My cheeks radiate a heat foreign to my body. Water falls from my eyes and sizzles as it rolls down my burning cheeks. I can feel my nostrils flare and see my chest expand but no oxygen is flowing through me. My friend, Tejas, calmly says, “Damn it, I haven’t signed up for the AP test yet”. I reach for a grip on life with trembling hands. My legs and feet get this nervous twitch as if my body is a ticking time bomb. *Tick, tick, tick* Not only am I about to explode but it feels as though I am outside myself, forced to watch the events unfold. My rational thoughts become a useless bomb squad frozen in its tracks, waiting to evaluate the carnage they could not save. Time is running out. Where do I take cover? “Are you.. okay?” My silence is deafening. My eyes plead for a sign that Tejas can see my distress, knowing that if I open my mouth all that will come are cries. A moment of nothing. One sob, two tears, three deep breaths. I finally reply with a smile, “I’m pretty sure I signed up for that already.” Everything returns to normal and life continues on.
Not all attacks are the same. They can’t be categorized because people react to pressure differently. I hate crying. I loath the puffy redness of my face, especially since the roundness of my face is already a cemented insecurity. During a panic attack, I begin to lose control of the very things I pride my character on. Tears don’t flood my eyes like a spontaneous tsunami. Instead they build up in my body, pulsing pressure through my ears, nose, eyes, head, and worst of all, my throat. Contradictory feelings of wanting to upchuck and needing to swallow make it hard to focus on anything besides not choking on the very emotions I want to suffocate.
I can’t tell you when they began — not from embarrassment or fear of pity for 6-year-old me suffering from panic attacks but because I truly do not have a defining attack. Every month or so, the typical four hours of sleep I got the night before wouldn’t be able to withstand the six hour school days and full-body exhaustion from sports. These academic stress filled nights were prime time for panic attacks to wage war on my mind, body, and soul. Panic attack happy hour was extended to more than once a month. Soon they got to invade my life once a week like parasites. I’m aware that I’m not a perfect scholar. Procrastination, my achilles heal, soon sank my grades and drowned my with them. Growing up, school wasn’t difficult for me. Heck, it was barely a challenge. I could skate by with As in anything until sophomore year. The information didn’t stick like it did before and I struggled to stay afloat in classes others thrived in. Who knew how to study? Not me! I never had a use for the process until it was my last resort. Public panic attacks are more threatening, especially at school where everyone is obsessed with blending in. My symptoms started to flare when I was called on in class or when I was not performing exceptionally at practice or work. Basically, anytime I’m frustrated, embarrassed or angry. I held my head high and felt strong in my abilities for years but here I am in the present, incapable of feeling any negative emotion without forgetting how to breathe.
You may know this feeling or you could be thinking I’m some over dramatic teenager. Some lost girl who wants some attention and needs a little more sleep. I do need sleep but it’s much more than that. Broken homes, the pressure of education, the expectations and self-intimidation are a weight on everyone’s shoulders. The young and old can agree that life is tough but the youth feel the weight of it ten-fold. “You’re just a kid, what do you know?” is the most tired phrase I’ve ever heard. My ears bleed from its invalidity and my heart aches at its acceptance. We aren’t just kids. It’s time to retire the phrase because we know more than you think.