What a Panic Attack Feels Like

Even though panic attacks are unique in the fear and helplessness they cause, there are some things to which they can be compared for clarity’s sake. So, here is my list of things a panic attack feels like.

Hummingbirds filling your body.

When your heart is racing and your pulse thrums just under your skin, you can get this surreal feeling up a million little wings beating around inside of you. Those little birds flit and fly through your veins, brush against your muscles, and flutter within your chest cavity until you want to reach in and rip them out.

Someone shaking you mercilessly.

My biggest problem with panic attacks is the way my body shakes and convulses during a particularly bad one. It’s not just little shivers and shudder. It is noticeable, uncontrollable, debilitating trembling that keeps me from even standing up straight. It’s like someone has just grabbed you by the shoulders and is shaking you until your teeth feel ready to fall out.

Your body drawing into your center.

Every tendon and muscle tightens like a guitar string. Your knuckles go white. Your jaw clenches. Someone or something has grasped the strings that lead to your edges and is jerking them in toward a spot just beneath your chest. All you can wonder is when those strings will finally snap.

A whirlwind buffeting you from inside. 

The main image I get for this one is when I’m shaking so violently and crying with such pitiful force that I just start whipping my head around and sending my hair bouncing around my face. Contrary to the comparison I made a moment ago, this one feels like your pieces are being forced out, and you’ll soon fall into a heap of bits and parts with no clear function.

Your heart is a switch flipped at random.

Probably the absolute worst thing having to do with panic attacks is how utterly random they can be. While I have certain triggers, other times I can suffer an attack out of the blue. It’s horrible because when someone later asks what set it off, you feel so ashamed because you don’t know. You don’t know, and you feel like you were overreacting or being dramatic or that something is irrevocably wrong with you. But that’s just it, they can come from nowhere. More like panic ambushes than foreseeable attacks.

So, these are five things I think accurately describe the feeling of a panic attack. Notice that most of them have to do with your inner workings being affected. That’s because a panic attack is rooted in how your mind and insides work together. No one is hitting you and leaving a panic attack impressed on your chest.

The impression is from the attack pushing out.


Contests and Validation

Last night, as I was trying to fall asleep, my phone rang with a new text, one that would have me jumping up and down for the next few minutes.

A little back story. I work for my college’s literary magazine. We have two co-editors, an engaged couple with a sweet sense of humor, and I am part of the support staff on the literary side as opposed to the art side. Every year, the magazine launches a contest to bring in submissions and generate good public opinion. The categories range from studio art and photography all the way to short stories and essays. A panel of separate judges look at the different submissions and put together a list of first, second, third, and honorable mention winners for us to proofread.

I submitted story, one I worked on and agonized over for days. I drew up at least six drafts and sent it to several trusted readers for feedback before sending it in. I figured it would be better to submit one excellent story instead of the maximum three and having those be mediocre.

This, along with the personal nature of the story, made me nervous about finding out the winners of that category. Never having won a contest like this, I felt sure that rejection was inevitable.

Then, when I grabbed my phone that night, I nearly jumped out of my skin. One of my bosses texted me just to tell me that my story had placed first in its category. I jumped and squealed with my best friend, called my mom, and told as many people as were awake that night. It took me another hour to get to sleep.

There is something unbeatable about the feeling you receive when you’ve won something that means a lot to you. It tells you that all your hard work and practice has paid off in someone else validating your talent. Now, why we as humans need the validation of other people is a subject for another post, but it is a fact, and I felt it acutely as I lay in bed with the thought running through my head, I won. I won first place. They picked my story out of all the rest and called it the best. Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you. 

I can’t wait to see my story and my name in print and in the hands of my fellow classmates and even professors. I only hope they like it as much as the judges did.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Photos of Impossible Places- Namibia

She came down from the tangerine sky when the ground cooled enough for her to tread barefoot on its blue sand. Her hair, threaded with strands of gold, whipped and fluttered around a round face that had looked on so many festivals and celebrations in her lifetime. Festivals in her honor, thrown by people who no longer believed in her.

“What are you doing down here?”

