Panic Attacks Suck (Alternate Title: The Exploding Tell-Tale Heart)

I had a panic attack while at work today and my heart tried to explode out of my chest.

I HAD A panic attack while at work today. I felt like my heart was going to explode out of my chest. Hours later I still feel the effects of elevated cortisol in my stomach. So much for my day off yesterday being a bit of a reset.

Explode out of my chest is the closest phrase I can do as a descriptor. Because that is how a panic attack feels to me. It’s why so many who end up in the emergency room thinking they are having a heart attack are told, “You’re just having a panic attack.”

Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.

Mayo Clinic, Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder

A panic attack creates a feeling of helplessness. Unless you’ve ever had one, it’s hard to explain the intensity within your chest of your heart beating so profoundly. It’s like that scene in The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe:

The heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! –do you mark me well I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbor!

Photo of Edgar Allan Poe. Pretty sure my boy Poe knew what a panic attack was all about (ex. beating heart in "The Tell-Tale Heart")

Pretty sure this dude knew what a panic attack was all about

It’d been a while since I last experienced a bout of panic like this. Anxiety I experience every day. A sense of dread, every day. Full blown panic attack? Not so much.

I was able to talk to someone while I was in the midst of panic. It helped a great deal. But even with that, a feeling of mental and physical sabotage still lingers. Because, while I know I shouldn’t, I judge myself terribly for allowing it to occur and then not being able to temper it entirely myself.

I know, too, that not meditating like I once did, and am a proponent for, played a pivotal role. I wasn’t prepared. And that’s what anxiety and panic enjoy the most: when they see that opening and take the controls when you’re least expecting it.

I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. If anything, I should look at this as a learning experience and as a reminder to return to some of my old habits which I’ve abandoned largely during COVID: meditation, long walks, running, riding my bike, music therapy. So that’s how I’m trying to view today: find the sliver of optimism. Find the silver lining.

If you, too, think panic attacks suck, feel free to share this link on social media or by e-mail or text. Then, watch the video below which made me smile and less panicky.

By Jeffrey Pillow

Jeffrey Pillow is an American short story writer, memoirist, and poet. He is the author of The Lady Next Door. His writing has been published in Urge Magazine, The Nervous Breakdown, 16 Blocks, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, TheBody.com, New York Times, Washington Post, and Richmond Times-Dispatch.

He grew up in the small town of Phenix, Virginia, population: 200, and now lives in Charlottesville with his wife, two kids, and a dog named Mozzarella Cheese. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia where he was a Rainey Scholar. This is his blog.