I’m going to paint a picture for you, and I want you to really immerse yourself in it.
Imagine standing in the middle of a train track, with a rope almost cutting into each arm as it’s pulled taught and tied to a column on each side. You’re in the middle of no where.
You have no where to go, no one to hear your cries – no white knight to save the day as we’re so often told in fairytales. None of that, because this is real life.
You stand there, dread settling in your stomach, your mind racing as your fight or flight response kicks in. Wanting, NEEDING, to live, to be okay, to be safe.
Then you hear the distant sound of a train approaching… Panic replaces dread. Your heart rate reaches inhuman speed, your breathing all but stops in your throat. You feel the need to escape, to do anything possible to get out of that situation. You cry, you want to throw up, pass out, or just crawl out of your skin.
You lose track of everything around you except the feelings your body is drowning you in. Taken over by an inane instinct to survive.
Now, the train becomes visible, heading straight towards you with no signs of stopping. That panic you were feeling? You are consumed by it ten fold. Your body is your enemy, your hostage… And you? It’s prisoner.
That feeling of terror right before the train reaches you? THAT is exactly what a full-blown panic attack feels like.
Anxiety is bad enough, but it’s not panic, it’s not the same. I’ve had many painful surgeries, I’ve suffered a lot of loss. But nothing can compare to that inescapable feeling of terror. Inescapable because your own mind is causing it, inescapable because you can’t detach from your mind or body.
It feels like every nightmare, every fear you’ve ever had, rolled into one moment of pure, crushing terror.
So, why do people panic? Why do we actually catastrophise everyday situations until we feel like we’re about to be hit by a train? Why does our fight or flight kick in with little-to-no apparent danger?
Because that’s what anxiety is. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it’s causes are different for everyone.
Does that make them weak for suffering through that? For needing medical intervention to treat this issue? No. Having experienced this panic first hand, I’d say with full conviction that those who suffer panic attacks are some of the absolute strongest I have ever known.
I witnessed my friend ride the waves of panic and anxiety for a full half hour on a boat. I saw her fear, I felt it… And I felt pride at what she was surviving. Her mind and body were fighting her to basically jump off that boat, to escape the situation… But she didn’t. She mentally fought the battle, survived it, conquered it, and rode an easy ferry ride home on the way back.
If you’ve been through that, you should never feel anything other than pride.
The different faces of anxiety are interesting, and the way people react when faced with panic. The fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in, and it’s like internal torture.
When I have a panic attack, it’s invisible. No one has ever been able to tell (unless I faint… Whoops!) I sit there quietly, desperate to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. And I fight the urge to run from the situation, knowing that running only feeds the panic. With my friend, her panic was utterly palpable. You could see it, feel it. The sobbing, the shaking, the hyperventilation. We’re feeling the same things, but wearing it completely differently.
So, before you call someone dramatic or weak, because they didn’t ‘look’ like they were having a panic attack, or because you don’t understand why they were having one in the first place. Stop. Take a look outside yourself, and realise that even if you can’t understand what they’re going through, your steady support is all they need in that moment.