She turned spotting his bent, nervous figure instantly. She turned up her nose. “Not that I have to answer to you,” she said, “but I wanted to see the festival.”

“Can you not see it from up there?” He crouched around a naked, dark tree, pointing at the sky. In the molten light, his bulging eyes looked like pools of hot lead.

“I wanted a closer look for once. Would you begrudge me that, Fye?” She shifted on the cool sand. How long had it been since she had felt that silky sensation? Ten centuries? A dozen? She had lost count long ago.

Fye glanced around the desolate landscape. He rubbed the back of one hand with his fragile fingers. “You know what will happen to you if you’re caught?”

“I do,” she said with all the solemnity of a judge passing a sentence.

“And you know what will happen to me if I’m caught helping you?” Every piece of him seemed to jitter in the bright light.

“I do.”

He cringed and plunged his hands in his tumbleweed hair. He shook his head. “Selfish, arrogant woman. You will be the end of me, Lyra.”

She looked away, embarrassed by his display of emotion. “You say that so often. I begin to think you don’t believe it.”

“I could say everyday that the sun rises and sets. It would not mean that I believe it any less every day I say it.”

“Fine,” she said. “You’ve made your point. Will you help me?”

Fye clasped his shoulders. “Yes, I will help you. But do not blame me if something should go awry.”

“Of course not.” She turned.

“You just couldn’t stay in the sky, could you? Had to come down from your place.” It sounded like an aside, but she looked back at him anyway.

“I’ll not be put in one place because my mobility makes other people uncomfortable. I’ll do as I please and deal with the consequences myself.”

“You really don’t think of anyone but yourself, do you?”

She squared her shoulders. “Why should I?”

Lyra turned and headed to the village, the clump of silhouettes and lights the desert wore as a brooch every night. Her favorite time came when the town exploded in light and color in her honor. She would stay awake as long as possible, watching the dancing lights. Occasionally, when the wind was just right, she caught the faint sound of music.

She reached the town’s gate and paused. Would they recognize her? Had her portraits and sculptures survived all these years?

She knelt in the blue sand and raked it through her hair. She dashed some in her eyes and wiped it over her lips. Finally, she fashioned an airy dress made of the indigo sand and entered the town.

People clad in silk and velvet loped and danced through the streets. Paper lanterns and streamers bedecked buildings and awnings. All around Lyra were the trappings of a great festival, and it was all for her.

“New to our town, miss?” A small boy stood at her feet. A brush fire of red hair stood out on his head, and he fiddled with an old watch chain.

“You could say that.” She smirked.

“You’ve come at the right time. Festival season is the best time of the year.” He offered her his small hand. “I’m Dewey.”

“Why does your town celebrate?”

“Don’t know. We just do.”

Her jaw seemed to double in weight. She pursed her lips. “You’re young. Who can give me answers?”

He indicated the far end of the main street, where a huge crowd had formed. Lyra thanked him and hurried on. She reached a platform on which stood a figure shrouded in a dark cloak.

Lyra pushed through the mass of citizens. She waved a hand in the air, and the hooded head swiveled toward her. “I have some questions for you.”

He nodded, and someone hoisted her up. “Why do your people celebrate? What is the occasion for this festival?”

“Why ask questions to which you know the answers?” He took down his hood, and turned a pair of glassy, bright eyes on her. “They celebrate you, Lyra, and the way you light the sky at night.”

She gaped at this man who had first placed her in the heavens to ornament the night sky. This man who had shackled her to a silent position. This man she had tried to avoid since stepping down.

Fye stumbled onto the stage, hands bound behind his back. He looked at Lyra. “I tried to warn you. I tried. You wouldn’t listen.”

Lyra looked at the man. “I will not go back. You cannot put me back and render me mute. I have a voice. I have a body. It is mine, and I will use it.”

He chuckled, a sound as deep as the oceans from whence he came. “I did not place you there without cause, Lyra. Have you ever asked yourself why you sleep when the world wakes?” He looked at the horizon, which glowed now with coming light. “No matter. You’ll find out soon enough.”

