The Symbolism of a Panic Attack

panic attack

So far, I’ve had at least three major turning points in my life, all of which applied to my career and personal happiness and none of which left me peace of mind, but rather occasional and overwhelming fear and the determination to fight and succeed. Of course, what turning points don’t cause this reaction?

The First

It was when I was a junior in high school. The year was 2008 and Wall-E was in theaters, Lady Gaga was just getting popular, and President Obama was elected President. However, none of that compared with what I was going through: taking the ACTs.

All of our classes were preparing us for it and their optimistic persistence was based on the premise that whichever ACT scores we get will help us get into any college we want. They were telling us that it was time…

It was time to think about our future. What college do we want to apply to? Which major or courses do we want to study? What career are we aiming for? What do we want to for the rest of our lives?

At the same time that all of this was happening, I was also taking a course in American Studies. The course was a combination of two classes, English and history, and it followed the curriculum of both. That is, when we were reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, we were studying the Puritan period in early America and as we were reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, we learned about the pursuit of the great American Dream in the 1920’s.

It seemed simple enough until we read a book that was stood out from their parallel curriculum. The book was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a science fiction novel that had very little to do with America’s past, but rather with its future. It was one of the first science fiction novels that I read, introducing me to the genre, but this wasn’t what reeled me in.

In the setting of the story, books were forbidden and were burned if found, along with the homes they were found in and sometimes even the people who safe-housed them. These burnings of books represented the demise of those who wrote the books, stories themselves, and even words in general.

Bradbury went on to say that the use and sharing of books was more than a spreading of knowledge, it was a way for people to leave their mark on the world so that when they passed, the world would be different than it was when they entered it.

Fahrenheit 451 may not have coincided with any specific part of American history, but it delivered an important message. For each book or story out there, there is a voice, or multiple voices, behind it, and each story and person has a purpose in this world.

People like Nathanial Hawthorne and F. Scott Fitzgerald left their stories behind and have changed the world significantly because of it, as did Ray Bradbury with his many stories. It was after I read his book that I knew what I wanted to do.

The Second

I decided to pursue a Creative Writing major at a well-established university, but through the semesters of studying and being away from my home and family, or outside of my comfort zone, I should say, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling quite right.

With every year, I grew more and more weary with the workload of academics and stress with campus life, despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed my classes and felt safe where I was at. I attempted to write when I could, but the task was more difficult that I could imagine due to the intense pressure of school and the lack of confidence in myself.

Though I wrote stories and submitted them to multiple literary journals, the constant rejection was discouraging. I tried to study the journals themselves and wrote my stories based on what the journal represented or what it had printed in the past, but still the rejections came.

Even worse, I wasn’t sorry that I was rejected because I didn’t like writing stories that I thought other people would like. I was changing too much of what I like for an approval that I was unlikely to get.

As the weeks passed, I become more engrossed in my studies and was still unpublished. Everything started to get to me then. Anxiety attacks were occurring more often and each attack was fiercer than the last. Finally, the panic set in.

There was an entire month where I suffered from raging insomnia, occasional hyperventilation, frequent breakdowns, and constant overwhelming fear. My schoolwork suffered and I closed myself off from the world in the hopes that some alone time would benefit me more than interacting with others. It got to the point where I considered dropping out of school.

Nothing made me happy. Nothing was getting rid of the pain. The dullest of edges was enough to knock me out and keep me down. Not even my most favorite stories could get me out of this intense dread.

Yet, there is a reason we have panic or panic attacks.

In Thomas A. Richards’s article, “Basic Facts About Panic Attacks”, he explains that “When a person with panic is motivated to practice and try new techniques, that person is literally changing the way their brain responds. When you change the way your brain responds, anxiety and panic will continue to shrink, the strategies you use against it will become stronger, and panic will cease to cause you problems”.

My body and mind were trying to tell me something. Trying to force myself into being someone I wasn’t and writing stories that I didn’t care about was damaging to my body and the increasing rejection of these stories was getting to my head.

Why was I forcing myself and my stories to be something that no one liked? What could I do to get people to listen to what I have to say? What was it that I wanted them to know? Why was it so important that they knew it?

I decided to do things my way.

The Third

As the years passed, anxiety and panic attacks have come and gone, but the intensity of them greatly decreased as I slowly determined what I wanted to be and how I was going to get there. After exploring other job opportunities, I realized that nothing made me happier, and crazier, than writing.

Last February, I quit my “day job” to pursue writing full-time. Whether it’s freelancing or personal projects, I just didn’t want to put it off any longer. I didn’t want my life to go on and then end without me leaving my mark on the world. I wanted the world to know who I was. I was the mark that I wanted to leave behind.

I still struggle with anxiety and my writing career, but I find that they are both getting more manageable with every passing moment.

2 thoughts on “The Symbolism of a Panic Attack”

  1. Well done Marie.

    I too remember the intense pressure of having to constantly perform in University. I would come home each night unhappy with my day. When asked why my answer never changed, “I don’t like having to force my work.”

    The moment University was finished I felt a sense of freedom I hadn’t felt in years.

    Congrats on your decision to freelance. I’m certain it will bring you years of happiness.

  2. Hey, Marie!

    I would still get anxiety attacks even in front of a crowd (though I speak regularly), but have adopted methods to lessen them.
    Also when you’re at work and school at the same time and get overwhelmed with everything, the attacks can’t be avoided, but like you, the intensity of my attacks have lessened as I’ve learned how to manage them. Even if they took a while.
    It’s great that you decided to do things your way and pursue what you really want out of life.
    Best wishes to you!

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