Panic Attacks: 'I Had An Anxiety Disorder But Was Too Scared To Tell Anyone'
This is a teen-written article from our friends at Youth Communication, a nonprofit organization that helps marginalized youth develop their full potential through reading and writing.
I stood in the darkness of my room, my bloody hands quivering to the same beat as my legs. Sweat rushed out of my pores as I looked around to see if any of my family members had witnessed my sinful act. I tilted my head to look down at the wooden floor where my mom’s pale white corpse was lying with multiple stab wounds and bloodstains all over her nightgown. I just stared with eyes wide open as the thought ran through my head over and over again: “Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”
This wasn’t reality. I never killed anyone. Nor was it part of a script for some new horror film. It was all just a terrible dream. At least, that’s what everyone said to me, and I wanted to believe them. But as hard as I tried, my mind and body wouldn’t let go of this nightmare that I had in April 2010. It marked the start of a severe, two-week panic attack.
A panic attack (also called an anxiety attack) is a sudden, extreme fear that can be triggered by a specific, upsetting event or can happen without cause. It’s usually accompanied by sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath.
I’ve been a somewhat nervous person for most of my life. I even experienced panic attacks before this one, but of a smaller magnitude. I had nights where I’d shake uncontrollably and not sleep, or get a feeling of electricity running up and down my body. On those occasions, I would read a book or exercise and I would feel better. But when I got my severe panic attack, reading or exercising didn’t come to me easily.
The week before it happened, I was my usual weird self. I cracked perverted jokes to my friends, hung out with my boyfriend, watched horror movies, and spent time imagining stories or drawings I should create. The only unusual circumstance was that school had been especially stressful; I was a senior, so the teachers were extra strict with grades and some classmates were acting up. I wasn’t getting much sleep, since I usually went to bed at midnight and had to wake up around 5:30 every morning. Questions and comments like “What college are you planning to go to?” and “Why are you going to that college? It sucks” had begun to crop up among my peers. It all gave me a headache, and to make matters worse, some evenings I was too busy doing homework to hang out with my friends or my boyfriend.
April 19 was a normal school day: I went to all my classes, paid attention as best I could, and came home with a headache. I went online in an effort to forget about school. I felt a bit drowsy, so I started to read The Almost Moon, a novel about a woman who murders her elderly mother, and just fell asleep. That’s when my personal hell started.
I woke up suddenly in a cold sweat. I was shaking like a homeless man stuck in a blizzard. A panicked voice in my head was going, “Why did I have that dream? Am I going to do that in real life?”
I had no reason at all to hurt my mother; our relationship was great. We rarely fought and we talked every day. Yet after I awoke from the dream, my mind remained on that same thought like a broken clock. I kept remembering how some trivial dreams that I’d had in the past had come true—for example, I once dreamt I was playing soccer with friends, and we played soccer the next day in school. In my state of panic over this nightmare, my mind wouldn’t let go of the idea that these horrifying images might come true, too.
I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. I thought that maybe I should eat, so I got out of bed. My legs felt like vibrating spaghetti. Each step felt worse. When I hit the kitchen, I poured milk on cereal and sat down at the kitchen table. I took a bite, but it made me feel sick to my stomach. I ran back to my bedroom.
I didn’t know what to do. I went on my computer, hoping it would calm me down. My sister and my dad called to me to clean the dishes, and I tried to control my shaking and act as normal as I could. I wanted to tell them what I was feeling; I usually have a good relationship with them, too. But now I was scared that they might send me to an asylum.
When night came around, my eyes were wide as the full moon. I tried everything from watching TV to exercising, but nothing helped me sleep; I spent the whole night awake.
What’s Wrong With Me?
I didn’t want to go to school the next morning, but I had to. I grabbed the pants that I’d worn the day before and a clean t-shirt. My body was still shaking and sweating and my thoughts remained the same. When I passed through my kitchen, I saw a knife on the table and my heart started to pound. I grabbed my bag and ran out of my house.
School didn’t make it better at all; I was still shaking and paid no attention in class. Two of my teachers must have noticed something, because they came up to me separately and asked, “Are you all right?” I just gave them a weak smile and said I was.
At home that evening I lay on my bed in the fetal position, terrified. It felt like the old me had rotted away and left only weak, shaken bones behind. I wanted to go back to normal.
I went on my computer to search around for information on what I was going through, and ended up thinking that I was suffering from schizophrenia. That made me freak out even more. I felt that if people found out what was going on I’d be ostracized for the rest of my life, so when my dad or my sister passed by and asked me if I was OK I called out, “I’m fine, I just have a little stomachache.”
Click here to read the rest of the article on YCTeenMag.org.
Reprinted with permission from Youth Communication.