Sometimes I act like I'm drunk when I'm having a panic attack

Yesterday, I had a normal and productive workday. And I had these grandiose plans for when I got home – to iron my clothes (which have been crumpled up in a laundry basket for more than a week) and work on the book I’m writing. Yet, for some reason, when I got home I felt this inexplicable sadness. I didn’t feel like doing anything. Watching TV felt like a chore, and I didn’t even feel like eating (and you really know something is wrong with me when I don’t feel like eating).

I was counting down the hours until it was socially acceptable to go to bed because that was, honestly, the only thing I felt like doing. So, around 8:30, I decided to take a bath and then go to bed around 9 (9 is an okay time to go to bed, right?) But, in the middle of what was supposed to be a calming bath, I suddenly started sobbing. Full-on hyperventilating.

And I realized…I kind of act like I’m drunk when I’m having a panic attack.

A panic attack isn’t the fun, life-of-the-party drunk either. A panic attack is like the girl, crying in the bathroom at a bar, her friends telling her, “No, texting him is not a good idea!” or “Come on, let’s go home,” while hoisting her up by her armpits to drag her out.

Usually I’m alone when I have a panic attack…but if you saw me when I was having one, this is probably what I would be like.

Last night, I sent out a couple long, rambling text messages. The gist of it being – I feel alone, nobody loves me, hey – why aren’t you responding, you don’t love me, tell me you love me (yeah, I know, it’s embarrassing).

Also, like some people make “drunk purchases,” I have this strange tendency to make panic attack purchases. In the midst of tears streaming down my face, I was on Amazon (I guess as a way to try to calm myself down). I bought cat litter (practical) and also this burgundy-jeweled ring that I’ve been eyeing but in my non-panic attack brain, knew it was a waste of money. Like with drunk purchases, I forgot I did this until I got the message this morning, “Shipped: Your Amazon package will be delivered Friday.”

After getting out of the bathtub, I took some anxiety medication and passed out on a wet pillowcase with tears still staining my cheeks. When I woke up this morning, I literally felt hung over. A panic attack hangover. I felt emotionally and physically drained, and my head was throbbing. And my first thought was, “Oh god. What did I do last night?”

I’ve had people tell me that when I have a panic attack, it’s like I’m a different person. And, that’s the thing: When I wake up the next morning and my brain is back in logical mode, I can look back and say that I wasn’t in my right mind. And, like looking back on a night of drinking, I don’t even feel like the same person.

I think it’s because both alcohol and mental illness affect your brain.

Stephen Braun, author of Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, says, “Alcohol depresses the behavioral inhibitory centers in the cerebral cortex, making you more likely to do things, or someone, that you wouldn’t if you were sober.”

Same goes for me when I’m having a panic attack. I do things I wouldn’t do if I wasn’t having one.

According to Medical Daily, studies suggest that panic attacks stem from abnormal activity within the amygdala, a brain region that is the integrative center for emotions, motivation, fear and aggression.

So it makes sense why alcohol and panic attacks make you act differently. They both affect regions of your brain. But, unlike alcohol, panic attacks don’t make you feel numb and they definitely don’t make you feel good. When I’m having a panic attack, I’m not acting how I’m acting because my inhibitions are weakened, like they are when I'm drunk. I’m acting how I’m acting because I’m in pain – and I’m doing whatever I can to try and make the pain go away. Yes, even buy jewelry, apparently.

When I have a panic attack, I get this intense pain in the center of my chest, like someone is pressing down on top of me, and it’s difficult to breathe. It feels like the walls are closing in on me. And negative thoughts constantly run through my brain as if they’re coming from someone else – that I’m an awful, ugly, worthless person that no one could ever love and that I’m going to die alone.

So if I send a drunk-sounding text message that doesn’t make sense, that’s my way of screaming out for help. I know you won’t be able to cure me, and I know it’s not your job to make me feel better. But, when I’m having a panic attack, I’m doing whatever I can in hopes that maybe, just maybe, you’ll say something to help me feel better. I’m hoping that you’ll remind me that there’s nothing wrong with me and that I’m not alone. I’m hoping, if only for a moment, you'll help me forget about the pain.

You can judge me for what I do or say while drunk. But, please, whatever I do or say during a panic attack, try not to hold it against me.  

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