Panic attacks are horrible experiences, and can be terrifying, especially if you've never had one and don't actually know what's happening to you. It's not just butterflies in your stomach or feeling a little queasy. In fact, panic attack symptoms are not dissimilar to heart attack symptoms. I think understanding what a panic attack feels like can make it less terrifying for people experiencing it for the first time, and easier for people who have never experienced one to understand how debilitating it can be. This post will contain mentions of panic, bullying, and self-harm.
It was a lunch break, and I was sat in our form classroom. I don't really remember how things got started, but it escalated. I found the ringleader of the situation trapping me in a corner and telling me to 'sit down in the corner and slit my wrists because that's what emos do'. I remember her whole clique laughing. I remember feeling hot and ashamed and holding back tears. I remember trying to leave the classroom and my headphone wire wrapping around a chair leg, causing further laughter as I had to untangle it so I could leave.
Once out of the classroom, I was planning the typical 'run to the bathroom to cry' scenario, but as soon as the door closed behind me, I felt like the world was closing in. The sobbing started. I felt dizzy, nauseous, and I couldn't breathe. My legs were like jelly. 10 years later, I still remember the feelings of distress like it was yesterday. Thankfully my friend came to check on me and found me sat on the floor, propped up against the lockers, crying and hyperventilating. She helped me walk to our Learning Mentor, and I was in such a state I couldn't speak. My friend explained the bullying and for the next hour, I had to answer questions by writing the answers on paper because I simply couldn't get the words out. No-one told me that what was happening was a panic attack.
It was a horrible experience and one that is still etched in my mind a decade later. I had no idea what had happened to me until I began to experience panic attacks more frequently and learned what they were. Panic attacks are not something to be minimised or brushed off, and are not something you can 'snap out of'. They're an incredibly frightening physical symptom of mental distress and should be taken seriously.
Writing this and reliving this was really difficult for me, but I felt that it was important to share. I really hope that sharing my first experience of a panic attack helps people who experience them feel less alone. I also hope that if you've never experienced them, you've learned a little more about what panic attacks can be like so you're more understanding if it happens to a friend, and less afraid if it happens to you.
If you or a friend are experiencing panic attack symptoms, please seek medical assistance. Panic attack symptoms can be similar to those of heart attacks and other serious conditions. This blog post is not intended as medical advice!