You can’t see the tachycardia or palpitations. You can’t see the adrenaline, the air hunger, or the dizziness.
But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Popular culture (or at least this Google image search) seems to suggest that panic is this super-detectable experience that causes sufferers to pull their hair, widen their eyes, and clutch their fists or faces.
Maybe that’s true for some — but surely not for all. Panic can easily go undetected, and I sure know from experience: just recently, I had a panic attack while in line at my local CVS store. As I laid out my purchases on the counter, I felt dizzy, hot and sweaty, nauseated, lightheaded, and my heart was probably beating around 120 bpm.
“Do you have an ExtraCare card?” the cashier asked.
“Oh, yep — let me get it out. Here you go.”
She scanned my items none the wiser. I was panicking and she had no idea.
Nothing about my physical appearance, save for my shaky hands, could clue her in that anything was amiss. I spoke coherently without letting my teeth chatter too much, and at worst, I just looked a bit aloof.
The only potentially odd thing I did was take off my sweaty heap of a jacket in the middle of the transaction — to cool down, of course — before paying.
Panic doesn’t look comically cartoonish. In fact, it doesn’t really look like anything, most of the time.
So, what does panic look like, you ask?
Meet Mandie West:
I love her video because the one way you really know that she’s panicking is because she’s telling you. Her voice wavers a bit, sure, and she appears flighty — but that doesn’t necessarily signify anything in and of itself.
“If I could get out of my body, I’d be fine,” she says. She describes how her stomach ills, hot flashes, and racing heart both trigger and are consequences of panicking.
That’s the thing about panic — it’s physical, but not visible. It’s on the inside — and powerfully so.
If you experience frequent panic attacks, you’ll probably feel a strong sense of kinship with this woman. Kudos to her for sharing her anxiety with the world and demonstrating a realistic and non-cartoonish or hyperbolized vignette of panic.
Photo: jαγ △ (Flickr)