By Miriam Lohmüller
Suddenly everything turns black. I start feeling drops of sweat running down my face. My hands get sticky, I can hardly breath. From somewhere far away I hear a voice saying “Are you alright? You look pale”. Five minutes ago I sat down at in a restaurant with some of my friends. I felt good, I was looking forward to going out that night. From one moment to the next, everything changed. I later asked myself what triggered that panic attack. And I would ask that same question several times over the course of the next few months because this unfortunately wasn’t the last time that I would feel completely helpless.
I have always been shy and often felt a bit out of place around new people or in unfamiliar social situations. But I also tried to put myself out there, try out new things, “step out of my comfort zone” as you might say. While I was more of a wallflower during high school, I started partying more when I first moved away from my home town to study in a different city about five years ago. I was all excited and happy to meet new people, to not have that stigma of being that quiet girl that I had in school. And I had so much fun even though sometimes, especially at parties in a crowd full of drunk and loud people, I would feel lost and overwhelmed.
Now that I am in my Master’s program, parties have calmed down a little bit. Often, we just have relaxing dinners or barbecues and while this atmosphere should have been good for me I still felt awkward. Nonetheless, the last two years I connected to several people on a very deep level making friends with similar personalities and interests. Also, I got into my first proper relationship almost two years ago; my boyfriend is the first person I told everything about myself to. I would usually keep some things to myself even from people I trusted because I was always afraid to get hurt. So, while I opened up and while I was closer to a person than I have ever been to anyone else before, I still felt isolated and alone. I was scared that I made myself too vulnerable, that I would get hurt eventually. I had many bad days at that time on which I just wanted to stay in bed and cry. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, I didn’t eat much unless other people were around.
And then there was this night of going out with my friends having a panic attack I mentioned earlier. At that moment I just didn’t know what to do, I thought I would faint, I thought I would not be able to breathe anymore. As everything around me turned pitch-black, I tried to slow down my breathing. My boyfriend went outside the restaurant with me and kept talking to me – breathe in, breathe out, everything will be alright. Eventually, I was fine and I could go back inside. Even now, I am not sure if my other friends knew something was wrong. We never talked about it again and as the night went on, I just told myself that everything was normal.
Some weeks later though, on my way to university, I got scared again. It is so hard to explain what was actually going on in my head but there was this mean voice telling me that, “I will never make it. Going to class will not lead me to anything. I won’t understand a thing there anyway. Everyone around me is looking at me and thinks I am awkward.” Something like that. Again, I had this pressure in my chest that made it almost impossible to breathe, my ears clogged and I felt the darkness coming up. I had to get off my bike, started crying and tried to calm down my breathing. Another panic attack like that happened in the same week on my way to work on the bus. Both times, once I saw people I knew I tried to behave normally and as nobody ever said anything, I assumed that pretending worked very well.
These panic attacks were only the extreme points of my emotions – I generally felt lost, helpless, scared and there was this deep sadness surrounding me. I was never diagnosed with depression but I guess that word might describe my emotions best. I knew I couldn’t go on like this, not for my sake and not for the sake of my friends and family. I tried breathing techniques, went on long walks, meditated and I did a lot of yoga. Sometimes I would do yoga for three or four hours a day because I felt like it was the only thing to calm me down. Afterwards, my body felt tired but at least I stopped myself from thinking while trying to balance and bend my body. I felt better while I was doing all these things, I also sometimes went out and had good times with friends. And these moments made me think I was fine. But in fact I was cancelling many invitations, especially if it included people I never met before. I didn’t go to a festival that I really wanted to go to because I was so anxious about it.
I don’t know how people who knew about what I was going through dealt with it. I am still impressed and utterly thankful especially to my friends who I could tell everything, who would listen and try their best to help me. I know how difficult it was to see me like this, how difficult it still it. Because as much as I thought I was over panic attacks and most of my anxiety, it hit me again just a week before I wrote this article. I am clearly not over it, I still haven’t figured out the exact reasons of when and why it is happening. I can’t give a solution to anyone who feels the same. I just know that it feels so good to hear from other people that they experienced something similar, to know that you are not alone, that you are not a weirdo. I heard from people who seem super confident and strong that they had panic attacks before or that they suffer from anxiety on a regular basis. It is so much more common than I originally thought and it should be more accepted to openly talk about it. This is why I am writing this. Life is not always sunshine but if you go through a dark phase, try to talk to people – no one is going to judge you. This is nothing to be embarrassed about. On the contrary, you might find support from that friend you never thought would go through the same shit.
“Born and raised in the German countryside, I developed an interest in all sorts of plants and animals very early. Consequently, I studied biology and I am now pursuing a Master’s degree in Sustainable Resource Management in Munich to make a positive impact on Earth. I am passionate about recycling, yoga and music. I am currently reading a book about the intelligence of octopuses – you should check it out!” – Miriam
Miriam Also Contributed: Same, Same But Different