I’m asleep, deeply asleep. Suddenly, I’m awake, having sat bolt upright in the pitch-black darkness of my room. What is happening? Why is my heart pounding so hard that I fear it may actually explode? It’s then, and only then, that I feel the cool metal of the gun that is pressed to my temple. Ice cold. My heart races, although there is no light, the room spins and I’m powerless to overcome it. I begin to hyperventilate, breathing heavily and unsteadily, gasping for air. I assess the situation quickly: I was asleep. I was alone. Now I feel the gun pressed against my head and try to decide what to do next.
In any situation where there is an element of risk and danger, bodies go into ‘fight or flight’ mode: literally. Our bodies are fitted with security alarms for situations exactly like this. My body recognizes danger and is quickly flooded with adrenalin. I try to focus, try to make sense of what is happening, formulate a plan to get through this ordeal. Do I fight or do I run?
Every fibre of my being is being stretched to its limits. My body feels like it’s on fire, waves of heat washing over me, followed closely buy a cold sweat.
Every nerve in my body is on edge, screaming mutely. I want to be sick. I just want to throw up. Why is this happening to me? I go to flick the bedside lamp on, but can’t move. The fear, the adrenalin, the element of surprise has left me paralyzed. My muscles are spasming as they fill with lactic acid, ready to run a million miles an hour, away from the intruder with the gun, away from the nightmare that has sucked me under.
I feel helpless. I am overwhelmed with emotion, none of which is particularly logical. I just have to get out of here, away from this situation. I need some reprieve from the absolute sense of dread that has filled every particle of my being. I want to scream, but can’t. I want to run, but my legs won’t oblige. On the brink of passing out due to my breathing, I am suddenly made aware of the reality of this situation.
The ‘gun’ isn’t real. There is nobody near me. I am completely and utterly alone. My family members are asleep in their respective rooms. There was no gun. But I was held hostage- by a faulty alarm system. My body, like yours, is designed to protect itself when triggered. The difference is, my alarm goes off anywhere, anytime, and for NO good reason. My body is flooded with chemicals that trick me into thinking I’m going crazy, that I’m in danger.
My reality is that I have Panic Disorder. I have to live with the fact that at any moment, when least expect it, that ‘gun’ will get pulled on me again and I will be hounded with symptoms and side effects. I was 10 the first time this happened. I was 14 when it became too hard, too heavy, and I gave in to it. My family found me psychiatric help, and I could be diagnosed. Some people have Panic Disorder as a result of a trauma they have been through. Others have a chemical imbalance, which triggers the adrenal glands at random moments. I am of the latter. I’m nearly 33, and have been medicated since I was 14. I tried alternative therapies as well. My disorder is well managed. You wouldn’t know from dealing with me that there is any history of panic, anxiety and agoraphobia. I don’t ‘hide’ it intentionally, but it has become so embedded in who I am that I don’t give it a second thought. I was emotionally held hostage by a body that sabotaged itself. Before medication I was having around 20 episodes a day. These leave you drained, sore, tired and wrung out.
I take my medication. I see a psychiatrist twice a year at most. Balance is restored. I lead a relatively stress free life. But it wasn’t always this way and while the stigma attached to antidepressants, or seeing a psychiatrist hasn’t necessarily diminished, people have (in my experience) become more accepting of the fact that I have Panic Disorder. I’m not ashamed of it, but I hate it. It’s not something I would wish on my worst enemy. If you’re reading this and can identify, please hear me when I say IT GETS BETTER. It doesn’t have to be a life sentence. I decided years ago that if I was going to have to live with Panic Disorder then I wouldn’t let it control me, I would control IT. I call the shots. And because it’s been nearly 23 years since my first attack, I’ve learned along the way to cope. I’ve used it to help me fuel my art, my poetry, my music.
I know now I’m not crazy. I’m not broken. I am not weak. I never was.
Have you ever experienced a panic attack? Do you struggle with another kind of anxiety?
Images in this post are artworks by Maree Talidu
Maree Talidu has written 46 posts.
Maree is a high school teacher who is first and foremost a child of God and values her faith, her family & her friendships. Maree has gypsy blood and music running through her veins. She is an advocate for 'Invisible Illnesses' and is passionate about helping her students realise their full potential. Maree collects sneakers, concert tickets and all things kitsch. Maree once broke up with someone who accused her of inventing the word 'cryptic' to confuse him. She loves video games and remains unbeaten on 'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3'. Maree likes to write on behalf of those who may not feel they have a voice.