Lyra shifted in her place, not wanting to stay still but not knowing where to go. She stared at the brightening horizon, and a terrible heat swelled in her chest. Never before had she felt such an unbearable heat. Only warmth like being wrapped in expensive furs. Now it scorched her from the inside out as the sun stood up while she realized the answers to her questions.

A moment passed, and Lyra disappeared.

Contests and Possible Ideas

One of my goals for the new year (I refuse to call them resolutions) was to prepare and send out more of my writing.

It’s not so much a fear of someone reading and disliking my work that keeps me from submitting but rather the subconscious idea that if I never submit I never have to deal with that rejection. (Plus I am the world’s best procrastinator.)

So, to try to remedy this problem, I am going to write, edit, and submit a piece to Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Contest. Maximum of 3,000 words in any genre and due by the end of the month. I’m on a bit of a time crunch, as you can tell, so I thought I would approach my readers for a little help.

I am absolutely terrible at deciding on an idea. Below I have a few possible ideas. If you could, please leave me a comment with which one you think I should run with. Then, from today until I submit the piece, I will keep a running record of my progress and thoughts on my personal writing process for anyone who may be curious.

The Ideas:

  1. A godling — small-time god — develops feelings for a human despite his belief that no one notices the small miracles he performs for them.
  2. While changing her car battery, a woman struggles over her sense of self after graduating from medical school with no real feeling of accomplishment.
  3. A teenage relationship from the point of view of the girl’s car.

If you could please spare a moment and drop a number in the comments, I would much appreciate it. Thanks and have a great day, lovelies!

Snowmen and Corsages

Last night, on a whim, I took a walk around campus after dinner. My roommate had gone back to the room, and I wandered the quad with music filling my head. The paths were empty, most students having gone home for the long weekend, and I sometimes sang to the setting sun. A light chill slipped down the neck of my jacket, and I took a deep breath.

Twice I stumbled upon something that made me stop. The first time was when I came upon a dirt-caked, broken snowman. It was simply a cracked ball of snow with a pair of branches sticking out of it sadly. The outside sported a coat of dirt and grass, but the inside gleamed clean and white, carefully preserved like wine in an ancient cask.

I thought about approaching it, about plunging my fingers into the cold just to know what it felt like. But I stayed on the sidewalk and only looked. It felt like it would be offensive and disrespectful to go rifling through the snowman’s insides for my own desire. Had it not suffered enough with its mud-stained outside.

It strikes me now that this situation is much like how people, specifically white people, treat other cultures and histories. How we as a group have rummaged in devastated civilizations so we can expand our knowledge. The Native Americans, Africans, and countless others cracked open like dirty snowmen for our own desires, our own whims. Despicable at best.

I continued on my walk from there and paused when I spotted a white flower on the ground. Picking it up, I noticed a pair of straight pins bound to the stem and realized I was holding a corsage. I pried at the petals, wanting to ensure no insects had made their homes in the flower. As I walked and examined I wondered about this adornment’s origins.

Who had worn it? Who gave it to them? What was the occasion? Had they known each other long before it? Did they like each other? Did they have fun? What happened to dislodge the corsage? Why did no one notice its disappearance?

How many questions lie in something so simple and innocent. A million stories bound up with the straight pins.

In the end, I left the corsage in the grass. I passed the broken snowman without another glance. I nodded along to my music, and I went back to my room.

Snow in the South

There’s something strangely wonderful when weather contradicts setting. It only snows once every few years in the south, and when I rolled over in bed last night to the sound of my fellow students laughing and shouting in the parking lot, I wondered if the weather report had come true.

All day people had been murmuring over the possibility of snow flurries in the middle of the night. And, with the rain and the frigid temperatures, it actually seemed possible. In states like Mississippi and Alabama, snow is cause for celebration and panic.

As the clock flicked closer to midnight, I pried open the blinds and peered out at the parking lot connected to my dorm. Snow capped the cars and blanketed patches of grass. College students skipped and ran through the lot, scooping up meager handfuls of snow to make icy ammunition in a coming war.

My best friend and roommate joined me on my bed so we could marvel over the unfamiliar sight of snow on southern ground. There wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep people out in the chilly air for a couple of hours.

