoga studio. My therapist encouraged me to pursue yoga, adding it to my weekly regimen.
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“It’s been a tough journey. I’ve questioned many aspects of my life and I’m learning that I can’t control everything – not work, not relationships. Exercise is still what I turn to. I run, do S.W.E.A.T.1000 and practise yoga at least three times a week. I know I can challenge myself, release stress and feel great afterwards, thanks to the endorphin rush.
“Now, more than a year after that first episode, I realise how complicated and distorted our view of mental illness is – and how much stigma surrounds it. I’m embarrassed to remember how prejudiced I used to be, before I went through my own battle. And it’s this prejudice and this stigma that hold us back from talking about what we’re going through and asking for help.”