The Monster Inside Me: Anatomy Of An Anxiety Attack 

For everyone who was curious but thought it’d be strange to ask: here’s what I feel when I have an anxiety attack. 

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There are two sides of me and I’m not necessarily choosing. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Susnata Paul)

It is incredibly difficult for me to write this because it chokes me. It chokes me as if a cotton ball is lodged in my throat and won’t budge; it’s like wearing a bra made of icicles. But I want to write to allow myself to face this fear, to allow myself the pain of recall and reliving, purely because I can sense that it would be liberating.

Also, because I want people to know that just because it happens in your head, doesn’t make it unreal.

An anxiety disorder is like a fat hen that is picked up brutally, fist closing hard on her neck so that her eyes pop out. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Susnata Paul)
An anxiety disorder is like a fat hen that is picked up brutally, fist closing hard on her neck so that her eyes pop out. (Photo: The Quint/Susnata Paul)

I am 27 and I have an anxiety disorder. There are different types, causes, symptoms, cures; I have spent countless hours under my blanket, propped on my bed, sending search words all over the internet and picking up bits and bytes first like a zealous stamp collector, arranging all of them by symptom, by trigger, by cause and then like a mathematician searching for a pattern, a clue and hopefully, a solution. Did I succeed? Yes and no.

Anxiety is like a bird that knows it is going to be butchered.

It is like a fat hen that is picked up brutally, fist closing hard on her neck so that her eyes pop out as she tries valiantly to escape – her plume askew, her beak jabbering violently. Can you imagine this bird? Now, imagine that this bird is latched in your throat and deep inside your intestines. Yes, that’s anxiety.

That shivering, maddening, horrifying feeling of wanting to escape but knowing you cannot. It is soul breaking. Your body hurts – no, really, it does. Your stomach clenches and unclenches; your hands shiver as if they have separated from your body and have been packaged off to the Antarctic, gloveless. Your throat shuts. It grows bulky muscle and sinew and it does not allow your saliva to go through. You feel helpless and you abuse your body for disowning you.

When I have a panic attack, I can hear that pounding loud and clear, as if my body is a boombox with spiteful music. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Susnata Paul)
When I have a panic attack, I can hear that pounding loud and clear, as if my body is a boombox with spiteful music. (Photo: The Quint/Susnata Paul)

I’ve been so mad at myself, wanting to hurt myself, to cut myself, to scream back at my body for misbehaving. I have tried to pinch my body parts to stop the pain and in a way, begging it to just...f**king stop. Just, stop.

Yes, that’s anxiety.

My anxiety has sometimes led me to have a full-blown panic attack. Panic attacks do not last beyond ten to twenty minutes, but those minutes are hell. Your rational brain tells you that you won’t die. Your irrational brain tells you that you will and now. The last one I had, had me screaming in pain and telling my mother that my heart really hurts, that it was beating outside my body and she needed to do something about it or else I will die.

Put your fingers inside your ears. Do you hear the pounding? When I have a panic attack, I can hear that pounding loud and clear, as if my body is a boombox with spiteful music and my heart has grown ten times its size and its ugly read skin is pulsating inside my eyes, my throat, my breasts and my stomach. God f**king damn, it sits on my stomach and I am crying, asking for help but no one knows what to do or how to do it.

The last time, my mum held my hand, my dad stroked my hair and they told me they love me and this will go away; that I should breathe while I cried and howled through my tears and begged them to make it stop. My mother, she came and covered me with her body protecting me from this invisible monster. It did – after a few minutes – go away. Then, I slept. Panic attacks leave you feeling debilitated, your body ravaged. You just want to pass out.

It’s as if I’m inside a glass house and a big tall man is baring his teeth at me. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Susnata Paul)
It’s as if I’m inside a glass house and a big tall man is baring his teeth at me. (Photo: The Quint/Susnata Paul)

When I am especially anxious, my brain is like a hamster on a wheel. It runs. I might be exhausted with no sleep but my brain will run. It will make images, it will ask questions, it will taunt and jibe me constantly with a shrill laugh.

I feel like I’m inside a glass house and a big tall man is baring his teeth at me and mocking me. Did I tell you it hurts? It f**king hurts so much.

I do not know what triggers it each time, but it will be a small thing and then it grows. It grows like an innocent snowball running down a slope, gathering snow until it becomes one big, terrifying avalanche that knocks you off your feet. Anyone who knows me and does not know of my history with anxiety, will not believe it because on most days, I am happy as happy can be. I jump and I blow bubbles. I want to tell you that it is perfectly possible for me to have anxiety. Do not tell me that I think too much, that I should learn to calm down, that I should stop worrying, that I have a great life; why didn’t I think about that, instead?

DO YOU REALLY, EVEN FOR A SECOND, BELIEVE I WANT THIS? NO. I do not; not for a second, not one more time. I do not want to live with a giant heart and perspiring hands and shaky legs and a hamster for a brain. But such is the case. I have anxiety. And guess what? I have embraced it. For every time I have had an anxiety attack/ panic attack, I have had a set of people pulling me out. In my college hostel, my friends came and hugged me, got me food, passed no judgement, danced for me, took me to the therapist, tucked me in and even, slept with me so that my shivering would stop. I owe them my life.

It grows like an innocent snowball running down a slope, gathering snow until it becomes one big, terrifying avalanche that knocks you off your feet. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Susnata Paul)
It grows like an innocent snowball running down a slope, gathering snow until it becomes one big, terrifying avalanche that knocks you off your feet. (Photo: The Quint/Susnata Paul)

Over a year and half of having anxiety, I have met people who’ve loved me irrespective of it, and have had my back, strong and straight – demanding that I live when I did not want to.

That was my solution. Embracing it. Letting it attack me. I do not live on those days, I try to merely exist.

Breathe, eat, be with my blanket. I do not force myself. I cut myself slack. When it goes away, I’m back with my backpack of happy and living it up. I’ve slowly made my life about making hay when the sun shines, and boy, you should see that hay. It glows and how.

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