Have you ever felt like you’re being buried alive? Your heart is beating 1,000 mph, you’re visibly sweating and shaking; you feel like you’re about to vomit and you’re doing everything you can to hold it inside; your vision starts to get cloudy and everything darkens around you so you can’t see the light anymore; you’re trapped and you can’t breathe and you just WANT OUT…
Most people have never felt what I just described, much less experienced it dozens of times. Most people don’t grasp the concept that hearing “calm down, there’s nothing to worry about” over and over again doesn’t work for some. Most people can’t understand unless they’ve been through it before. Most people just don’t get it.
In general, how do people react to things they don’t understand?
That’s right. They judge.
People judge what they don’t know; what they’re not familiar with; what they don’t understand. I can’t say I blame them. We all see the world through our own lens and perspective. We are all guilty of judging others at one time or another in our lives. Actually, we are all guilty of judging on a daily basis – much more frequently than any of us would like to admit. It’s a human flaw. But it shouldn’t be an excuse. We can work toward judging less, can’t we? Shouldn’t we?
Back to the scenario I described above…
That was me on Thursday morning as I sat on an airplane headed to Atlanta. It would be my first stop as I traveled to my former home in Richmond, VA. It was going to be an amazing weekend with old and new friends alike. A weekend full of emotion, yes, but so much good. So much happiness. So much love.
I should have been on cloud nine, right? I should have been floating on air, texting nonstop to my friends, and taking selfies and posting on Facebook and Instagram, “hey everyone, here I come!”
So why in the world was I feeling like I was being buried alive?
Because in a nutshell, that’s what panic does.
It strips you of everything logical. It takes away all your regular coping skills. It stabs you in the gut and rips you open with its power. It masks the real you. It blindsides you. Nobody ever sees it coming. Nobody can plan for it. Not even the best laid out plan can be 100% foolproof. Not when you’re dealing with a panic attack.
I felt it coming. Looking back on it, I felt it coming the moment I pulled into the airport parking lot. I sensed the panic starting to rise, so I did what I’m supposed to do – “feel the fear & do it anyway.” That’s my mantra for when I feel anxious and scared. It’s just a feeling, it’s not real. Keep moving, Brooke.
And so I did. I tagged my suitcase and got through security. The panic hadn’t left yet, but I was still fighting like hell. I was going to Richmond, damnit. Nothing was stopping me. Instead of coffee like I would usually buy, I got a bottle of water and a mozzarella cheese stick. A cheese stick?? Really? Honestly, that was a first for me, but in my head I kept telling myself, “get something that’s easy on your stomach and plain.” Cheese doesn’t fit that description on a normal day for me, but that morning it did. [We all know how this story ends up, don’t we?]
Surprisingly, I ate it. I thought I would throw it right back up and I almost did on the plane. Waiting to board, I probably went to the bathroom 3 times. I actually got ON the plane. At this point it was quite a miracle. I’m not really sure how I got on it. I don’t remember boarding, I just remember sitting in my seat and a man asking me if anyone was sitting in the window seat. I don’t think I said anything to him – if I did, it might not have been English.
I remember feeling at that moment like everyone was staring at me. The sweat had started and I kept tapping my heels on the floor, almost like a rhythmic soothing mechanism. My stomach was absolutely killing me and I kept waiting for a break in the people getting on the plane so I could rush the front bathroom. I asked the flight attendants, “Can I use the bathroom please?” They nodded and moved out of the way for me.
I made my way back to my seat and I didn’t feel any better. I kept telling myself once we were in the air, I would sleep and everything would be okay. My heart kept beating faster, so I started taking deep breaths. I started looking for my earbuds so I could listen to my white noise app on my phone, but every pocket was a dead end. I gave up and my anxiety rose even more.
That’s when they shut the airplane door.
My whole world turned upside down in that moment. Because that’s when, in my mind, I was being buried alive. I couldn’t escape. It terrified me. It nearly paralyzed me. I honestly don’t know how many thoughts went through my head before I interrupted the lady pulling the mask over her face in the aisle in front of me.
“Is it too late to get off the plane?” I asked her.
“Are you sick, honey?” she asked. I just nodded through my tears, sweating & shaking.
I felt my world crashing down around me. People were staring. Asking themselves, “who’s the crazy girl?” I was trying hard not to throw up.
When the flight attendant on the phone nodded to her partner, she hung up and unlocked the door and motioned for me to come up there. I grabbed my backpack, sobbing, and raced up there only to stand for what seemed like an eternity before the door opened and a man on the other side helped me off the plane. I felt an instant sense of relief. I mean, instantaneous.
Unfortunately, panic attacks don’t just end like that. The effect they take on your body both mentally and physically is draining. So much so, that after I got home that morning (about an hour after I got off the plane), I slept all but 4 of the next 24 hours. That’s right. I literally exhausted my body, my system, my mind, myself to the point where I slept 20 hours!! What’s crazier, is that I didn’t even feel back to my normal self until today. It took me three days to feel like myself again.
If you’re reading this blog post still, thank you. Not because I want any sympathy or anything. But because I want to bring more awareness to what panic attacks are; to make people aware that they are a very real and scary thing. That they cannot be foreseen or predicted. That people with panic disorder or anxiety disorders are not incapable of controlling their emotions.
As I often say, you never know what someone is going through. You often don’t know they’re suffering at all. When I wasn’t able to make my trip this past weekend, I felt shame. I was incredibly embarrassed that I panicked and was unable to make my flight. I mean, “what kind of lame excuse is that?” I kept telling myself. “Nobody will understand why I missed one of the biggest weekends of my entire year.”
The truth is, some people won’t understand and that’s okay. But those who matter will.
If anything, this experience taught me that panic never completely goes away from your life (if you are so inclined to suffer from anxiety like myself). It also taught me that perhaps I should start speaking out more about it. Owning it. Like I would a first place trophy…just not sure how I can take a selfie with it…