"Seek not the good in external things. Seek it in thyself." - Epictetus

“Don’t panic!” It’s only panic disorder

Short of breath. Hands unsteady. A rush of sudden fear without explanation. It can happen when I’m sleeping. How often have I woken up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a jolt of panic, the origins of which I cannot place? Between that and the sleep paralysis, going to bed is a dreadful thing for me; I find no peace in my dreams and no security in my mind.

Often, the panic arrives when I’m awake. It can be at any time of day or night. Random sudden movements or noises can set it off. It’s happened in public – cases in which I’m walking down the street, and the beep of a car makes me flinch, arms flailing for a second (just long enough to provide some embarrassment, and once or twice, awkward looks or chuckles from passersby; I’m glad my crippling anxiety can be someone else’s entertainment). A person suddenly emerging from a store entrance can also have this effect. Or a loud clink from construction work. I can’t predict what’s going to cause the panic to emerge. There isn’t really any specific sort of pattern.

But there, at least, there are triggers. It’s more disturbing to me when it happens for no reason at all. I can be happily typing away like I’m doing right now, or watching a movie on my laptop, or folding laundry. And suddenly, like an old and very personal nemesis, it’s back again. I clutch my chest as another panic attack hits, the world swims hazily in front of my eyes like water circling a drain, and for the briefest moment, I know for certain that some kind of horrible impending doom is at hand.

I’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder. I have medication for it, but doctors are hesitant to give out a lot of potentially habit-forming medication, so I have a non-refillable prescription of 30 pills. I’m supposed to space them out, to take them only when I really need them. The problem is, I feel like I need them all the time (but I don’t lean on them much; I’ve still got 26 pills left). Between panic attacks, I’m almost in a constant state of fear and dread, and I don’t know why. Mercifully, there are periods of time where that feeling just goes away. Don’t get me wrong, I can sometimes have weeks and weeks of happiness, and I suppose, a sense of relative calmness (though I rarely feel entirely tranquil).

I never used to be like this. It all began – truly began, from what I can remember – around 2016 or so. I feel like living in a big city is conducive to my panic attacks, and does play a role. Prior to moving to Chicago in 2009, I lived in a town with forests, farms, and mountains, where you’d see a car on the road maybe once every 20 minutes. Transitioning from that to city life has been anything but smooth. It’s comparable to diving into ice water.

Since last year, I feel like whatever it is I’m going through has worsened. I now sometimes feel a sense of removal from myself, as if I’m outside of myself. More than a few times, I’ve sat at my computer and felt a strange sensation, like my spirit was being pushed out of my body; I’ve felt like my “presence” or “essence” was behind my body, by the bed, five feet away from where I was sitting. The first time it happened it scared the shit out of me. I still find it disturbing. I don’t believe I’ve talked about this online until now.

For the past week or so, my mind has felt so overwhelmed from what I’m going through that I haven’t been able to pursue the things I’m passionate about – everything from writing to working on my YouTube channel. I’m trying to get my head back in the game, but it feels like an uphill battle right now.

I just want to feel better. I don’t want to be eating dinner and suddenly drop my fork and jolt upward out of my chair, because my roommate’s dog barked. I don’t want to draw bemused eyes upon me when I’m walking outside, because a sudden police siren made me jump. I don’t want to wake up and feel a random, fatalistic sense of terror, an emotion that seems to have no conceivable reason for even being in my mind. I don’t know why this is happening to me, and every time I fight it, I feel like I get punished for it; the feeling returns, seemingly ten times stronger.

I love life and there’s so much I want to do. I want to see the world. I want to finish my manuscript and possibly see it published someday as a novel. I want to get back to my normal schedule as a YouTuber. I want to meet new people and not mentally debate going outside because there’s an irrational sense of danger in my heart. I just want things to change.