My brother asked me to describe what it feels like during a particular stage of a panic attack. I will admit it is rare and only occurs during the most severe events, but the effects are haunting to say the least.
I am talking about derealization.
That may mean different things to different people. Most describe it as an out of body experience and for me that is certainly a component but it is not the whole story.
For me derealization is the closest I will ever get to dead and live to tell about it. What do I mean by that?
My brother and I had just gotten back from a trip to the city. We stopped at a pizza place around the corner from my apartment and did the best we could to order a vegan pizza. Maybe that was my first mistake. I will never know what kicked the attack off but I "went internal" as soon as we entered the place. My brother was talking to me but his words were lost in a sea of chaos.
Registering in my mind was only whirring fear. As the panic started to ramp up it took a course I had not experienced before. In short, I felt as though something had gone south in me. Like someone had hit the start button on the count down to the end of my life.
See that is the tricky thing about panic attacks, they actually trick you. You start to believe the feelings that you have mean something. You really do believe it...this is the end.
The panic reached a point where I had to leave. By the time we made it back to my apartment, about 5 minutes away, I was left curled on my couch feeling lifeless.
For the first time my brother looked scared, and for me this was confirmation. Within minutes I felt something I never had before, derealization.
It was like my mind separated from my body. As if my mind said "Fuck this, we are getting the hell out of here, alive or not".
I recall seeing myself on the couch curled up, my brother in a chair not knowing how to help but wanting to more than anything else. I remember being confused as to why my eyes were open. The dead close their eyes. I wanted to know what had happened, why the world turned to plastic, how had I gotten off the ride but was still able to observe it.
Outside my windows everything was black because what was left of the world was confined to my living room. This is where I would remain to watch over this scene for eternity.
I was gone...and to this day I do not know how I got back. You could tell me there are parallel universes and at that moment I left one and went to another and I would believe you.
I do remember calling my father, and if there is anything that could bring me back down it was him. I guess you could say, wherever I was, if he was there at least I knew this place had reason.
Somewhere along the lines I fell asleep and much to my sincere surprise, I woke up.
I was not the same.
Shaken is a word one could use, but that does not quite capture how I felt. I felt like I had been reassembled over night. Like every piece of me was taken out, rebuilt, and my body was put back together, such that by the morning I was no longer the person I was before. These new parts had never worked together before and it would take some time for the bits to wear in properly. Everything until then felt awkward, out of touch, and somewhat inhuman.
That feeling stayed with me for weeks and it creeps up to haunt me from time to time.
I have found hell on earth, it is in my mind, and it is a place I never want to go again.
Thanks brother for being by my side...to hell and back.