Morning came and, with it, an email stating that certain morning classes were cancelled because of the snow.

I, having already showered and dressed, jumped back onto my bed and opened the blinds. Heaps and quilts of brilliant snow-covered the cars and grass. Lines of the frozen stuff topped tree branches. Everything was light and clean and shiny.

While I grumbled over getting up at seven in the morning for nothing, I settled down with my iPad and the giddy thought that it had actually snowed in Mississippi. How wonderfully strange.

Only Girls Allowed: Sexism at Walmart

Heading to the Walmart in the rain that had been falling on Mississippi since the early morning, my only thought was to get inside so my best friend and I could do our grocery shopping. My fingers, chilled to the bones, ached around my umbrella’s handle, and I wondered if the cold would start up the pain in my joints that visited with every drop in temperature. With all of this on my mind I was mildly irritated to find a man blocking the entrance with his shopping cart from the inside of the store.

The man, somewhat advanced in years and wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, stood just far enough from the doors so as not to trigger them into opening but just close enough that I felt nervous approaching.

My worries peaked when the doors slid apart and he held up his hand. I really did not want to deal with any harassment right now, especially with how cold I was.

“Stop,” he said, a telling Southern accent crackling along his voice. “Only girls allowed.”

The tendons in my neck tightened, but I resisted the urge to swear at him and brush past. I knew from experience that old Southern “gentlemen” typically had tempers as long as fishing hook. Instead I worked at keeping my face neutral while my friend laughed in clear discomfort.

He laughed then, as if it were all some cute joke. Dropping his hand like he had suddenly become gracious enough to allow us to enter the store, he looked away.

We passed, and now I permitted myself an anger-filled swear under my breath.

I have become accustomed to people mistakenly addressing me by male pronouns because of my short hair and tendency to wear jackets that disguise my chest. I have been called “gentleman,” “son,” and “young man,” on several occasions, and each time it has stung for only a second before I convinced myself to laugh it off.

This time, however, I was not going to laugh.

Let’s break down exactly what happened here.

  1. I was in a hurry to get inside because of the rain and the cold.
  2. This man, for whatever reason, thought it appropriate to stand partially blocking the entrance with his cart.
  3. I, as an educated woman, was nervous about finding my path to warmth and shelter blocked by a strange man.
  4. He insisted I stop my progress because he apparently wanted to inform me of something.
  5. I, without thinking, did as he said since he was a man, and an older man at that (respect your elders, right?).
  6. While I stood half in the rain, this man proceeded to tell me that “only girls” were allowed in the store (apparently he owns Walmart and gets to decide who can and cannot enter).
  7. He looked directly at me when he said this, which I can only take to mean that he was mocking my short hair, a typically masculine feature.
  8. He thought it was appropriate to joke about me not being a girl (which I am not since I am a woman, but that’s beside the point).
  9. I did not talk back.
  10. I did not tell him his comment was rude and not appreciated.
  11. I did not make any sign that I wasn’t pleased other than a restrained glare.
  12. He laughed, clearly amused at either his comedic genius or my discomfort.
  13. I passed in silence, only expressing my anger when he was out of earshot.

This is the problem with sexism. Normally, I have a retort ready for classroom situations and other possible events, but sexism does not wait for you to have your powerful speech ready. It doesn’t even wait for you to get comfortable. It comes when you’re in a hurry, flustered, tired, upset, or otherwise ruffled. And it catches you off guard because you really aren’t expecting or wanting to deal with sexism on top of everything else you have to deal with (since you’re a fully fleshed human being with a life and personality outside of what sexist strangers think of you, but you wouldn’t think that for how they treat you).

If I could go back in time and redo that event, I would clearly and calmly tell that man just what I thought of him, expletives included. I don’t care how old you are. You do not get a pass on sexism and rude jokes made about someone’s appearance. That man did not know the insecurities I have had to face since cutting my hair so long ago. He didn’t know about all the snide comments people thought were okay to make about how I looked like a guy or a lesbian.

But, you know, even if he did know, I don’t think he would have cared.