Panic attacks

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It usually starts with a feeling of ice in my belly, then my heart begins to race and my breath becomes shallow. I move to a hyper-alert state convinced that something bad is going to happen at any minute. I look around terrified that someone is going to notice my panic, paranoid that everyone is thinking and whispering about me.
If you smile, laugh, frown, cough or speak I am convinced it is to do with me. Some kind of subliminal communication about how bad I am.
I have to get out. Now.
Don’t care where; don’t care what I have to say, I just have to get to get out of here. I stumble over bags, stammer excuses because I can hardly breath. I want to disappear, not draw more attention to myself, but I am clumsy and unfocused. There is an obstacle course to the door and it is miles away. If I don’t reach it in the next 5 seconds I will explode. The bad thing will happen.
I escape, I’m out. I know they all think I’m odd for leaving in that manner, but I don’t care. I’m safe now from their looks and thoughts. Relief floods my body, my breathing and heart rate return to normal. I feel ok, a bit silly even. Did I over-react? What was I so frightened of? It was just other people, I was enjoying myself until…
They always came from nowhere, with no rhyme or reason. One minute I would be at work/out with friends/at dinner/at a show/in a bar, I would be engaged, enjoying myself and then the cold feeling in my belly would come and I would know it was all over. I could never stop them once they started, I would say to myself, ‘it’s ok, be calm, you’re safe.’ But it didn’t matter. Panic would flood my body and all I could do was run. I only felt safe on my own, away from other people. Sometimes I could predict situations they would regularly happen in. Usually gatherings of people where it was hard for me to leave. I began to avoid those situations as much as possible and my world began to shrink. I craved connection but the possibility of connection was dangerous for me, I never knew when I was going to freak out. I always needed an exit plan, a legitimate excuse so if I had to run I wouldn’t look like too big a fool.

My panic attacks started when I was 17, I had my first when I was tripping on magic mushrooms. That triggered 6 months of drug-induced psychosis. I would hear and see things, I thought I was going mad and I couldn’t tell anyone what was wrong with me. I simply had no words to express what I was going through. Once the hallucinations stopped, the fear stayed as an unwelcome guest. Panic was my daily companion. I would have 10 to 15 panic attacks a day, getting to work, staying at work, going to the store, were all feats of endurance for me. Everyday I climbed a mountain. Everyday I would wake up hoping they would just go and I would be normal again. They lasted a decade and began petering out once I got sober. It’s been years since I’ve had one (thankyougodthankyou).

Panic attacks are the most lonely and isolating thing an alcoholic will go through and yet so many alcoholics suffer with them. They are very, very common and part of the beast. If you suffer from them I urge you to get help.
Which is why I had to write this, so you know you are not alone and know I am thinking of you, I’m thinking ‘be well my friend, I’m here for you.’

3 thoughts on “Panic attacks

  1. Jill

    Excellent article and very comforting. I used to suffer from them too when I was drinking. Luckily I no longer have them after 14 years of sobriety.

  2. Patti

    Hi Veronica. Wow, that’s pretty awful that it was such a constant in your life. I started having them when I was in my very heavy drinking period. They would always occur when I was driving in heavy commuter traffic on my way to work. I couldn’t pull over & was so afraid I’d kill someone. Its amazing how stress comes out in your body if you have no release. I’d never experienced anything like that before and glad to report they went away with sobriety. Your blogs are spot on girl! <3

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