You never forget your first time - why I have unending respect for those who suffer from panic attacks
By Tom Wavre

If you suffer from panic attacks you will know how debilitating and frightening they really can be.  I didn’t know.  I didn’t understand.  Until I had my first one.

You never forget your first time

I was out with people from work before a sales meeting.  I’ve not always been able to say this, but I was with good people, at least one of whom I’d class as a good friend.  It was an enjoyable evening, I’d had a few beers but nothing over the top.  In a small pub in Stratford-upon-Avon, I turned from the bar with my new pint in hand and my heart started to thump.

I didn’t know what the hell was going on.  My chest and lungs were constricting.  I put my pint down and went outside unnoticed.  With a little fresh air, I told myself, I’ll calm whatever this is and get some normality back to my body.

It didn’t work.

What the hell is going on?

By now my heart was beating out of my chest but in a very irregular beat.  It would race for a bit, then seem to stop for a few seconds before a quick fire couple more beats, before stopping for far longer than seemed healthy, then racing for a while again.  I found it difficult to get my breath.  Everything around me was a bit of a blur.  I couldn’t focus my mind in the slightest.

Standing, sitting, head between knees, fresh air, privacy of a bathroom stall.  Anything my mind could think of that might help I tried.  They all failed.  I’d felt anxious before and these things had stopped me feeling anxious, so clearly this wasn’t that I told myself.  I told myself my heart must be in real trouble.

I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually my body began to calm down.  My heartbeat becoming more regular, the adrenaline or whatever else that had been racing around my body began to subside.

Soon I was in a taxi back to the hotel with my colleagues. I spoke to the one I class as a good friend about what had happened.  She was concerned, but things seemed ok, although I was wiped out.

Straight to bed, half joking when I said ‘Good night, hope to see you tomorrow’, I was genuinely concerned that whatever the fuck this heart issue was might come back and it might stop working on me.  Game over.

The Morning After

After an uneventful night that I don’t recall too well, the next day I went to the meeting.  Think I turned up late, don’t really recall.  Don’t recall if I gave my presentation, don’t recall if I left early to drive back, though I know I didn’t leave too early, as to begin with I couldn’t face it.

The room full of construction industry salesmen (ie banter is far more important than concern for others!) would one by one look at me.  They wouldn’t ask if I was alright, they would straight away say, in a quieter than usual voice ‘Should you be here mate?  You look like hell’.  Rather than the expected ‘Can’t you take your drink’, or ‘Man up’, or whatever, it was genuine concern and suggestions of going to the hospital.

You see, I was actually grey that day.  Like in the cartoons but in real life.  It was obvious to all that I was wrecked and that something in my body had gone horribly wrong.

It’s a what now?

A couple of days later, I was feeling back to normal and fine.  Though I was still concerned about what had happened to my heart, and whether it was a sign of an issue that might come back and bite me even harder than it already had.

Skip to the end…  I finally learned that it had been a panic attack.  I felt relief that my heart was fine, but filled with self stigma, mixed with fear of stigma from others, that made me shut the hell up about it and tell no-one.

If you Suffer from Panic Attacks – How do you do it?

This was perhaps 7 years ago, and thank fuck I’ve never had another one.  It was horrendous.  It obliterated my day and wiped out the next day.  There had been no obvious trigger to be able to blame.  My brain wants the logic of cause and effect which is another reason why mental illness is such a bugger.  Seemingly, there is no logic.

Some of you suffer from panic attacks regularly, some of you even daily, how do you do it?  I have unending, overflowing respect for you.  When I see what you put up with on such a regular basis, I am wide eyed in amazement.  That panic attack has to be one of, or perhaps the, worst experience of my life.

You have my admiration, my respect, my sympathy and a thousand other emotions that can’t help you next time you’re in the midst of a panic attack.  You are unfathomably strong.  Those who don’t suffer these awful attacks simply can’t know how strong.

Never doubt yourself, you are utterly amazing.

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