If you struggle with panic and anxiety, you’re not alone.
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I had my first panic attack when I was 21. I was out shopping. Suddenly the lights seemed too bright, everything started to pulse slightly and I felt really nauseated. I ended up falling to my knees and fainting in the mother-and-baby aisle of a pharmacy.
Winningly, when I came round I was covered in boxes of breast pumps.
I had several "episodes" after that, but because they were so physiological I didn't realised they were panic attacks until my doctor diagnosed me with panic disorder. By then, though, I was deep in a spiral of anxiety and soon I couldn't leave the house without fainting.
I had developed severe agoraphobia. The anxiety was so constant that I couldn't eat so I lost two stone. I experimented abortively with antidepressants, started psychotherapy, and embarked on a gruelling programme of deliberately going into situations that induced panic attacks on a daily basis to try and inure myself against them.
In total it took me four years and two relapses to get to a point where I could go back to work. But it worked. I now travel freely and haven't experienced an acute panic attack for years, although I do suffer with depression and generalised anxiety.
Personally, I found knowing what's physically happening during an attack, some useful hacks – plus being aware of the fact that it will pass – helped me to get through an attack.
But what I could really have used back then were other people's experiences of panic and anxiety, and knowing that I wasn't on my own in this struggle. So that's why I collated these stories for anyone who might be going through something similar.
It feels as if the world is rushing at me. Noises become very pronounced and it makes my head swim. Sometimes I can find it difficult to focus, sometimes I feel disoriented. My heart rate soars and I become very aware of my breathing.
I sometimes have pins and needles in my hands or a sudden tension across my shoulders. Other times I feel an intense bolt of fear, which makes me want to move away but roots me to the spot. My attacks pass quickly but arrive with no warning.
I know they go away eventually, so this takes a little of the edge off the attacks.
It's varied at different times in my life. I remember being a teenager in a Game store, and I didn't feel panicked at all, but suddenly I just couldn't see. Then, of course, I panicked! I sat down outside and things went back to normal, but that was pretty terrifying for a while.
At other times I know what's set me off – stress and worrying, thoughts racing, not being able to get out of your own little bubble even though you know that's what you're doing. Or some emotional trauma.
I think "panic attack" is a misnomer. It suggests the panic is what starts it off, but the panic itself can result from something unidentified, too.