by Rachel
(Salt Lake City)

My name is Rachel, I'm 21, and this is my life: I've had to struggle with social anxiety, depression, OCD tendencies, and some PTSD my whole life. Starting about 8 years ago, I began to suffer from panic attacks which have only gotten increasingly worse over time. In the beginning, my attacks had minimal symptoms including: shortness of breath, increased heart rate, claustrophobia, tears, trembles, slightly raised body temperature, emptiness, dissociation, and fear. They came with no apparent cause, and left me feeling tired. They usually only lasted between 5-20 minutes, and happened no more than 3-4 times a month. As time passed, I noticed my 'moments' increased in duration, occurrence and severity. Every week is different but I can have anywhere from 2-10 attacks which usually last no shorter than 30 minutes to no longer than 2 hours with 1 occurrence which ended up lasting 4 hours. I suffer from claustrophobia where I feel like I'm stuck in my own body. Severe panic and anxiety over whatever caused me to act this way, how it is affecting the others in the room, how it is affecting me in the present, and worrying if I will survive this one. I get incapacitated by strong muscle spasms and twitching, similar to a seizure in appearance, or so I'm told. I am forced to curl into fetal position so I don't cause additional damage to my person by my flailing about. Though sometimes they are so violent that my arms are ripped from their tight grasp anyway. I undergo extreme temperature fluctuations from very cold to very hot. Sometimes this causes shivers, teeth chattering, and cold sweats to feverish symptoms, sweating, and stripping of clothes (if my muscle spasms allow). There is a substantial increase in my heart rate, I can feel it throughout my whole body and I can literally hear it pounding like a large drum. I get lightheaded and dizzy, forcing me to close my eyes so I don't get nauseous and puke. There's a pressure in my head that makes it feels like I'm underwater which causes me to only panic more because I'm hydrophobic. I struggle with shortness of breath which causes me to hyperventilate, choke, hold my breath, or sometimes I forget how to breathe at all and can only repeatedly inhale without exhalation for a couple minutes in my attempts. Occasionally there is loss of vision or hearing and I've come very close to fainting. I feel overwhelming terror but I'm not even sure what it is I'm scared of. Sometimes I get lost I'm the darkness or have hallucinations of either strange imaginary depictions of my current state or I see myself relive past traumatic incidents on a loop in my mind. Other symptoms include cottenmouth, migraines, soreness, depression, extreme exhaustion, pain, weeping, loss of voice or ability to speak, dissociation from self and reality, confusion and disorientation, time relativity is nonexistent, overwhelming shame and guilt, and on one occasion paralysis. After the attack ended, I was unable to move or speak for 30-45 minutes, while I practically drowned in my own drool, snot and tears. Sometimes the attacks are so bad I worry that I'm going to die, others are so bad that I pray to God to kill me himself. I never feel like myself after an attack, I force myself to act normally for everyone else but inside I feel like a zombie. It can take up to 24 hours before I feel like myself again, albeit a muted version of myself. Recently I've started to learn some of my triggers and can avoid possible destructive situations, I've also learned some ways to calm myself before an attack reaches full strength and I can occasionally prevent the worst. There was a period of time were I felt as if I was possessed by some other entity who was trying to overpower me and gain control over me, I could hear her inside my head. She warned me when she was coming, and taunted me as she tried to take over. I don't hear her so much now. Now I spend as much time worrying about my imminent attacks as I do actually suffering through the attacks themselves. Some weeks are better than others but it's always gonna be like this. But I'm strong and I will survive. This is my life.

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