It’s Not JUST a Panic Attack
by Kianna Papele
I thought I was dying. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing uncontrollably, my body wouldn’t stop shaking and my hands and feet were numb. With a towel wrapped around my wet body, I curled up against the wall of the pool deck wondering why nobody had called an ambulance yet. Everyone else saw what I couldn’t; I wasn’t dying; I was having a panic attack.
“If I’m only having a panic attack, why can’t I walk?” I wondered. Here I was, experiencing this awful thing, with my thoughts influenced by societal stigmas. While some people have one panic attack, and go on to never experience one again, I was not so lucky. After deciding that it was time to seek some professional help, I was diagnosed not only with a panic disorder, but anxiety and depression as well. Throw in the fact that some would even classify this as PTSD from a health scare I had a few months earlier, and I was the perfect mental illness storm.
I very quickly realized that these things aren’t only in your head. You don’t make these things up; they can’t be controlled just by thinking happy thoughts. These are real diseases, caused by real chemical imbalances. Just because there aren’t medical tests for them, doesn’t make it any less real. And there are real, physical side effects to them. Ask anyone who’s experienced it; intense headaches, changes in appetite, weight loss/gain, extreme mood swings, sleep problems, gastrointestinal issues; the list goes on and on. People use their symptoms to explain their mental illness because society understands that better.
The most surprising thing that I learned going through this, is how little society talks about mental health. Although there has been a huge surge in awareness recently, as a society we are still nowhere near where we need to be. Why can’t we talk about mental health the same way we talk about the flu? Many of my close friends reached out to me after they found out I was struggling and expressed that they’ve experienced similar things. People who I had known for years and had kept their issues so well hidden from the outside world. I’m so glad they were able to confide in me, but it also is upsetting that we feel the need to hide it. There should be open conversation about these things, so people don’t have to feel ashamed to admit that they are ill.
If you have a friend or family member who you know or think is struggling with mental illness, reach out and let them know you are available for them. The biggest and greatest thing you can do for them is listen and be there. Ask them what they need from you. They may not know right away, but they will figure it out. Respect their wishes and also know that sometimes tough love is the best love. They will get through this, but they need you.
If you are struggling with mental illness, know that there is ALWAYS a light at the end of every tunnel, and the sun rises again each morning. Reach out to a therapist or doctor and if you aren’t comfortable with that, confide in a friend, a parent, someone you trust. People are there to help you recover. Those who love you, always will. We don’t always realize that. You don’t have to hide what is happening. I went from crying each day claiming I wouldn’t be able to make it to the next, to now being an upbeat college student who is comfortable enough with what I went through to share it and hopefully help others. Smile and tell yourself that tomorrow will be better because, eventually, it will be.