Inwardly or outwardly panic?

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.

If you have a clock, listen.

Time. It speeds on, doesn’t it? I often find it daunting how quickly time can surpass you. I swear, a week ago I was in school – finishing my GCSE’s. I can still remember English literature class. Shakespeare. Reading and trying to understand. I can still feel the same anxiety that I felt when I was made to prepare a report for my verbal assessment – one I had to read to the class and present in a confident manner. To pretend that I wasn’t hiding inside.

I never liked giving presentations. Ever. In my first year of university, we had to prepare a presentation which had to last at least ten-fifteen minutes. I remember the panic that built up inside of me the night before. I had a panic attack about it. Even going into class, I remember my accelerated breathing. My quick heart rate. I remember the heat on my face and a churning in my stomach so bad that I thought I was going to vomit everywhere.

I remember my hand shaking as I held my notes for the presentation – to aid me in presenting the slideshow to the class. It shook so badly that I had to wave my hand a lot at the screen in order to stop people seeing it. My voice most likely shook, I can’t recall how I outwardly appeared because I went on autopilot.

What is autopilot?

No, I’m not talking about a mechanical function. Or any form of function to do with machines. The autopilot that I am talking about is very similar, however.

In times of fear, I’m never sure how I am going to react. Although I will only mention two reactions.

My first reaction is to panic – outwardly, in this sense. I will express my fear and it will become obvious to the outside world. I try to avoid this one the most, I would rather not have people think that I am ‘a freak’ for freaking out. Weird. ‘Mental‘. In this society, I have found that outwardly expression is frowned upon,and thus, as a young person, I learned to deal with hiding. I will write more about this in another post.

My second reaction is autopilot. – Before I discuss this, I might need to note that I will be calling this AP in this piece as everytime I go to write autopilot, I keep nearly typing auto-Poirot. As in the detective. No idea why, as I haven’t moved on from Sherlock Holmes yet, in order to read the Poirot books.

AP is hard to explain, although it is obviously easier to experience.

AP is when you are in a highly stressful situation and you switch, or rather, shut down. The situation will not always be one that is highly stressful enough to cause a panic attack, although it will be stressful enough to make you react.

This applies to presentations, I will have panic attacks in the build up to it,and after such a thing has happened. However, in some present moments, I stop. I go on AP.

I will use a presentation as an example. I will have my name called. As I make my way down the steps to the front of the lecture, as I set up my presentation, my heart beats wildly in my chest. It beats so hard that I feel like it might pound out of my chest – Due to the force of the beating, and the speed, the blood rushes around my body. I feel it rush to my ears and it blocks out all sound, including my voice.

I feel my hands shake as they hold the queue cards. I feel my face simultaneously heat and pale at the same time.

The drumming against my chest which beats my insides, the pounding in my ears which blocks out sound, the shake of my hands and voice, the terror in my eyes and my dry mouth all add the perfect conditions for AP.

To any outside viewer that has been to a lecture which we all have to present in, and has been there for mine, they might not see this. I have been told once that I am quite collected and can ‘pull that’ out of my ‘ass’. I’m unsure if that was because it was for a group presentation, or if that is the constant view to the outside viewer – How can I? I can’t exactly watch myself give a presentation to my class.

This is AP – when your body functions on its own, by instinct and how you had planned it to act when you thought it over the night before. Rehearsed. Like an actor in a play. While inside, your mind tears itself to pieces.

I never hear myself when I am doing presentations, over the pounding in my ears, I can’t. My body works as it would by instinct – my mouth moves, my eyes make contact with the listeners and I wave my hand a few times or point so that I give a bit of a show. While all of this is happening, I am numb to it. Because while everyone is busy hiding their phones under the desks and pretending to listen, my body has put AP on so that my mind can break down inside.

I’m unsure how this works, there is research on the matter, although finding one that best explains it is difficult.

Dissociation seems to be the most fitting description for it. It seems to be described as: ”In psychology, the term dissociation describes a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis” [1].

