The story of my first panic attack is not a pretty one.
I was in my early years of university. I remember that day perfectly: the sun was shining, and it was mid-spring. Spring is my favourite season because of the warmer weather. Seeing the flowers bloom and the birds return from their southern retreat gets me excited for spring. I enjoy the increase in daylight and the temperate weather.
The weather didn’t concern me that day because my world felt like it was falling apart.
I was having some difficulties with my social circle that year. One of my best friends from high school didn’t want to be friends anymore.
But instead of ending our friendship amicably and respectfully, she wanted all the drama.
It felt like, given the way she had ambushed me, I had done something to hurt her. When I confronted her about it, she never mentioned anything of the sort. From her point of view, she thought I was changing as a person and wanted nothing to do with me.
Which was fine. But again, the drama.
So we parted ways, sometime around the new year. It was sad at first, but I got used to the distance. We were barely on speaking terms.
I never took it to heart. I was young, so I was able to make friends quickly (try making friends as an adult!). My new circle were charming and welcoming, but they also seemed to have some issues in their circle.
But I was happy to have new friends. And school was a welcome distraction. Turns out she was acting the same way to some of our other high school friends, cold and distant.
Here’s what initiated the panic attack. A few months later, a couple days prior to the incident, she messages me after school via email.
She apologizes profusely about her behaviour. She claimed she was in a negative space. Her boyfriend was mistreating her, and things at home were tough. She said she never wanted our friendship to end.
I was elated and happy to have my friend back in my life and updated her about school and life. I told her that I missed how easy our friendship was, but made the unfortunate mistake of telling her about the drama with my new group of friends.
Well, turns out she had also become close with my new group of friends.
What she did next was what triggered the panic attack.
The next day at school, I get a cryptic text from her – meet me in the cafeteria, it read. I sent a smiley face and made my way to meet her.
She wasn’t alone. She was sitting in the corner of the food court with my new friends, and her laptop open. I could hear my heart beating as I made my way over. Did she tell them what I told her over email?
I was right. It was a full on ambush. Immediately my friends interrogated me on why I said those things about them. I couldn’t lie about it either – my now ex-friend and our previous email chain made sure of that. I felt hurt, sad and betrayed.
The conversation didn’t last long. I left the cafeteria after a few minutes. I remember being unable to study because my mind was racing with what happened. I had a final the next day I needed to prep for.
Well, you can imagine how terribly I did in that exam.
Now, in high school I wasn’t a straight A student, but I never got anything lower than a B. I have always been quite book smart. So I took the failure to heart.
I handed in my blank exam and walked out the door. I felt lightheaded. My feet didn’t feel like they were touching the ground. I floated out of the exam room and into the hallway.
Somehow I made it all the way into the food court to get something to eat. I was at the register, about to pay for my sandwich, when I caught sight of the same corner table I was interrogated at.
And that’s when I felt it.
There was suddenly no oxygen in my lungs. My world started to spin. My once floating feet were now heavy like bricks. A huge weight landed on my chest and pushed me to the floor.
I hadn’t realize I had collapsed until someone was lifting me up. My chest was expanding violently, trying to grasp for air. Someone was encouraging me to breathe. I didn’t recognize the voice.
When I finally realized what had happened, I shot up. I grabbed my unpaid for sandwich and ran out of the cafeteria. I ran into the nearest washroom and locked myself in the corner stall. My breathing was still out of control.
I didn’t know it then, but looking back, I had suffered my first panic attack. The dizziness, lightheaded-ness, and the laboured breathing were all classic signs of one. I felt an overwhelming anxiety rush over me and I couldn’t contain it.
Although my friendships and my failed exam were the causes of my panic attack, I didn’t know that there was an underlying issue.
In hindsight I felt out of control. Everything was shifting. I was dealing with a changing social dynamic and it had a domino effect on other parts of my life.
I felt like a passenger in my own life.
Panic attacks are not as common in my life as they used to be. But I’m not afraid of them anymore. Yes, they are quite scary. And remembering that the attack will pass is often impossible.
But it always does.
Have you ever had a panic attack? How did you deal with it?