“There Is No Way I Am Not About to Die”
Inside the mind of someone in the midst of a severe, acute panic attack
I’m sitting at my desk.
I try to type an email. I can’t. My hands start to shake uncontrollably. Every time I try to type a letter, it’s impossible. My hands are trembling and useless.
I wonder what is happening.
I start to sweat profusely. Beads are pouring down my face and onto my desk.
My heart is pounding so hard, pounding, like nothing I have ever felt before.
My left side feels numb.
My mind starts to race and race. What is going on? What is happening? Am I having a heart attack?
I need to get up from my desk and walk around. Maybe that will calm me down.
I stand up and start to pace around the room. My head is down, and it seems like I have tunnel vision. I can only see just barely a few feet in front of me, but I can feel my coworkers staring at me. They can sense that something is not right.
I hear one person say, “Jim, sit down. Are you alright? You are making me nervous.”
I cannot respond. I am lost. My head is spinning. My thoughts pick up speed and go to darker and more and more terrifying places.
I’m still sweating. My heart’s still pounding. I feel completely powerless as if something has taken control of my body and mind. I am a prisoner.
I don’t know what to do. I just want to make these feelings stop, but the sensations only intensify more and more by the second. The more I whisper to myself, “please stop.” The more the feelings escalate.
I start to think about my family, my wife, my daughter. What if I am having a heart attack? Who will take care of them? This must be a heart attack. What else could it be?
Things weren’t supposed to be like this.
I can still sense my coworkers staring at me.
I abruptly grab my jacket, announce that I am not feeling well and tell my coworkers I am leaving for the day.
I run out the door, into the stairwell, and down the stairs. The thought of getting into a claustrophobic elevator at this moment is too much to bear.
Once I make it outside, I start to walk. I don’t know where I am going. I just walk and walk. My mind is racing. My heart is pounding. My body is trembling. I feel nauseous.
For some reason, I feel like I can’t sit. I need to keep walking. I don’t know why that is, but it is.
The world feels like it is going a million miles an hour.
The cars seem to whiz around me like bees buzzing around a hive.
The horns honk randomly the way my mind seems to race from anxious thought to anxious thought, never ending. Is it going to end? Am I going to have these episodes for the rest of my life? I can’t function like this?
I continue to walk and think. The thinking is the worst part. “There is no way I am not about to die. I know this for a fact. It’s going to happen momentarily.”
My heart continues to pound relentlessly, like nothing I have ever felt before. I feel helpless. I cannot control my thoughts. I feel the way a driver in a car with no brakes must feel. I have no control. My mind just races on and on and on… one negative thought to the next, no breaks and I am terrified.
Finally, I look up and am in front of a hospital. I check myself into the emergency room.
The doctor tells me what, deep down, I already know. I had a severe panic attack.
After this last episode, someone suggested I try something called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction meditation, MBSR. It is a form of meditation, that, as the name implies, helps reduce stress.
After two years of not being able to sleep, having panic attacks, enduring constant anxious thoughts, and extremely low self-esteem, I was willing to try anything!
I had no idea about meditation. I did not know what meditation was. Whenever I heard the term meditation, I always had visions of a bald person in long robes sitting on a mountain, chanting as the misty fog was rolling in. Sounds a little strange but that was the picture that came to my mind.
Mindfulness has changed my life. It has taught me how to deal with the negative thoughts that previously bombarded me nonstop and robbed me of my sleep and self-esteem.
Now I practice Mindfulness in some form every day… on the subway… in bed… while walking… while speaking with my family and friends… while at work.
Mindfulness has given me back my life.
Previously, I used to have one negative thought, which would lead to another negative thought and then another and another. The process would continue to snowball. Many times they snowballed into mini panic attacks, and twice they snowballed into serious, full-on anxiety attacks that required medical attention.
These thoughts used to come on like waves crashing against a beach during a storm. One after the other, relentless. I would try to fight them. It was no use. The anxious thoughts would just keep coming. I would tell myself to ignore them in the hope they would stop. They did not. They would keep me up all night.
I thought maybe I could distract myself by watching television. That never worked. Reading, forget it! I could not concentrate and would have to re-read every other page. The waves would just keep coming and coming.
I could not escape my own, personal prison of anxiety. I could not function properly. I could not think clearly.
I was no longer the person I once was.
Anxiety robbed me of two years of my life.
Mindfulness has given me my life back.