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  • Writer's pictureSean Chapman

My Purgatory: Living in My Mind

Breathe, Emily. Breathe. WHY AREN’T YOU BREATHING? You idiot. Breathe!


My lungs were screaming for oxygen, for it leaves as soon as it has arrived. I try to elongate my hold on air, yet it is a useless endeavor. As I hyperventilate, tears that I had been blinking back are now streaming down my face. I bring up my hands to wipe them away, I feel the vibrations emitting from my hands throughout my face. My heart slams itself into my chest, trying to make its escape. This isn’t normal. It’s as though I had just run a marathon. I was sweating, and shaking; I was going to pass out soon.


I need to get help. I’m dying. There is no way I am dying in the middle of the FACS Room. I need to get out of here.


I slowly put one foot in front of the other, creeping like an inchworm towards the door. My unstable legs decided that they couldn’t support my efforts towards freedom and I am now well acquainted with the floor. Like a baby, I’m crawling to the spot where the wall meets the floor. Hoisting myself so my back is supported, I draw my knees up to my face. What is happening to me? Someone help me! I tried to speak, but my mouth refused. I twist my head around, seeking answers that lay with somebody else. The only sight I took in was the vast blurriness. 


“Emily, are you okay? What’s wrong?” 


“Someone go get help!” Muffled voices trying to break their way into the chaos surrounding me. My head is underwater.


In my confusion, one thing stood clear: I was going to be dead in a few minutes.

Though when minutes stretched so long, they shouldn’t be called minutes, I wasn’t dead. I can breathe. I was so greedy for air that I allowed it to hurt my lungs. My body had traded shaking for a nice numbness. Now the most urgent matter is to close my eyes. Much to my dismay, sleep is not in my immediate future.


A teacher comes and guides me to the person who could help me the most: the school nurse.


“Emily, I can confidently say that you just experienced a panic attack.”


These words and this event were just the start of something that would become a constant in my life. Over the next few years, these events occurred frequently. They would come, I would freak out, and then I became a useless corpse. Having panic attacks was easier to deal with on my own. I am ashamed to say that I let the attacks take over my life. I became withdrawn and afraid. Oftentimes, I refused to leave the house locking myself in my room. When I got together with my friends, I held myself at a distance. Every time I had to talk to someone outside my family, I grew uncomfortable. It came to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore and emerged in complete isolation. 


If they cared about me, they would contact me. If I contact them, I will seem weak and needy. I am better off by myself anyway.


I convinced myself that I didn’t need my friends or anyone else in my life. During this time, I barely talked to anyone. I slept all day and was up all night. Eventually, my mother took me to a professional. I was then diagnosed with depression and social anxiety. It was then explained to me that my panic attacks were caused by my social anxiety. The psychiatrist gave me medications and recommended that I attend weekly therapy.

While in therapy, I discovered a lot of things about myself. I learned that I had a very hard time trusting people. My thoughts were expecting the worst of others, anticipating them to mess up. My therapist told me that I have a tendency to catastrophize, which means that when presented with a situation, I think of all the things that could go wrong; I pick the worst-case scenario, convincing myself that it will become a reality. All of these ingredients made a very unfortunate result; I’m “antisocial”. A butterfly effect was recognized: being in public made me uneasy, setting off my anxiety, and causing a panic attack. I tend to have a constant need for control, this paired with my tendency of avoidance, made me shut everyone out.


The first thing that was addressed was my panic attacks. I was given numerous ways to try and counteract the start. These methods tended to prolong the inevitable, I could hold it off for a bit, but they rarely went away. Unable to control it, I still wanted to hide away from everyone.


For two years, I let relationships, that I have spent years building, crumble to ruins. Yet it was a necessary process. I had to heal and learn to love myself before I let other people in. Through hard work, I built up my confidence. I still struggled with panic attacks, but I was getting used to them. 


I started my Junior year of high school with hope, something that I am not used to. I went to my classes and talked to others. As the school year went by, I had a few attacks, but I was used to them. I could always recognize the signs. So I would excuse myself and handle them in private. There were times when a panic attack would occur, and I could tell that I was improving.


My progress was of great interest to my therapist. She explained to me that I was doing well on my panic attacks and that she thought it was time that I started building friendships again. She thought that I should go and spend time with my friends outside of school.  I told her no. She told me to think about it.


Sure enough, I was invited to go and “hang out” at the local youth group. I said yes, even though I was leaping out of my comfort zone. In total, the experience was a good one. Since this little experiment of mine went well, I continued to go to this youth group. I enjoyed myself and started to talk to some of my old friends. This made me feel confident.


Unfortunately, this bliss did not last.


I started to feel the signs of an oncoming panic attack. I needed to get out of there as soon as possible. So I ran, but I felt trapped. My body pushed me towards the bathroom. When an adult found me, I was too far gone to know what was happening. She guided me into a room and a few minutes later, my friends appeared.


We stayed in that room for what seemed like hours. I let them comfort me. Of all of my panic attacks, I have never let anyone comfort me. Many have tried, but I refused their comforting embrace. On that day, I stepped outside my comfort zone and lowered my guard to allow others in. This action went against my natural tendencies. My risk was rewarded, and I was treated with kindness whilst in a delicate state. That day opened my eyes to a possibility, where my future was not cloaked with loneliness that I could not escape. 


Through pain, I have persevered. I believe through every hardship, there is a lesson to learn. In my trials and tribulations, I learned that people are not there to judge me or hurt me. People care about me. When I have a panic attack, it is not the end of the world if others bear witness to my struggles. This resulted in a belief that everything would turn out for the better.


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