I’m having a panic attack right now. I don’t know why, but I am. With my severe anxiety it’s something I go through from time to time. In my younger days I thought panic attacks weren’t a real thing, but as I grew older my autistic symptoms began to become more and more pronounced. So did the depression and anxiety, which for me, have always gone along with my autism.
For so long I’ve lived with panic attacks that I had all but forgotten about my younger days where I wrote them off as fake. At least I did until the other day.
I was working with Shannon on some projects we possibly have in the works for Not Weird Just Autistic and we took a break to watch TV. Recently, she had asked about watching a show called Schitt’s Creek, a show that I’ve seen and that I think is hilarious.
We were up to episode six of season one when the character of David, played by co-creator Daniel Levy, found out from the local veterinarian (there was no doctor in town) that he was having a panic attack. David responded by saying that panic attacks weren’t real, that they were something made up for celebrities. A line that would be used a couple of more times in the episode.
Unlike what the show had to say, panic attacks are very real, and they can be devastating to those who suffer from them. They can stop you from thinking clearly, from getting work done and from living your life the way you want to.
As I mentioned earlier, I have no clue why I’m having this panic attack at the moment. I have several things to get done, but nothing that is absolutely crucial or has any kind of a hard deadline. I don’t feel like I have any additional stress in my life and things are good with the website, podcast and with my relationship. So why is this happening?
No one knows for sure what brings on a panic attack so suddenly, but doctors do know that symptoms can range from mimicking a heart attack, to sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea and a sense that everything around them is unreal or that they’re simply going crazy.
In my case, I tend to start catastrophizing, or worrying about worst case scenarios. I did it the other day when I took my first college test in over twenty years. I just KNEW that I wouldn’t remember what I needed to remember and I was sure that I would fail even though I studied more than I think I have ever studied for a test in all my years.
As is the case with most panic attacks, the fear we feel isn’t justified and we’re making something out of nothing. In the case of my test I got an A, though I’m sure that in the days leading up to the test, my girlfriend got sick of hearing how I was sure that I wouldn’t remember what I needed to remember and that the only reason I might do well is that it was a multiple choice test.
What we feel when we’re having a panic attack, according to my psychologist, is a result of the “Flight, flight or freeze,” response that is natural to us all. Those of us who suffer from panic attacks don’t take the time to think through the possible outcomes and simply react in the worst possible way.
I hate when I do this because deep down inside, I know that everything will eventually be all right and that there’s no reason to panic, but up on the surface it’s a different story. I can’t tell you the number of times that Shannon has had to talk me down off the proverbial ledge when I’ve started panicking about things related to the website, the podcast and our social media.
Take it from me and from the thousands of people who suffer from panic attacks every single day. Panic attacks can happen to anyone and when they do, they can take you down in a matter of seconds. They can last for minutes, hours or even days. Trust me. Panic attacks are NOT just for celebrities! They are real and they are devastating.
Because panic attacks are generally not caused by anything specific and often come out of the blue, what can we do to take control of them once they happen?
One way is to get into an open environment. Feeling claustrophobic does nothing to help us get over the panic we feel. Another is to accept the panic attack and don’t try to fight it. A third way is to practice deep breathing; breathing slow and steady while counting to four and then repeating.
For more tips, look for my upcoming piece, 13 Ways to Control Your Panic Attack