My Personal Journey with Panic Attacks
My personal journey with panic attacks was a long, uncomfortable, and isolating experience. It all happened in a very ironic way because I was in Cusco, Peru boarding a plane headed to Chile. I had spent the last 9 months taking part in various healing ceremonies where I cleared years of trauma with the help of San Pedro and other medicinal plants. I had faced extremely dark aspects of myself, let go of emotional baggage, and cried my eyes out as I relived some of the most unpleasant memories of my past.
I felt like a new person and I believed that I had a new found strength to tackle any situation coming my way. Little did I know, something was about to shake my reality and challenge my newly found confidence in myself.
I was sitting in my seat waiting for the plane to take off. I looked out the window and gave the Andes mountains one final look before taking off, but all of a sudden I began to feel a bit strange. I felt like I was slowly becoming intoxicated, almost like I had smoked cannabis and the effects were gradually taking over. I felt overwhelmed and extremely uncomfortable, then all of a sudden I found it very difficult to breathe and my heart began to pound out of my chest.
I didn’t understand what was going on, but with each second that passed, I began to feel worse. I felt light headed, my heart was beating faster than I ever felt it beat before, and then the left side of my chest tensed up. My left arm went numb and that’s when I began to worry. I remembered how my grandfather described his heart attack and I realized that I was experiencing all of the symptoms he went through. At that moment all that I could think of was “I’m having a heart attack and I’m going to die.” Waves of intense fear, terror, and panic washed over me.
I desperately looked around for a flight attendant but I felt completely frozen. I wanted to call out for help but something in me was choking back my words. The emotions I was feeling had me paralyzed and I felt completely helpless.
Out of nowhere I began to feel like my thoughts were spiraling out of control. It was one of the most bizarre experiences because it felt like I was losing complete control of my own mind. Nothing in my mind made sense and I was convinced that something had gone terribly wrong with me.
I wondered if maybe the prolonged period living in such a high altitude had caused brain damage. Or maybe someone had put something in the drink I had before boarding the plane.
I felt completely dissociated from my body and the more time that passed, the worse it got. If you’ve ever eaten a “special” brownie and had to deal with the unpleasant and overwhelming effects it brings, this is exactly how I felt at that moment. I just wanted this feeling to end but it would only get worse with every second that passed.
I tried to make sense of what was happening in my mind and I prayed. I asked my spirit guides, ancestors, higher self, source, and every entity and deity I had ever worked with in the past to help me. “Please help me, I don’t know what to do, I’m begging you, make this go away” I said to them silently. I suddenly remembered a breathing exercise I would use to enter a trance state and that immediately brought me some relief. I took in a deep breath for 6 seconds and then exhaled slowly for another 6 seconds. With each exhale, I imagined myself rapidly dropping down a tube.
To my surprise, the feeling in my left arm returned, my heart rate dropped, and the feeling of being drugged out dissipated. I had never felt such an intense sense of relief wash over me. The physical and emotional sensations I had just experienced were so intense and terrifying that afterwards, all I wanted to do was cry. I was exhausted, confused, terrified, and concerned. Most importantly, I was paranoid because I didn’t want to experience that feeling ever again.
Fast forward to my arrival to Chile. I was moving into my new apartment and my two friends and I were setting things up and unpacking. Once they left, I laid in bed and took a moment to relax and unwind after a very hectic day. Then it happened again, that sensation of being extremely high washed over me. This time the feeling struck me with more intensity and I felt like I was on the verge of dying. Looking back on it now, there was no logical reason to come to the conclusion that my life was ending but my brain was convinced I was about to die.
I had never felt such an intense fear in my life. I couldn’t be convinced that I was not going to die, but I felt like something terribly wrong was happening to my body. I struggled to breath and felt that familiar feeling once again. Nothing in my mind made sense, I was losing control of my thoughts, and I was convinced I had lost my sanity. This particular panic attack hit me with more intensity and I didn’t know how to handle it. I got into a fetal position and began doing my breathing exercise to calm down. To my surprise, it didn’t bring me any relief at all.
I waited in mental agony for the feeling to go away. After about 10 minutes, it finally dissipated and I laid in bed exhausted. I asked myself “what the hell is going on with me?” and wondered why I was going through this if I had just done so much clearing work in Peru.
From that day on, I began having these attacks on a daily basis. The only difference is that I knew they were simply panic attacks and not something hurting me on a physical level. They always came unannounced and without anything in particular triggering them. It got to the point that I saw them as a nuisance and no longer something terrifying. They would hit me like a ton of bricks and I’d endure anywhere from 10-20 minutes of complete mental agony. There was nothing I could do, but sit with the panic and let it run its course.
As time went on I began to grow tired, exhausted actually. The panic drained me of my energy and zapped all motivation and enthusiasm from my life. I tried to find alternatives other than medication to gain a sense of relief. Valerian root, lemon balm, chamomile tea, CBD oil, magnesium supplements, and everything else in between. All these supplements provided some relief for a few months until it got to the point where some of them even provoked a panic attack in me. I felt hopeless and didn’t know what to do and I could go so far as to say that I had reached one of my lowest points in life. The daily panic attacks had lead me into a state of depression because everything I once felt excited and passionate about, I couldn’t do any more. Any time I engaged in something I enjoyed, I would get a panic attack. Any time I would try to explore my new city or meet new and interesting people, I would get a panic attack. This feeling had absolutely no mercy and I was in a mental prison.
