Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow — it empties today of strength.
—Corrie ten Boom
It started with a single panic attack, at work, in the middle of the day.
Heart racing, difficulty breathing, paralyzing terror, fear that I was about to die.
If you’ve ever had a bad trip off psilocybe, or magic mushrooms, the effects are very similar. Not that I’ve ever had a good one. Half an hour into ingestion, I start to feel nauseated. At the back of my head there’s a creeping sense that something is wrong. My hands start to tremble, my mind feels like it’s shuddering. Eventually, there’s a complete uneasiness in the body, both physically and mentally. Around that time, the body reacts quickly to rid the stomach of whatever is causing these symptoms, and violently ejects them in the form of vomiting. Stems and caps come out as dark brown flecks, and you wonder how eating something so small thing can make you feel so terrible.
It comes without warning, without obvious reason. All you want is to end the attack. To crawl into a corner and hide. To tear off your strangling clothes. To die.
Afterward, you’re not wondering what you’re going to listen to on the way home, or how to get the attention of that cutie in the porcelain department, or when you’ll have time to go buy more shampoo. All you’re thinking about is when the next one will happen. All you’re left with is a bunch of questions and a sense of instability. I have my suspicions, but I’ve chosen not to write about them until I’m certain, something which I believe will come in time. There’s no simple diagnosis, no easy answer.
Recently, scientists have discovered that the word “wheeze” can activate asthma attacks in asthmatics. The mind triggers an associated emotional response, and the body manifests the reaction. It’s the same after a panic attack. Sometimes, people with panic disorder can bring on an attack just worrying or thinking too much about it.
Not that I have a disorder. The fear of an attack isn’t detrimental enough to stunt me socially, and doesn’t prevent me from functioning as what the DSM IV would consider “normal”. It was only a single episode, but habit of constant self-evaluation means that the threat of it happening again is always there. It’s in the back of my mind whether I’m at work, or playing games, or cooking dinner. Every minute of every day becomes a struggle not to think about it. And when you know you feel like dying during an attack, you start to wonder whether it’s worth living at all.
People face this question when they’re diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Told that they have only have a few years left, they live more in those numbered days than they do in their entire lives until then.