What does a panic attack feel like?

It isn’t a fun topic or breezing topic. I admit I have found it hard to inject more than a little light hearted hilarity into this post. But I genuinely think it is important for people who have never experienced a panic attack and have no idea how terrifying it can be. It’s not as simple as your mind playing tricks on you or ‘just calm down and take a deep breath’. A panic attack is not unlike your whole physical, mental and emotional essence being attacked like a Salem witch. Like internal torture of the stabby, leeches on your testicles kind. So, imagine…

You’re sitting in the back seat of a car being driven to an airport in a beautiful foreign land, all your bags ready. You’re even almost running on time. Within the hub-bub of family noise, somehow something inside you feels wrong, like you might have eaten some bad cheese or when you have had one too many plums. That same feeling when you wake up from a BIG night out, you’re hung over as balls, dry mouth and queasy tummy but you have that nagging feeling that you may have injured/offended/vomited on/stabbed someone but you’re not too sure yet. It’s the “what did I do?” feeling.
Your muscles begin to twitch; your shoulders feel uncomfortable, pre-cramp and strange. You blink a bit and roll your shoulders and neck trying to loosen up.
You start to feel warm, the sensation feels like it is not from the outside but from inside your veins, your muscles and tendons. Your organs feel tight, like your calves after a long run but it’s not the ones you can usually feel. The tightness is in your stomach, your lungs, your heart, your kidneys; they all seem to quiver uncomfortably. You feel a little like the up track on a roller coaster, you know what it coming and you can feel your muscles twitching, waiting for the massive pump of adrenalin to come.
You start to shake a little, not like it’s cold but like you’re afraid of something, like a dark rapey alley or lumpy soured milk.
The ache in your legs starts to get worse. There is a surge building inside you, an unwelcome change, something filling up your body. To get out to safety you would have to communicate, scream, cry, shout obscenities but you can’t. All you can do is clench your teeth and wait for safety. Now you know you have to get out, you’re going to die if you don’t. Your stomach will roll and explode and you will die from internal explosion of guts. Looking at the window you have the almost animal urge to begin claw at it in an effort to escape. When you look at your hands they are not claws or talons just normal filed nails, short and useless. You start thinking about jumping, the exit is right there, if you just push through it you won’t feel this way anymore, you’d be outside, where it is safe and better. You have to escape; your life depends on it. You squeeze your eyes shut to try and wait it out. Your muscles tighten to deal with the onslaught, they cramp and ache from the effort. In your head all you can think is NOT RIGHT, NOT RIGHT, something is VERY VERY NOT RIGHT. You’re starting to hyperventilate and try to breathe slow and steady, trying to disperse the toxic air that is in your lungs. You’re being choked by your own breathe. You put your fingers up to the window, push the glass and have to urge your body not to involuntarily smash through. You feel like you’re dying, you want to scream, tears are running from your clenched eyes.

Then the car stops. The doors open. You hear happy talk and laughter from your family as they empty the surrounding seats. No fear, no impending death for them. It is all inside you, the pain, the cramps, explosions but the urge to throw yourself through the window, that is very real, animal, instinctual. It takes every bit of mental ability to work against your urge to flee.
The fear can take an age to disperse. You feel exhausted and all your muscles hurt. Like you’ve just run from a killer lion who is on fire and has just eaten your Mum.

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2 thoughts on “What does a panic attack feel like?

  1. safirefalcon says:

    I feel it in my throat too. Like my heart rolls up into it, sealing it off. They scare me thinking it’s a serious heart thing…maybe a heart attack. Which of course makes the panic worse. It’s quite a wicked and cruel cycle.

    I found this googling what a panic attack feels like along with wordpress.com in search terms. I did it while having one, so thanks for having this post here. I’m sorry you deal with these too, but I’m grateful for your words because this post actually helped me to calm down.

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