It’s not the exact thing which is experienced, although it does seem to be the word most fitting as you disappear to hide. Unless any readers find a better word for it. Or unless I do more research.

Therefore, anyone who suffers from a similar symptom should be reassured – if it’s not a loss of reality then you are not suffering from psychosis, however, I always suggest speaking to a doctor about it if you are worried about it.

If there is a measurement of mild to severe, I would put myself at very mild. I do not feel as if I am a bystander as such, as if I am someone else or having daydreamed about being somewhere else. It’s not that way, I would describe my AP as simply letting the body go through the motions while you are hiding inside you mind until it’s over. You are aware of the things going on around you, but it is background noise. You are paying attention – I’ve answered questions when on AP. I am aware and it’s like I am there, but at the same time, I’m not. I’ve let my body do the work and kept awareness while I disappeared inside for a think. Like a turtle who keeps monitors and listens as he disappears into his shell. I’m aware but I’m letting myself get things over and done with on my part. Therefore, mild. You phase out while maintaining awareness.

Upon further researching it with source one, it seems that this event is a coping mechanism. Even when I’m bored and have nothing to do, this happens to pass the time. Or when I have been set a chapter to read for my studies, I can set the book in front of me and read, although I’m only half taking the information in while I disappear again for a think. It’s rather frightening at times. It’s hard to describe it, a help or a hindrance?

It’s rather hard to describe this and I want to ask if anyone else endures the same thing? As if you disappear inwardly to have a panic attack, or to think, or to be flooded by thoughts and trying to suppress them? People would be talking away and you would zone out while going on AP with nods of agreement and off bursts of laughter – mirroring other peoples reactions while you deal with whatever internal monologue that the mind has set up for you that day? Is this common for others? How do you feel about it?

These are a contrast to the times when I’m outwardly expressing – I usually only do this in private. When I’ve locked the bedroom or bathroom door.

In those times, you cannot focus on anything else but what you are going through. No words, no touches of reassurance can bring you out of the fog. The fog which consumes you. Which eats you up and floods the senses with its negativity. The fog which gives you so much emotion that you become numb, or so much emotion that you might explode.

When you go through this, nothing can bring you out – no ‘It’s going to be ok‘ can pull you away from the drowning feeling. The feeling that stops all rationality and corrupts your mind with the darkness of the fog.

It’s a terrifying thing to endure. Hours after, when time has flown in and you don’t know where it has gone, the fog will lift for a moment and you will try and understand what the hell was going through your head at that moment. In the moments of clarity, I feel so stupid and angry at myself for having been drawn in by the fog. Why the hell did I feel like that? Who the hell feels like that?

It’s like a tunnel vision. The outside world disappears, you even forget everything around you while you focus on what’s in front of you, and what’s eating up your mind. And there’s no relief. No release. The monster has its nails drilled down deep into your head and it won’t let go until you’ve destroyed every single bit of your being.

Imagine seeing no positives. Seeing nothing but terror, pain, numbness which makes you soul bleed with the damnation of the curse which has been forced upon you. As if you have no option but to stop existing. To stop everything. As if nothing exists anymore but the fog in your mind.

It’s very hard to describe the torment you go through, whether it is inwardly or outwardly expression – even then, it’s not expression. That’s not the right word. It’s snapping. It’s breaking down when you have nothing else to help .When nothing helps at all. It’s the result of needing to do something in a crisis. Out of many, I have only mentioned two. I intend to speak about others, specially one that is still held in such a stigma. One that is important not to ignore. Although I don’t know when I will be ready to speak about it.

I will never be able to find the right words to say everything in this post. Although, I do hope that I’ve helped someone out there to understand what it’s like to….well, there’s no words. I hope I’ve helped someone get a glimpse of the turmoil, although this is a very watered down version of it.

Maybe I will find the words someday. Perhaps expression will find its way.

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociation_(psychology)

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