The Idiot discusses (his brand of) Panic Attacks

I’ve had panic attacks of a particular kind since I was a child. For the most part, I believe I was fairly good at hiding them.  But I’m tired of letting this thing have power over me.  This has been a long time coming.

I’m certain I am by no means unique in this case. I’m sure everyone has panic attacks of some kind every now and again. We didn’t evolve such complex brains without having more than a few biological glitches thrown in. We are all genetic experiments, after all.

It typically starts with some benign idea that unexpectedly spirals into intrusive thoughts that are, by definition, difficult to stop.  I’ll provide an example later in the post.

It’s difficult to describe what I feel when it happens, and doubly so when I try to recall it without triggering it. When a panic attack occurs, it feels like my whole existence is stuck inside, for the lack of a better word, a box that I cannot perceive or break out from. My brain screams out that I’m doomed to perish in this body someday and it’s 100% inescapable. My mind, my personality, the very core elements that make up my being, will fade to nothing.

When these happen, and I’m alone, this usually manifests itself as a burst of energy in some sort of animalistic attempt to, fruitlessly, break out of this “box”. If I’m with company, I can usually suppress it to a sudden uncomfortable shuffle and a deep sigh. My heart races, and I struggle to find something else to shift my focus on.

These occur in a feast or famine scenario; I’ll get a bunch for a few weeks, and then nothing for a week or so. I never tried documenting the attacks, as to suss out some sort of cycle, because I figured that such an activity would just trigger more panic.

My intrusive thoughts tend to draw on the futility of it all. My best example for an intrusive spiral? I am fascinated by space, the universe, and theories on the origin of the universe. I obsessively wonder “How many big bangs have occurred before this one? How would we know?” during my lunch time walks.

Which, in turn, leads me to thoughts about the heat death of our universe or how our own sun will burn out one day. Doomed is the word that gets splattered across my brain, and while I know I will not be around to see any of it, it’s still a matter of panic to me.  Because even if I could somehow attain some level of immortality, I couldn’t escape the very protons of our universe burning out.

My means of tackling these attacks have been less than healthy.  If I sense a panic attack around the corner, I’ll go out and help myself to more than my reasonable share of alcohol.  Up until recently, this had done the trick.  On a more healthier note, I have also tried to keep my focus perpetually fixed on my life and those in my immediate wheelhouse; and not to ruminate on things I cannot control.  That’s helped keep me grounded.

Long story short, my brain isn’t meant for certain thoughts, it seems.

So yeah, I didn’t expect to solve any problems with this post.  But I have been keeping such panic attacks hidden away for close to three decades now.  I have brought a piece of my personal darkness into the light.  It’s all about growth, right?

2 thoughts on “The Idiot discusses (his brand of) Panic Attacks”

  1. Hi Jon.
    I cannot believe what I have just read it is as if you and I are existing through the same panic that wants to destroy our very existance. Vastness of space, how small and insignificant i am and how we are all being chased by the end of our very own being. These are usually the triggers for me in one form or another and sometimes for absolutley no obvious reason at all. The start of the attack itself can cause a fear that will self perpeuate thoughts of my own death and cause the attack to spiral out of control until sometimes I slump with very little control right on the edge of passing out. Alcohol has been a crutch but i believe only aggrevates the situation. I am astonished, I thought it was only me. Thanks for making this post.

    1. It is a comfort, however small, knowing that people experience the same kind of issues. It takes a little bit of power away from the thing that grips us. I wish I had better advice to give. But all I can suggest right now is to keep your support network informed and discover/strengthen habits that help pull you out of those spiral-down thoughts: A quick walk, a brief moment of meditation, or a text to a good friend.

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