I thought I was dying.
I doubled over in pain as my stomach began to seemingly bend and twist. This was not a typical “I-Ate-Too-Much-Junk-Food” stomach ache, nor was it hunger pangs. It was the feeling you get when you’re suddenly dropped down while on a rollercoaster or like the feeling of being on a plane that’s rapidly losing altitude. This feeling was entirely foreign to me. A million explanations of what this was raced through my mind. Was it food poisoning? Was it a tumor? Was it one of those tapeworms that you could allegedly catch from drinking tap water?
Then the panic set in.
It was equivalent to the jump your heart would experience after hearing a panicked voice shout “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater. Everything was wrong, my peace of mind was utterly eviscerated as my chest began to tighten. My heartbeat became irregular, my head felt like it was in a vice, and my breaths became quicker. I wanted to escape my own body, the real me was inside clawing and scratching to get out of… this. Not knowing what to do, my choices being call for my mom or call 911, I did neither. All that could occur to me was to just sit there, paralyzed by pain and waiting for it to pass.
I didn’t know it then, but I had just had my first panic attack. The first of many. I was thirteen when this happened, but that feeling is so specific and traumatic; seven years later it feels like it just happened days ago.
I don’t get panic attacks as often anymore, but the feelings that come with anxiety are ever-present. The best way I can describe it is as a duality of sorts. The first is anxiety in general, which is basically an expression of excessive worries about several things like work, school, relationships, social interactions, and the everyday circumstances that life throws in the way. The second that causes panic attacks and/or physical ailments doesn’t happen every day but, if a specific event or instance happens to trigger it? It comes in swinging with full force. The symptoms range from intense nausea, a complete loss of appetite, profuse vomiting, sharp abdominal pains, muscle tremors, general full-body weakness, sleeping difficulties, pounding headaches, uncontrollable shaking, and an irregular heartbeat. Sometimes they occur all at once.
What’s so crazy about experiencing these ailments is that as soon as the problem that’s causing me the second type of anxiety is resolved, everything- all thoughts of panic, physical symptoms, etc.- instantly goes away. Instantly.
For example, dealing with the social jungle that is high school caused the ages of 13 to 17 to be an epicenter of anxiety. Whenever someone in my friend group would accuse me of something or express negative feelings towards me or about me behind my back, all those aforementioned symptoms would come rushing in at full force. And it wasn’t until the drama was resolved that I could return to operating at 100% capacity again.
I don’t know if there’s a ‘cure’ for this type of thing out there. Nothing aspirin or hot tea can soothe that’s for damn sure. I’m on Zoloft currently, and that minorly helps with some of my general anxiety, but if something happens that triggers something? All bets are off.
It’s something I’ve accepted as something that ‘just happens’ to me at this point. A positive (if you can even call it that) in this whole situation is that when the second type does happen, I know how to deal with it. I’m not going to act like its easy because it’s fucking not. I just know I can take solace in the fact that when it does happen that I’m not dying.