So about a week ago, on my way to work, I think I had what I believe to be my first ever panic attack.
I know that’s strange to say that “I think” I had a panic attack, but from what I know about the symptoms of one, I’m pretty certain it was one.
An interesting commute
Those that have had a panic attack in their life probably read those first few lines and thought “you would know what a panic attack is if you had one”. So let me explain what I felt so you can decide for yourself.
It happened when I was driving to work on the M25 and I started feeling what I’m presuming were the symptoms of a panic attack.
I suddenly felt very cold all over, but at the same time quite slightly clammy, a bit like I had a fever. My chest started feeling a bit tight and I suddenly became very aware that I could hear my breathing. My muscles – and I mean ALL of my muscles – started feeling very charged, like they were buzzing with adrenaline.
At the same time, my mind felt like it was suddenly in fast forward. It felt like my brain had morphed into a beehive with all of these thoughts flying around and banging into each other.
It all hit me at once and out of nowhere. It wasn’t like it built up over time, it just straight up smacked me in the face.
Now, as you can imagine, it wasn’t the best time to being a panic attack driving at 70mph on the M25. Thankfully, that didn’t make me more nervous like you would think it might. Instead, I noticed it pretty quickly and started taking deep breaths to calm myself down. It helped chill me out at the time but I could still feel the kind of fight or flight symptoms until about lunchtime.
Haunted by old memories
I think what set it off was what I was thinking about at the time.
I was thinking about some specific times in my life where I’ve felt particularly embarrassed and which I always look back on in frustration. Times where I’ve felt belittled and shamed in front of my friends or co-workers. The kind of times where I’ve felt betrayed by my own friends as they mock me in public in order to make them feel better about themselves.
Unfortunately, these are the kind of memories I feel are always simmering under the surface which occasionally break through into my conscious thought. And when they do, I find it hard to stop thinking about them.
In this instance, I was thinking about them so in depth that I actually started getting irritated at nothing. I started repeating the scenarios in my head over and over again trying to ‘fix’ the past and alter the memory somehow. I even found myself speaking the dialogue that I wish I had said (which is new).
This is something I’ve done for a while but has never affected me to this extent. It’s similar to my behaviour of reciting my lines before I speak. Thankfully, I’ve kind of forgotten about that behaviour, whereas my remembering of past events has seemed to have stuck with me.
A harsh reminder
What’s really odd about this is that I have felt pretty good in the past couple of weeks. Sure, I’ve had my moments of frustration caused by my anxiety, but nothing close to how bad I’ve felt in the past.
The fact that this happened when it did then is pretty strange to me. When it happened, I did feel particularly engrossed in my thoughts which I suppose is pretty dangerous when you have a history of anxiety.
I suppose there is a lesson to be learnt from this though: I can’t let me guard down. It feels like it was a kick up the arse from my own mind telling me to stay aware of what I’m thinking. Because if I don’t stay aware, maybe this’ll happen again.
So that’s what I’m going to try and do. I’m going to try and get back into my conscious monitoring behaviour that I learnt from my CBT sessions and try and nip this kind of thing in the bud before it can develop into something more serious.
Let’s hope it works.