Anatomy of a Panic Attack



You come home after your first day at the new job.  All week before today you were having anxiety dreams and stress over the upcoming job and move to the new apartment.  Finally you made it through the first day.  But still can’t seem to find a sense of calm or balance.  So you have a solid plan upon arriving home: you will take a quick pee, change and head to the gym.  Afterwards you will eat dinner, shower, try to unpack more of the boxes in your room and then go to sleep at a reasonable hour.  It seems like a fine idea because exercise is always a good stress reliever and you need to do something to stop feeling so much apprehension.

So you head over to the bathroom and deliberate for a split second over locking the door. You have a new roommate and feel that perhaps in the beginning you should lock the door, but it won’t really matter later once you know him better and feel more comfortable.  After peeing and washing your hands, you pull the knob only to find that the lock comes out in your hand.  You are locked in.

At this point your heart starts to beat fast and you start to get very warm. The apartment already seems to run hot and the bathroom is even hotter.  You are thankful that at least you brought your cell phone with you and can call your roommate or a friend.  Then your mind starts racing through all the possibilities of how long you will be stuck in the bathroom.  Can someone call the building super? How long will it take for the super to get into the apartment and then help to unlock the door? One hour? Two?  Will your roommate get home at a decent hour to help? Can you get a friend to come and help? But wait, your friend doesn’t have keys to the building or your apartment.  Your cell phone doesn’t have more than 40% battery left so it could easily run out while you are stuck in the bathroom.

The whole time that your mind is racing, your shaking hands are trying to fix the lock.  At a logical level, you can see what needs to be done and can perhaps even do it. But your mind says, “what if I can’t do it? How long will I be stuck? It’s boiling hot in here. I won’t last.”   You almost bang the sturdy door in fright and are on the verge of trying to kick it open but know that you will likely only succeed in breaking some of your own bones if you even try.

You have a vague recollection that if you close your eyes and focus on your breathing, you might even be able to calm yourself before it’s too late. 

All of a sudden, all the fumbling with the lock is successful and you are able to open the door. You swear to yourself that you will never again lock this door.  Another vow placed alongside all the other promises you made to avoid this very situation. 

As soon as you are out, you feel relieved, but very shaky. So shaky that your hands are trembling for a half hour afterwards and you can’t seem to catch your breath. You call your best friend and lament over how you very nearly freaked out in the bathroom. It could have been bad. 

You head over to the gym, but while listening to Mary J.’s remake of “One,” you find yourself on the verge of tears while on the rowing machine.  You can’t quite figure out why.