I have described the initial trauma in my life that caused me to have anxiety attacks starting at age seven. Without any professional help or support from my family, my panic attacks plagued me almost daily in my teenage years.
Teenage Panic Attacks
As a teen, I experienced severe panic attacks. They were terrifying, gut wrenching full body ordeals. I had them very frequently, mostly in school, often several in a school day.
Here is a play by play of a typical panic attack for me as a teenager. I will use the scenario of sitting in a classroom, which has been a huge trigger and plagued me daily throughout my high school and college years.
The class is 11th grade English, and we are studying Shakespeare. This class is in the afternoon, right after lunch. Although it is hard for me to sit in any class without having an anxiety attack, this class is the worst for me.
Firsts of all, I don’t like the room. It is small with too many desks in it. I also hate that the door is in the front of the room. I prefer doors towards the back of the room, because in case I throw up or have to run, I don’t want the whole class staring at me.
I always sit in the seat closest to the exit door, but in this class, we have assigned seats. I am required to sit in a row that is 4 rows from the door and I am in the second seat. If I panic and have to leave, I will have to bowl the teacher over, as she stands directly in my escape path. So I feel very trapped and completely blocked from my exit path, which is hugely distressing.
Since my panic attacks in high school always involved fear of throwing up in class, I make sure not to eat lunch the period before this class. (Over the course of this semester, I will lose 10 pounds, and already being a skinny girl, I became freakish looking.) Furthermore, I keep Tums and a slew of antacids and peppermint gum (I read somewhere that peppermint gum can calm the stomach) in my purse and chew them like candy to prevent the projectile vomiting that will surely happen if I let the panic overtake me. (I know this intuitively, although I have never vomited in public, much less projectile vomited in my entire life).
This class is the worst because in it are popular high school kids and if I throw up or go crazy, I will just die. I am frozen with fear of what I think others are thinking of me. Sitting so close to the front of the room, I can actually feel the eyes of everyone behind me staring at me. I feel as if I am under a magnifying glass and their eyes are burning holes into my back and head. I can feel the bile in my stomach threatening to come up.
This feeling becomes so overwhelming that I feel I cannot move or someone will know that I am crazy. In my efforts to sit perfectly still, yet still look natural, I become red hot on my back and face and my heart is racing. My arm pits are cold and wet. I keep forcing myself to swallow, so the vomit won’t come up.
My breathing comes rapidly, as if I am running a one minute mile while sitting in the chair. Then I start to get dizzy. Now I’m afraid that I will fall out of my chair, onto the floor. I’m afraid that I have forgotten how to balance. I stiffen my arms in their natural pose to prevent me form falling out of my chair. I have both feet braced on the ground to help.
Wave after wave of panic overtakes my body, and after each attack, my hands are shaking, although I try my very best to sit perfectly still. I am convinced that the whole class is watching my pathetic attempt to sit still and breathe normally while not puking all over myself.
My teacher is nice. This class entails reading plays out loud, and we get to pick the character we want. I always read ahead before class and find the character who speaks the least. In Merchant of Venice, it is the servant, but even this limited participation is too much for me.
In Act 2, I have 10 lines to read, and I have a massive anxiety attack as we turn the page and I can see that my lines are approaching. There is nothing I can do, my part is coming up and I have to read. I can’t even see for a few moments while I’m having an acute panic attack, and it feels like my body is having a nuclear explosion inside. I try with all my might to sit in my chair, although every fiber of my being is telling me to RUN NOW OR DIE!!
Finally it is my turn to speak. The panic attack starts and I am powerless to stop it. The lights seem very bright, and I feel almost as if I am not in my own body. The silence in the room is deafening as everyone waits for me to speak. It feels as if I’m talking through a cardboard tube as I hear my quivering voice coming in weak gasps over my racing breaths. My mouth is bone dry.
Finally somehow, the bell rings, class is over. I am exhausted. On shaky jelly legs, I go into the girls’ bathroom as fast as I can, lock myself into a stall, and cry.
I share this information with you because I know there are folks out there who can identify with my stories and my feelings. I have come a very long way since my teenage years, and today (thank God) I am nearly panic free. The purpose of this whole blog is to provide you with free anxiety tips that have helped me, so that you can stop suffering too.
I wish you peace,
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