“I’m having a panic attack!”
“Hahaha, you’re funny!”
Said no one ever.
Panic attacks are one of the main symptoms of Panic Disorder, an anxiety disorder stuck into that category with disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t realize it was a thing until I was diagnosed with it at age 27. The conversation went kind of like this:
Psychiatrist: Oh, and you probably have Panic Disorder, too…
Psychiatrist: What, so you think you don't?
Then he muttered some stuff off about possible PTSD as well.
I was not pleased.
A couple of things are comorbid with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, which I also have, and Panic Disorder is apparently one of them. While unhappy in finding out I had this strange new thing pulling at my brain, I WAS happy to find out there are medications to quell it and things I could do to minimize it even more. Yes, I know some people are completely anti-medication, and that’s okay. My partner is one of them. He doesn’t see the point in taking medication because, while it would help (he probably has ADHD), he can function just fine on his own, and that’s okay. (That being said, he yells at me to take my meds more than I yell at myself to take my meds.)
The main feature of Panic Disorder is panic attacks, which can manifest in a bunch of ways depending on the person. For me, I start hyperventilating and shaking, my heart starts racing, I become unable to do anything, I get a weight in my chest, and life is generally miserable until I can get it to “shut off” (this can be done, for me, with puzzle games on my phone and using my weighted blanket. I cannot stress this enough: if you can handle the weight without feeling smothered, BUY A WEIGHTED BLANKET. It’s AMAZING).
Sometimes I also have sensory issues, which didn’t happen with the OCD and were NEW and EXCITING! (Just kidding, they’re terrible and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone.) This means I can’t deal with bright light, loud sounds, and a lot of people around me at once.
The very best example of this that I can think of is when I was on Discord, an app used for talking to other people via chat and, you guessed it, VOICE. I was on a voice call with a bunch of friends and we were playing the super popular game Among Us, which I have played precisely once, this current time, and never played again because of this: I got “killed” in the game, and then there’s a round of debate to try and call out who did it. While this is supposed to be a silent game, my friends are...not quiet, and decided to voice their opinions on Discord. While I was already not having a great day, the yelling of three, four, five people made it SIGNIFICANTLY worse, and I ended up ending the call, shrieking, throwing off my headphones, and running into the bedroom so I could bury myself under safe, dark covers that muted sound. (The weighted blanket came in here as well. They’re really wonderful.) I have not played the game since.
Panic attacks can be caused by things called triggers. Some people have exact triggers, and some have random ones that just kind of...happen. I do have some firmly placed triggers, but most of mine are random. It’s like spinning a wheel and seeing where it lands. Often when I get overwhelmed with something, I have a panic attack. I moved recently, and my partner didn’t even want me to help (well, seeing as I had ankle surgery last year and am a puddle of atrophy, I still can’t carry things up and downstairs yet- I’d be completely useless). He looked me in the eye and said to me “Your one job is to not break down during this move.” I was happy to not be there and went shopping for new apartment essentials instead. I got overwhelmed yesterday because of all of the laundry we still have to do and began to have a panic attack until my partner went “one load. Just do one load, and we’ll be fine.” So I did one load, he helped me fold, and life went on.
There are other symptoms that I DON’T have that are associated with panic attacks. People can actually get chest and stomach PAINS, tingling or numb hands, weakness or dizziness, or start to sweat. Luckily, I don’t get these symptoms, but some people are unlucky enough to have them.
Some people get scared of having panic attacks and then live in fear of having another one. The fear rules their lives, and they become hermits, never leaving their domiciles unless they absolutely have to (which probably triggers their panic). I have learned you have to be careful, but you cannot live in fear of this disease. If you let it control you, you will lose so much of your life, spending it inside instead of with friends or family, going on trips, trying new things, and just...being a person. I’m not saying don’t be cautious. If you think something is going to trigger your panic, by all means, be cautious about it, have people with you that can make sure you’re safe, or skip it. Just don’t skip EVERYTHING.
Panic disorder is nothing to mess around with. But with the right treatment, it can get better. I’m on a couple of medications to calm me down (I’m high strung...all the time) and I also go to therapy, which is key. Finding your triggers and addressing them helps a LOT. Finding your safe places, whether it’s actual places or people, or animals, etc., can help greatly. Again, some people are COMPLETELY anti-medication. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see a therapist. Everyone has something they need to get off their chest!
This disorder is not one to mess with, but with the proper treatment and care, you can have a mostly normal life and enjoy all of the experiences “normal” people do, but from a different perspective!