Confinement of the Mind: My Life With Panic Attacks
Written by: Michelle
Imagine you are in a dark room. The walls grow close to you; you’re utterly alone in the ever shrinking abyss of confinement. How do you get out?
My dark room was my mind.
It was like I was imprisoned. I was suffocated by my thoughts and abused by my memories. After all, Stephen Hawking says the quietest people often have the loudest minds, right?
Wrong. Calm isn’t an emotion that I have ever had the fortune of experiencing.
For example: I can find an entire hornet’s nest full of alarming possibilities to contemplate, which can be shaken up by the simplest of tasks, like catching the bus:
Check the time.
When should I leave? What if I can’t lock the door? What if I’ve forgotten something?
Check the time. Do I have enough money? What if I miss the bus? Do I have enough for the journey back?
Check the time. Where should I sit? What if someone sits next to me? What if I know someone on the bus? The bus stares me down. Get on the bus. Oh god I have to talk to the bus driver. I don’t know which stop to get off at.
Check the time. Turn around. I’d rather walk than get stung by all of those thoughts, even if it does take an hour.
I don't think someone who's never had one could even comprehend the colors; it would be like trying to imagine a new color: uselessly impossible.
Or god forbid, the worst could happen- a panic attack. It’s all in the name really, but it’s ironically not that simple. I couldn’t explain it; it would be like trying to explain a rainbow to the blind. I don't think someone who's never had one could even comprehend the colors; it would be like trying to imagine a new color: uselessly impossible. Although I’d rather be blind to panic attacks, count your blessings if you’re disconcerted by the terror that arises in me.
The last panic attack I had the infelicity of confronting was at school: the place where the eyes taunt you in their thousands. Your every move is assessed and you can feel as though you’re six feet deep and struggling to breathe without a soul even batting an eyelid at your crumbling state.
I was in my geography class before the panic attack happened, surrounded by 28 steady-handed teens and a teacher with a pair of beady eagle eyes perched at the front on his throne. He was branded the “chatty” teacher, but I don’t like chatty. I like the “no questions until the end of class” type.
He began the class with a group discussion, which is right under “presenting in front of the class” on my list of feared tasks at school (which is definitely number one on the tediously long list). As usual, I did not participate in the discussion. I never really speak if I am not spoken to, or at least, the words don’t make it out of my mouth, but I do listen. Everybody was already accustomed to continuing the discussion without me, knowing that I would note down some of their points and add some of my own, then eventually- against all odds- get top marks on the test.
But today, I did not write anything down. My books remained in my grey, tattered bag and my pen remained on my desk, untouched and gathering dust. The eagle/teacher then paired us up in twos. I was just thankful that he didn’t make us choose our partners. I could feel my partner’s eyes on me, burning through me like a laser cutting through a threadbare rope-remember to breathe, I thought, since I often forget to. I could feel her disgust like acid rain in my heart.
The teacher then began to explain what we needed to do, but it was all white noise to me from then on out. My heart pounded, my lungs collapsed, my body gave up, and my mind was sent into overdrive.
No, there wasn’t any reason for the panic attack- there rarely is- but that doesn’t change the effects of the panic. I didn’t know what to do.
I looked around. The eagle had stopped speaking and pairs were beginning to discuss, living on in their perfect, unaffected, unscathed, unexceptional bubbles whilst I had an interior breakdown. I didn’t know what to do; I followed my only instinct and ran for the door. I ran all the way down the stairs and outside to a secluded rock and collapsed upon it. I had to get away from it all.
My thoughts crumbled as I lay there, my head in my sweaty, quivering, eruptive hands, with fingerprints unique to the exterior that I barely recognized.
I didn’t know what would happen next, but I didn't care. I just screamed and screamed until my screams ran dry. My thoughts crumbled as I lay there, my head in my sweaty, quivering, eruptive hands, with fingerprints unique to the exterior that I barely recognized. Everything was silent and my body felt like it was dead. I was conscious, but I was separated from my body. I was stuck in purgatory, waiting for the hell to end.
I live in fear of it, you see. The panic dominates my mind. It controls my life. My body, however, can seem independent to my mind. The two do not work in harmony. I can be screaming my worries, misty-eyed and flustered, yet I feel the ground beneath me beat vigorously as my body contradicts me in every possible way. I still try to find a way to live with this, but I’m tired. I’ve been strained for far too long.
My psychiatrist asks me every time as I sit avoiding eye contact with her: “When was the last time you felt happy, or normal, or at ease?” The truth is that I can’t remember.
My psychiatrist asks me every time as I sit avoiding eye contact with her: “When was the last time you felt happy, or normal, or at ease?” The truth is that I can’t remember. All I know is that this disease of the mind has spawned into a monster. I am no longer in control. My state has spiraled into dangerous territory, as the ripped, red demons that have spilled out of my skin will whisper to me:
“Everyone gets addicted to something.”
I’m headed down a dark, lonely path, and the only gap between the steel bars is a tightrope between my sanity and the black hole. I don’t know which way I will fall in the end…
So, imagine you are in a dark room. The walls almost consume you. Nobody will save you from the abyss of confinement. How do you get out?
You stop imagining.