grief: what a panic attack feels like

I want to write about what I’m going through at the moment. Yet it is sapping my energy and brain power. I want to put it out there, and I also don’t. So here it is. Raw and perhaps brief. Let’s see what comes out…

Last Thursday night I was sat at my desk trying to write a personal statement for a course I want to apply for. I wasn’t enjoying the process of writing it – who does like blowing their own trumpet? I was pushing myself to do it as the deadline is looming.

I felt a pain in my chest come on, an ache with a subtle burn sensation that radiated out to my back. It came and went, and then again, getting more painful. I wasn’t aware of thinking any serious thoughts of concern over this pain, just that I hoped it would pass quickly because it was rather unpleasant.

Next thing I knew, I had this peculiar tingling sensation travel up my neck to my face and my cheeks tingled and I felt as though an ice-cold wind was blowing on my face. A strong wave of dizziness overcame me and I swivelled in my chair and said to my husband:

“I don’t feel right, something’s wrong.”

After the dizziness I felt nausea and had body tremors. My heart was racing. Another wave of dizziness. It felt like a greater effort to speak. My chest felt tight. I phoned 111, the NHS helpline and they sent a paramedic.

I felt terrified. What was wrong with me?

He arrived and checked my vitals. All the while I’m having repeated waves of dizziness and body tremors and I feel completely and utterly like I am going to die. It felt like torture.

“You’re having a panic attack.”

What? Aren’t I supposed to be hyperventilating into a brown paper bag?

“I think I should take you to A&E to get you a proper ECG to double-check.”

Right, I’m ok. I feel very, very, wrong physically, but I’m ok. I’m not going to die. 

I go to A&E by myself, perhaps to help myself believe it’s nothing serious. I am putting all my energy and focus into staying calm.

I’m ok. My heart is fine. It’s a panic attack.

They are busy. My vitals are fine. I’m desperate to be seen, to go home, but because I’m physically not in danger I’m not a priority.

“Would you like a cup of tea? Are you sure you’re ok?”

NO I’M NOT OK!! Stop talking to me because it’s taking all my energy to not go and grab that Dr by his scrubs and demand he checks me over.

They give me tea and a chocolate digestive, I never touch it.

I am just trying to keep it together and it takes all my concentration. Caffeine and sugar? Perhaps not the best idea? I place my cold hand onto the flushed skin on my chest and when I lift my hand off, the skin on my chest feels as though it’s burning where my hand touched it.

What the hell?

This has never happened to me before.

ECG: all fine.

Blood pressure: fine.

Each result takes it down a notch. Blood test, have to wait for that one. I am wheeled round to another section and left.

I have to ask someone if I can use the toilet, my gown isn’t on properly. Apparently in this fight or flight mode my body wants to completely evacuate… Everything.

I’m starting to feel calmer and the symptoms abate. Though I’m flushed, exhausted, have a headache, my whole body aches like I’ve done a workout.

There’s nothing wrong with me.

I’m thirsty and alone. I wish I’d had that tea. I don’t want to read. I just want to lie there.

The Dr comes and asks me a few questions about my chest pain. She says all the results are fine and I can go. She tells me to book an appointment with my GP.

There’s nothing wrong with me feels so good, and yet so… Wrong.

I get up and walk what feels like a walk of shame. I’m walking out of A&E with nothing wrong with me?


There is something wrong with me. It’s just not their job to help fix it.

I got home at half past midnight, exhausted, confused, and I cried. I cried harder and fiercer than I think I ever have before. Is that what needed to come out?

I am still living this. A perpetual state of anxiety and panic attacks. I know it will pass. I’m not afraid of it. But, it is hell. I am feeling the physical pain of the trauma that is marked by two anniversaries close to Christmas. Christmas represents times of pain and it’s so vivid, so in my face. I can’t sit in my lounge without the lights on our tree glinting and drawing me right back to that darkness.

I want to avoid it at all costs. But I can’t. My son needs his costume for his nativity. We should attend my daughter’s preschool’s Christmas Fair. I need to buy presents.

To me, tis the season of life-altering diagnoses. Not, to be jolly.

Or is it?

Somehow I know it will be both. This is what it is and I must face it. I must take it seriously and do what I can to get through. I must take help that is offered. I must weep and feel the pain of the grief journey I am on. I must hold onto hope. I must keep living.

And I must smile and laugh and embrace the briefest moments of respite, knowing those moments won’t be brief for long.

To quote my first ever post on this blog seems appropriate when I feel as though I have been dropped right back into that time of emotional turmoil.

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious, merciful, and righteous.

He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. Psalm 112: 4, 7

The course I was applying for? A Certificate in Counselling.

Yep, it’s ironic. (You’re allowed to laugh.)

So much love to anyone else who is not well and the root is mental and emotional but you are suffering physically as well. It’s hideous and overwhelming.

And maybe no one knows or understands.


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