I have suffered from panic attacks several times in my life, as I have mentioned a few times. Each time they lasted for several months and I ended up moving out of the country for a bit to travel which helped. I have not had major attacks since I moved to Germany. A few minor ones, but nothing that lasted into multiple days.
When I mention to people that I have panic attacks, they often ask what it is like. So here is a bit of a description of how I experience them.
Anatomy of an Attack
Imagine being frightened. Something immediate, like standing on the top of a building when frightened of heights or watching a dog run at you barking and baring teeth. You get frightened and your body reacts. Adrenaline flows, your heart starts to race and your palms get sweaty. In this situation, you realize that the dog is leashed and not able to get out of the yard or that there are bars to keep you from falling. Think of this feeling of fear and how it affects your body.
Now imagine you are sitting calmly at home and have the same feelings of fear with the same body reaction, but not anything concrete you can point out as a cause. The mind starts to whirl and seek out reasons. Sometimes it latches on external things, like being in the open or being alone or movies. Sometimes it turns inward and imagines all manner of diseases are causing these feelings. The mind seems to want to get rid of these feelings and needs a source to make that change. When it can’t find something specific, the mind whirls into the random and exotic.
Fear Feeds Itselt
An attack itself is a pretty frightening thing. This is especially true if this is a new thing. It felt like I was going to die. The fear of having more attacks begins to build and feed on itself. That stress itself can help cause more attacks and it builds.
Even when I was having attacks regularly, the rest of the time even outside of the attack was stressful and anxious. That feeling of not wanting the panic made me on edge. Everything blows out of proportion. Worry and anxiety go together. Everything sets me on edge and seems far worse. Creaks and groans in the house at night. Sirens in the distance. Even food coma after a big meal can set me to anxiety.
Logic has nothing to do with it
A point to notice in most of this is that the fears and reactions have nothing to do with logic. I once was in such a state that I decided to drive from my apartment to my parents place about 30 min away. I was so into an episode that I was convinced that I was having a heart attack and stopped at the fire department less than a mile from my parents where the local ambulance also parks. They did their tests and told me that I was fine. I was of course indeed ok, but it still felt so real and so frightening. About the same time I was going to the doctor regularly trying to find the source of various aches and pains that caused me to freak out. They always pointed back to stress.
All In My Head
Yes, this kind of attack is all in my head. My brain feels frightened and seeks out a cause but cannot find one. It latches onto anything convenient. This then becomes a spark for further fear.
Just because it is all in my head does not mean it is not real. The brain has immense control over the body and its reactions. As I get tired or otherwise stressed, the brain that I trained out of this to an extent falls back into old habits and the anxiety comes back. I keep battling with it and some days are better than others. Living in Germany, meditation and prayer, getting married and even working on this blog have all helped me stabilize. I will probably be dealing with things like in one form or another for the rest of my life, but I refuse to let it control me.
As a note, this is how I experience these attacks. Others may feel it differently. If you feel like this, please go see a doctor and/or therapist. These are nasty things and really ruin quality of life, though they can be treated.