Panic attacks are like, so scary. Way scarier than Children of the Corn and that movie was fucking terrifying. I still cannot believe there are parents who chose to name their kid Malachi after having seen that movie. Anxiety attacks are way scarier than that but also way more ridiculous than another horrifying movie from the 80’s: From Beyond, which I remember mostly as some really crazy pineal glands wiggling around like possessed worms and causing havoc. Panic attacks = 80’s horror movies in every single way because the ridiculousness is matched only by how terrifying they are despite their ridiculousness.
When a panic attack comes, you are completely safe. Safe as can be. Everything’s pretty much alright. Sure, there’s an extra 10 pounds on your body and you could use a couple hundred thousand dollars. But all told, most things in your immediate reality are not cause for alarm. And even though literally nothing is happening to you: you could be, say, chewing gum and walking down the sidewalk, your body suddenly is shouting at you, “NO! NOTHING IS EASY! BREATHING IS DANGEROUS! DEATH IS IMMINENT! YOU ARE GOING TO CHOKE ON THAT GUM! ALSO THERE IS TOTALLY A CORNFIELD RIGHT BEHIND YOU WITH SOME REALLY FUCKING SCARY KIDS THAT ARE COMING FOR YOU. ISAAC IS BEHIND YOU. RIGHT NOW MOTHERFUCKER!” And suddenly your lovely, mostly neutrally-existent body goes all-in to convince you of grave danger, just really goes for it to make it real for you. Like it’s auditioning for Hamlet overseas, desperate for a new beginning after a failed movie career.
Unless I’m wrong, and I am never wrong, chewing gum and walking down the sidewalk are pretty safe in the scheme of things. But while you’re walking and looking normal, thinking, “Act normal,” your smiling neighbor walking her dog waves to you. And you smile and wave back, thinking your teeth feel dangerous, trying to ignore your screaming body. Because your body is in a cage match with reality, trying to convince you that spontaneous combustion really could happen at any moment or, alternatively, you could pass out instantly and soil yourself in front of your neighbor and her dog. Every moment and thing in the world is petrifying. Including that blade of grass, definitely that honeybee, the invisible smog in the air, the branch that could fall on your head, your heart beating too fast, and the skin holding your bones in.
It’s amazing how effective your nervous system is at convincing you that you are literally losing your mind. It is so convincing. All of the years of mindfulness practice where you observe your thoughts as they come and go…while hearing Deepak Chopra’s soothing voice in your ear….as soon as a panic attack shows up, it wins over all that. Way to go sympathetic nervous system. It squashes Deepak like a bug. And if your panic attack nervous system really were in a cage match, it would definitely win because it is so fucking committed. Nobody wants it more than your flight or fight response.
Today’s panic attack brought some fairly juicy imaginative thoughts like:
- I am literally going insane
- I am reliving a traumatic past life where I had a best friend named Trixie
- I am being invaded by foreign invisible entities and/or are still carrying invasive beings from years ago but never knew it
- I am stuck in a loop of unprocessed emotion that I cannot get out of like an M.C. Escher stairwell
- my kidneys are failing right now
- The electricity in the room is attacking me
- The fly in my wine is a sign of impending evil and/or carries a bacteria that will kill me
- I am too dizzy to sit or stand or walk and too nervous to lay down
- I’m so scared I cannot journal. Writing words will make feelings bigger
- Inhabiting my body inside my skin is too trippy to think about- I might lose my mind if I think about being a sentient being
- I immediately need to start walking a long distance but it won’t work to reduce panic unless it’s in the mountains, I must be in the mountains and I’M NOT
- Sitting is squishing my cerebral spinal fluid and causing more panic
- There’s definitely something really wrong with my cerebral spinal fluid
- If I take one step to the left, I’m going the wrong way. (Ditto one step to the right.)
- I might need to quit my job immediately. I am too crazy to work.
- The metal decor of the room is interfering with my electromagnetic field
What I don’t get is how evolution could do this to us. Good job, evolution. In what sane world do unprocessed emotions cause the same reaction that a tiger charging causes?
That’s really all I wanted to say. Panic attacks are ridiculous and terrifying. And that the sympathetic nervous system would win in a cage match against reality. Also, 80’s horror movies, panic attacks = Same.
That sounds truly awful. I’m sorry.
I’ve had exactly one measurable panic attack. My heart was racing, there was a wooshing sound in my ears and I felt I needed to act! At about one in the morning, I stubbled in the dark through the neighborhood calling my girlfriend’s name. She was not yet home and so I was sure she was missing and in trouble. When I had finished my stomping through yards and the street behind and in front of my house, I made it back home to discover her brushing her teeth. I felt I was the ridiculous one.
Thanks for this post. I much prefer the frame that the panic attack was the ridiculous one.
Michael- That sounds terrifying. I wonder what caused it?