They take over your mind and your body, wrapping around you tighter and tighter until you feel suffocated and can’t breathe.
It’s a similar feeling to when I was a kid and I was swimming in a river. My foot got tangled in some seaweed and was holding me back. As I tried to kick away, I made the problem worse and soon both my legs were stuck. My chest tightened and lungs began to fill with murky water, burning my throat. I couldn’t work out how to escape and I couldn’t see anyone around to scream for help.
“You need to stop struggling!” I heard a voice say. I spotted one of my grandparents neighbours kids swimming over. “Just breathe!”
“I can’t, I can’t swim.” I sobbed over the bubbling water as I kicked in the seaweed – only making the problem worse.
“I’ve seen you swim, Natalie.” He called out, “and I know you can float. Just focus on staying above the water.”
I closed my eyes just like I did whenever I was in water and wanted to feel like I mermaid. Giving a slow breath out as I imagined myself becoming weightless.
“Okay, now grab my hand.” I opened my eyes the see the boy treading the water a metre from me while reaching out his hand. I stretched and our fingers brushed against each other. “I can’t reach you.” I gasped, feeling the panic start to build up in my chest again.
“Stop, just keep breathing and try again.” He straightened his arm, really reaching out to me and I copied. Our hands met and he tugged on my arm, tearing the weeds around my legs as he pulled me to the river bank.
I truly was exhausted. Every muscle in my body ached and I was shaking all over, but I was over the worst of it and slowly, I started to feel okay again.
A couple of our grandparents were laughing when we told them, they said I did it on purpose to catch the boys attention – which of course wasn’t true. It’s the same sort of reaction people give when you tell them you’re having a panic attack.
It’s been a tough week, and as I sit in my office this morning, there’s been a lot going through my mind. I tried to push on with the mountain of work I had in front of me but the more I pushed back my feelings, the more entangled I got in my fear until my chest once again seized and my brain was stuck in the “I can’t do this” loop
I sipped on my water and tried heading off to the toilets to get some space…but the door was locked. My breathing picked up and I started to shake. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t” my mind screamed, repeating the words like a broken record.
Then I had an idea, I picked up my phone and started to type. Writing my feelings down in an attempt to focus on what’s happening. While I was still scared, I can feel myself starting to calm down until all that is left is the exhaustion.
Things are tough, but you just gotta keep breathing and eventually you reach the river bank.
P.s. sorry if the format here is a little weird…I wrote it on my phone 😂