I’ve suffered with panic attacks for as long as I can remember but it’s only in the past couple of years I’ve actually realised that those random moments of fear and dread are in fact panic attacks.
The first panic attack that I can remember was from maybe 4 or 5 years ago. I was out shopping at the Trafford centre and all of a sudden my body temperature rose and I began to sweat, a lot. When I realised how much I was sweating I began to panic. I left the shop and ran back to my car. After sitting in my car for about 5 minutes or so, I began to calm down. I’m internally a warm person. When I do any level of physical exercise/movement my body gets very warm very quickly and it sometimes feels like my insides could burst into flames at any moment. My rising body temperature results to sweat. I’ve finally grown to accept the fact that I can be a pretty sweating person. Everybody sweats. Some people sweat more than others, some people sweat less than others. It’s natural but at the time I was still very much paranoid about being sweaty. It was November time so it would have been peculiar to see someone so sweaty whilst in the Trafford Centre, hence why I pegged it back to my car. My paranoia about how I looked led to pure panic. Panic that made my heart race. I could feel the blood pumping around my body but once I got back to my car, I put the A/C on full blast, tried to regulate my breathing and I was back to normal within minutes. Afterwards I sat in my car confused. I wasn’t 100% sure what had just happened. I’d heard of panic attacks before but never really compared them to that situation. I put it down to my oddly warm body temperature.
I have a fear of public transport. Being in a confined space on a moving vehicle with strangers just does not make me feel good but a few years ago I thought I’d take myself into Manchester on my own. I got on the train and sat by the window with my earphones in. I could sense that my body was warm but I tried not to focus on that. I arrived in Manchester and walked towards the Arndale. After being there for about 10 minutes panic took over my body and paranoia took over my brain. My paranoia was convincing me everyone was staring and watching me. I messaged my friend K to see if she was free for a phone call, thankfully she was. I couldn’t explain how I was feeling because I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I sat in a bus stop, dripping in sweat but the phone call helped distract my mind from everything that was happening. I wanted to get the first train back home. I just wanted a shower and to be in my own space. K told me I had only been in Manchester for 20 minutes, so she calmed me down, told me to go do some shopping and then go home. So I collected myself, took some deep breathes, ended the phone call and went shopping. I went into a shop and tried some clothes on in the changing rooms. I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “You’re being paranoid about nothing. You don’t even look that bad”. I ended up buying a pair of jeans and I walked back to the train station with my head held high like nothing had happened. Even after that, I still never described it as a panic attack.
I first realised that my panicky sweaty moments were in fact panic attacks a couple years ago. I would have weekly trips to the Trafford centre as I used to have Friday’s and Saturdays off work so I would go almost every Friday whilst my friends were in work. For a few months, whenever I went to the Trafford centre I would have at least one moment of panic. On bad days I’d have two or three. Instead of pegging it back to my car each time, I would go into a shop, grab a few items of clothing and go to the changing rooms. I’d then just sit in the changing room whilst I cooled down and collected myself. I googled panic attacks and that’s when it clicked in my head and I’d say that was the moment when I realised I actually suffer from mental illness. I got emotional. I did cry a little mostly because it was confirmation that I wasn’t as stable as I thought I was. After that I hardly ever went to the Trafford centre.
My counselling started last year which was mainly focusing on my anxiety and PTSD. It gave me better knowledge on panic attacks and how different they can be for other people. It taught me how and why panic attacks start and how to cope with them. I didn’t suffer from panic attack till January this year. This panic attack was the scariest I had ever had. I was at a family meal and at this point me and my counsellor were working through my dads death so I would describe myself as emotionally unstable. My anxiety was at its worst and my PTSD was truly terrifying. We arrived at the meal and I was tucked up in my shell. There was no chance I was coming out of it. Whether I was around family or not. The meal was to celebrate my grandma and grandads 60th wedding anniversary so there were a lot of pictures around the room from over the years, including pictures of my dad. When we arrived I looked at the pictures and my eyes got a little teary but nothing major. No one could tell. Before we sat down at our tables I went to see the pictures again and boom. My PTSD kicks in and the flashbacks started. With my counselling session beings couple days before my emotions were fresh and the memory was crystal clear. I started reliving the day he died knowing full well I was in a room filled with my whole family. I went into panic mode. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself so I sat in my seat with my head down and my whole body shaking. My mum sat opposite me, and quietly asked if I was okay. The panic took over and I ran to the toilets. Tears streaming down my face and my body temperature was beyond hot. I sat down in the toilets and I couldn’t breathe. My breaths were short, deep and choppy. My mum followed me to the toilets and stood next to me. She was trying to be calm for my sake but I could sense she was scared too. I was really struggling to regulate my breathing and I was still in full blown panic mode. My mum put her hand on me and she must’ve been able to feel how hot I was as she then got a wet, cold paper towel and put it on the back of my neck to try and help cool me down. At first I couldn’t feel it. My skin must have warmed it up within seconds but after the second or third towel I began to cool down and started to take longer breaths. After what felt like half an hour (probably 5/10 minutes) I was able to just about talk again and I was back to my normal warm temperature. I just wanted to be in my bed but I still had a meal to get through. Me and mum went back to our table and I kept my head down. My family knew I was suffering from mental illness so I think they all had a rough idea as to why I disappeared to the toilets. Throughout the rest of the evening my PTSD was still actively taking over. I would zone out from the present world and stare into nothing. I couldn’t help it. I was still exhausted from my counselling session and the panic attack drained me of all the energy I had left.
For me that was the scariest panic attack I have ever had. I had another panic attack a few days ago which you can read here. It’s only been a few months since I finished my counselling and I’ve never felt better. My friends and family have been commenting on how good I look and how I seem more relaxed. I suppose I am relaxed because I know in a few weeks time I get to leave my past behind me. FINALLY! Two weeks tomorrow I get to finally close the door and move on. I’m fully aware that anxiety doesn’t quite think or work that way but in Australia I won’t have to live in a place that is filled with negativity and bad memories. I won’t be around people who knew the person I used to be. I will finally be able to let go and move on with my life and I cannot wait.
Don’t let mental illness hold you back. It’s tough. It’s the hardest battle anyone can fight but when you conquer it, life is so much more rewarding. I know you will win, you just need to know it yourself.
Love you all lots,