Trigger Warning: Panic Attacks
Have you ever had a panic attack?
I have. And it feels like someone is clutching your heart and squeezing the life out of it. It’s a hopeless, desolate feeling, and you feel utterly, completely alone. Reality blurs, and time seems to slip through your fingers.
Till I had them, they just seemed like far away things that happen to people, but ones I’d never actually seen. And when it was happening, I knew - thanks to being a Psychology student.
That didn’t make it any less scary.
The first time it happened, it was around midnight. Everyone was asleep, and I was watching an episode of Never Have I Ever while I munched on chips. And then suddenly, I had the overwhelming urge to cry and it felt like my chest was closing up. I knew something was off so I locked myself in my room. And then it began. I cried like the world was ending - I just could not seem to stop. And I had no idea why I was crying. The scariest of it all was the feeling of being unable to breathe. It felt like I was running out of oxygen, like my windpipe was collapsing onto itself. Nothing worked. Not the famed 5 step method, not deep breathing, nothing. I felt so, so alone. Some 45 minutes later, I was able to stop crying. I was able to breathe.
I brushed it off as a bad, one-off experience.
I have never admitted this to anyone at all.
But my heartbeat speeds up when my mom’s phone rings because it could be my Nani. And what if…? I wonder that every time the phone rings. Every damn time. It’s this inescapable fucking irrational fear. Sometimes when I wake up at night, I have to check if my Dadi is still breathing. And if I don’t, this terror takes hold of me, and I can’t think straight. When I hear arguments, my ears perk up immediately. I assume the worst. I hate it, being like this. I hate worrying and feeling terrified at every tiny fucking thing. I was never like this before the pandemic.
The pandemic ruined me. It turned me into an anxious mess. Sometimes my hands shake when I discuss something that bothers me, and I don’t feel worried, but there they are, shaking like my body is preparing for an attack. Over a tiny, useless thing. I feel weak and small, and pathetic, and I really just want to turn my brain off. OFF.
And then it happened again.
Again, with no prompting whatsoever. In the middle of an ordinary class.
My heartbeat sped up, pounding in my ears, my hands shook, my heart hurt. I crawled to the floor and tried to breathe, to cry silently. And then my mom found me. I really, really didn’t want her to find me. She has more than enough on her plate, enough people to deal with. She didn’t need one more person to worry about. I never, ever wanted her to see me like that. Nor my father, who would wonder and worry about what’s wrong with his daughter for the next week. Who would want to find their child curled up on the floor, gasping and shaking?
I look back, and it was horrible. I clung to her in a way I probably haven’t since I was a child, and cried for half an hour straight. Calming down is the hardest part - your hands shake, your voice shakes, the world spins. And then you feel exhausted. So utterly spent. But it was easier with them there. With her to hold onto.
I guess what I’m really admitting is that sometimes I just want to be held. I want to be taken care of. I want to let someone in. I want to let someone be there for me. I guess I just want someone to see me at my worst and still choose to stay.
It’s hard for me to admit this, the fact that sometimes I want someone to take care of me. I have gotten really good at pretending like I don’t need anyone to help me, ever. A sort of hyper-independence because I’m terrified of appearing weak. It’s because I am so scared of my negative traits or my lesser qualities that I frantically bury them down so no one can see. I already worry that I’m ‘too much’. I seem to believe that if people do see my worst, they won’t stay. Because I show them my best, and they don’t stay anyway.
Maybe I try so hard to be good at everything I do, to be perfect and kind and caring and always there for people because no one has ever seen me as enough. So I’m left with the lasting point to prove that I am worth people’s time, their friendship, their love. Maybe it’s because of a deeply flawed system of thinking that I have, combined with perfectionist tendencies, that leads to this messy outcome.
I like taking care of people - don’t get me wrong. I really love it. But I'm beginning to realize maybe it’s also because it makes me feel needed. It makes me feel valued and important, and maybe there’s a selfish motive under all that empathy.
As I type this, I realize that these are disjointed confessions, sort of unrelated and random. But I think I had to write this for myself - so I could feel lighter. As catharsis.
Editor: Himanshi Dodiya