What A Panic Attack Feels Like

A panic attack is the last thing I am thinking about today. I am sitting on a train – just about to send a message to my husband saying “I did it! I’m on the train!” Getting on a train is a big deal for me you see and I am just about to congratulate myself for making it this far. I take the ticket out of my purse and my eyes search for the date, time and destination of my train. My eyes fix on the date. I’ve gone and booked the train for the wrong day.

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The rush of the panic attack takes over completely. It starts with the back of my hands. They tingle as if they are being burnt with short sharp blasts of fire. That intense heat then rushes up my arms and to my face.  My foot starts tapping on the floor, an instinctive reaction that I have when I feel stressed. I look at the ticket again – this can’t be happening.

I start thinking about what will happen if I get caught on the train with the wrong ticket, will I have to pay more? Here we go, the heat on my face again. I haven’t got enough money in my account for another ticket. Will they throw me off the train? Will I be stranded somewhere? How will I get home? People around me will think that I am some kind of criminal trying to get away with a free journey.  I’m going through so many scenarios it’s starting to get confusing. Even if I get away with not showing my ticket, how am I going to get through the barriers at Paddington? Jump the gate? No. I’m still worried about the money situation.

I tried to call my husband but he’s in a meeting so he’s not picking up. I start panicking even more. I try to think where about in the country he is. Can he come and pick me up? Of course, he can’t. Deep down I know he would have been the calming influence but the fact that I cant get in touch with him makes it even worse.

The Remedy

I knew that soon the ticket inspector is going to be walking towards me soon. I need to make a decision. Maybe I could pretend to be asleep. Get off at Reading? But I have a meeting in London. I’ve got to do something soon this is getting ridiculous. I’ve got such a headache now and my mouth is so dry. I realise that if I don’t talk to someone I am going to implode.

I open a new message to some friends and start writing – “can someone help me? I’m having a panic attack”. It doesn’t take long for someone to come back to me. Someone tells me to count the seats in the carriage. At first, you’ll think – how on earth is that going to help?  But, I found that if I concentrated on the counting, the feeling of panic, the heat of my face and the beat of my heart calmed a little. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths as I counted slowly and by the time I got to 68 my breathing had almost returned to normal.

After the Panic Attack

It was like the fog had lifted and I was able to think more rationally. I had automatically assumed that the ticket inspector would be angry. I thought he would judge me and he would throw me off the train or fine me hundreds of pounds.

What my friends were able to suggest was that not all people are angry and unkind like my imagination had told me, the majority of people are nice people. I built up the courage to speak to him the next time he passed my seat. I can’t even tell you what I said to him, what words I used. But In the space of about thirty seconds my ticket was sorted. The ticket inspector had written on the back of the ticket,  his name and employee number.  He said if they questioned the validity of the ticket at Paddington that they should get in touch with him. Phew. Phew. Phew.  And, it was fine. Everything was fine.

Upon Reflection

How can it make me react in such an extreme way to something that to others may seem like nothing? Why couldn’t the rational thoughts take over for once?  Why can’t I have the confidence that I so desperately desire? Why can’t I just get on a train like it’s the most normal thing in the world?

I don’t have the answers to those questions but I do feel like I learn something new after every panic attack. This time, I learnt that there are a lot of seats in a train carriage, I learnt that people are nice and people do care. I felt so grateful to that ticket inspector I left him a note to say ‘thank you’!

I’m sure I will have a panic attack again and I won’t understand why.  I will battle with myself over and over. Panic attacks can happen when you least expect it. They can be triggered by a flashback, being in a dangerous situation or because you have the wrong train ticket. I have found a coping strategy that works for me right now and it’s as simple as counting! If I feel one coming on I start counting what is around me.  Doing that immediately calms my thoughts and my breathing.

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  • Holly Wilde

    I recognize the burning feeling especially but this account also shows me how different people’s attacks are. For me, as an agoraphobic it is the open space, sensory overload, movement of the train, vsrious irrational thoughts etc that control my panic. Having a problem with my ticket might worry me slightly but if anything since getting panic disorder I’ve become less consumed by these types of social worries as I feel there’s something ‘bigger’ and worse to be afraid of. I would just handle it best I could. My friend hates being left alone. I on the other hand am usually ok, if anything I prefer the peace. I think it would help awareness and those working with us to hear different stories because we’re not all the same.x

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Panic and anxiety most definitely takes different forms, we completely agree. And we really hope that you have some brighter days on the horizon soon. Look after yourself Holly!

  • Mike

    Incredible piece Amy. I’ve never experienced a panic attack but your description was very vivid and powerful. I remember when I forgot my railcard on the train and I can totally sympathise with how that can escalate into a panic attack. Thank you for sharing your story. Stay strong.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Thank you for your lovely words Mike <3