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.