Internal Contractions: Panic Attacks

For me, 2004 was marked by a constellation of new experiences. Some were pleasant; others were not. I’d started my first year at university, which was a relief after 13 years of single-sex schooling. Social jockeying, coded girl-speak, an obsession with spray tans and netball: I was not made for that milieu. Instead, I pinned my happiness on university, where liberation was to take place. Indoor pursuits would triumph. And so I spent most of my time angling for new-found social prominence at campus cafes, conspicuously leafing through the Economist in an attempt to not only signal the seriousness of my academic intent, but also to win friends. (It turns out this was an ill-conceived strategy.)

That year was also the first time I started experiencing regular panic attacks. First of all, it is important to note that everyone experiences panic attacks differently. For me, it feels like my body is temporarily undergoing an intense internal contraction – much like a damp rag being wrung out. The onset is sudden but the duration is brief: an episode is usually over in 10 minutes.

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