At the weekend I found myself lying on the floor of a cafe in Dundee gasping for air like a newly landed fish. My ears were ringing, my heart racing at what felt like an impossible speed, and every few minutes I felt like I was about to pass out. One minute I was shivering violently the next I was too hot. My hands and face were tingling, pins and needles shooting up my arms. I was terrified. My son watched on from the side, and I couldn’t reassure him – I couldn’t do anything other than gasp for air. I didn’t understand what was happening to me, it came out of the blue and I had never experienced anything like it before. It was a panic attack.
We had spent a lovely morning at the Dundee Science Centre with my friend and had just ordered lunch at a nearby cafe when all of a sudden I felt faint. The feeling didn’t pass and my friend made me lie on the floor in case I collapsed and hurt myself. I still felt faint, my ears ringing loudly and a tingling starting to spread from my fingertips. I think – with pins and needles spreading through my body and the faint feeling refusing to disappear – I began to think that there was something really wrong with me. Whether it was this sudden fear that triggered the attack I don’t know. Or was it the fact that I’d been unable to eat much the previous week due to an upset stomach and my blood sugar levels were low, having pretty much been running on empty during that week and only just back to normal in the couple of days prior to our day out. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast that morning and maybe if I’d had lunch earlier none of this would have happened, I don’t know. For whatever reason, it did happen. I found myself crying out in fear as my heart began hammering in my chest so much that I thought it would explode and I struggled to take a single breath – and in that moment I thought I was about to die.
Suddenly I was staring up into the face of a paramedic from the ambulance. I wanted her to make it better, to give me air, and instead she told me to breathe. “I. Can’t. Breathe”, I gasped. “You can, you are breathing, you are having a panic attack”, she reassured me. She talked me through it and I was amazed as the feeling slowly returned to my limbs and my face, and the hammering gradually began to lessen. I felt like I was going to be sick and the feeling that I was about to pass out returned in waves. A panic attack. My immediate thought was that I had done this to myself, shocked that the terrifying symptoms were caused by my own breathing. As my heart rate slowed I started to cry. The paramedic was sympathetic, saying she had also had a panic attack before and knew the terror I had just experienced. I lay there, aware of people eating lunch around me. Aware that I was lying on the floor. I felt broken. Lost. Confused.
I was driven in the ambulance to my friend’s house to wait for my husband to arrive and I began apologising to everyone – my son, my friend, the paramedics, my husband. Why did I feel like I had to apologise? Because I had ‘let’ this happen. Like I had had any control over any of it. With a clearer mind I know that there was no way I could have done anything to stop it, I had no idea what it was that was happening to me – but that afternoon I felt like I had caused my friend a great deal of stress, disappointed my husband, frightened my son, and let myself down.
How do I feel now? Like the broken pieces have been stuck back together, and I am aware of the cracks. I am resting. Reading magazines. Taking long baths. Trying not to blame myself. I have downloaded the Headspace app and I have started meditating. I am being kind to myself. Writing this in order to try to make some sense of the thing that made no sense whatsoever, and then let it go; not allow it to sit on my shoulders or weigh down my mind. I do not want it to become a shadow when I am out on my own with my children. I won’t forget the experience or the complete terror of it all but I know that the cracks will fade in time. And if it is to happen again I would, most importantly, know what was happening and I would be prepared (with a brown paper bag and some relaxation/distraction techniques).
I will not blame myself, I will not let it become a part of me – it is not who I am, it was just something that happened.