This Is What A Panic Attack Feels Like

By Kimberly Zapata

I am walking through the park when it hits me: a wave of warmth. A wash of terror. A flood of agitation, apprehension, discomfort, and unease.

Of course, I try to ignore it.

I am with my daughter — my four-year-old baby girl — and, as such, I do not have time to sit down or settle down. I do not have time for a meltdown. But “it” is coming. “The panic” is coming, and I can feel it in my stomach, in my chest, in my tense and tightening breast. So I do the only thing I know how to do: I tell my daughter to go play on the playground while I park myself on a bench.

While I try to catch my breath.

In and out. In and out. In and out.

I tell myself to focus. To be. To breath. But my efforts are futile. The more I try to calm myself the harder it becomes. It feels like I am suffocating. Like I am asphyxiating. Like I am drowning. The air is thick. It is heavy, and there is an elephant on my chest.

My breaths are short and shallow.

I gasp for air.

I can’t breathe. Oh my god, I can’t breathe.

My throat tightens.

My lungs collapse.

And my heart races.

There is a familiar fluttering in my chest. A quivering in my breast. And it feels like I am running but I am not.

I’m dying. I must be dying.

I can’t think. My thoughts are scattered.They are erratic, and my brain is so full that I cannot function.  

It — and me — are overwhelmed.

And while there is constant chatter, both in my mind and from the kiddos around me, I can’t hear anyone or thing save for the sound of my own heart pounding.

Boom, boom. Boom, boom. Boom, boom.

I begin to sweat. Not lightly or casually but in buckets. My skin is flush, and I am wet. My hands shake. My legs shake. My whole body shakes. And I am trembling so hard my teeth chatter like a bag full of marbles.

I shiver and shake on this warm summer day.

I feel like screaming but I can’t. My mouth is dry. My throat is locked, and my voice is missing.

Nothing comes out of my mouth save for a raspy, wheezing sound.

Besides, even if I was able to scream, no one would understand why. I am not being hurt, attacked, cornered, or robbed. I am not struggling, suffering, shuddering, or in pain. Instead, I am mom sitting still on a park bench.

I look “normal.”

From the outside, everything seems normal.

So I close my eyes. Tight. Like a little kid hiding from the monster beneath their bed. I close my eyes and try to hide from the monster in my mind.

In and out, Kim. Just breathe. In and out.

And eventually, it works. My body relaxes, not all at once but in waves. My toes uncurl. My shoulders slump. My skin cools. I feel the breeze on arms, my legs, my back, and my face, and my throat unclenches — though the vice on my neck is the last to leave. But the attack is far from over.

The anxiety has left me, but the fear remains. And my body? It is broken.

 I feel like a dog’s chew toy. I have been beaten and shaken; tossed, lost, and exhausted. And now, I lay alone and broken.

Left on the floor with my insides pouring out through busted seams.

But I am here. In spite of it all, I am here. And so I sit. I be. And I breathe.

In and out. In and out.

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