One day while I was at home and the daily panic attack decided to hit me as it usually did, I decided to do something a bit different. When the panic attack struck me, I decided to speak to the energy and try to engage in a dialogue with it. I’ve always intuitively known that emotions have a consciousness and that there’s a message behind every emotion we feel. I focused on the panic and paid extra close attention to where I felt it on my body. There was pressure on my solar plexus, a choking feeling in my throat, tension in my chest and lungs, and an extreme feeling of pressure in my skull. I Identified these sensations out loud and then I said “Panic, I am here with you and I’m all ears. What are you trying to tell me?”
I took several deep breaths to try to calm down and waited with my eyes closed. In my mind’s eye I saw the silhouette of a person, but this shape was almost like a person made out of electricity. This “person” said to me “I am your lower self. I’ve been trying to get your attention for the longest time but you just won’t listen.”
I replied back to it in a frustrated tone “Well, I’m listening now. What exactly do you need me to know?”
The image morphed and suddenly I saw myself as a teenager. I was looking back at the emotionally hurt, insecure, and very damaged image of myself. I instinctively went over to this image and hugged him. While I hugged my 16 year old self, he began to violently cry. He shuddered and gasped in between sobs and I just held on to him and told him “everything is OK, I’m here for you.” The more I tried to comfort him, the more he cried. I knew that all I needed to do was be present and hold space for this aspect of myself.
Once he finally calmed down I looked into his eyes and asked “Is there anything you need from me so you can feel better?” and he immediately replied “I just want to go home.”
I looked at him puzzled and asked him “you want to go back to our small home town? I thought that all you wanted was to get out of there”
He quickly replied “No, not there. I want us to go home.”
When he said that, I understood that he wanted us to go where I felt the most at home. I remembered how much I loved living in Argentina, a place I considered my home for over 5 years. No other place had ever made me feel so welcome and a part of their culture like Argentina did. I began to wonder why I ever decided to leave and I realized that deep down inside, I never wanted to. I began to feel an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and an aching feeling to go back to my old friends in Buenos Aires. Suddenly, everything made sense. My panic attacks were my subconscious mind desperately begging me to do what makes me happy.
I promised my 16 year old self that I would take us back to Argentina, but he had to promise me not to torture me with these debilitating panic attacks every single day. He agreed and I immediately saw a smile on his face, a smile I hadn’t seen reflected back at me in years.
After speaking to this younger aspect of myself, my panic attacks completely went away. I was relieved by how quickly this happened and I felt like I had regained my strength and will to live. I was meeting new friends, socializing, attending more parties and events. My quality of sleep improved immensely and I was no longer getting sick on a regular basis.
I felt so amazing and in control of my life that I decided to do a bit more travelling. In the back of my mind I knew I had made a promise to my younger self that we would return to Argentina, but I thought “It wouldn’t hurt if I do a bit more travelling before I go back, right?”
This was probably the biggest mistake I could have ever made. If you’re wondering whether you can fool your subconscious mind, the answer is absolutely not. Do not ever try to go back on your promise, especially if it’s a promise you made to an aspect of yourself that needs healing.
I arrived to the city of Medellin in Colombia and I had an amazing time during my first 2 months there. Everything seemed to be going well until one night I came home and got myself ready for bed after a long day. I had a podcast playing in the background and I laid in bed checking my social media accounts when all of a sudden, that familiar feeling of panic began creeping up. The feeling did not come on gradually as it usually did, but it hit me in the most sudden and brutal way ever. I went from feeling calm and centered to completely intoxicated, almost like I had overdosed on Valium or eaten several brownies laced with cannabis. I had lost complete control over myself and my body and nothing seemed to make any sense. I felt extremely depersonalized and it was as if my ego was slowly fading away.
All concepts of “me” and my identity were starting to fade away. Nothing in my mind made sense and it felt as if I was losing all sense of sanity. Looking back on this moment, I’m not exaggerating when I say that it felt like I had sunken into a psychological hell. I felt like I was going through a mental death where my consciousness was burning away while my physical body continued existing without me. I brought my attention back to my physical body and did my breathing exercises. I pressed on acupuncture points to calm myself down and I even did EFT tapping. I would manage to bring myself back to a sense of normalcy just for 1 or 2 minutes, but then I’d lose myself again.
My heart began to race at an alarming rate and my chest began to hurt. I knew I was experiencing a panic attack, but this was a panic attack stronger than any I had ever experienced. The intensity of it was mind blowing. It was merciless, aggressive, and relentless. It felt demonic in nature and there was nothing I could do to get out of it. Every now and then I would look at the clock and see what time it was. One hour passed and the panic attack was still going strong, another hour passed and it was only getting stronger. After 3 hours I began to feel very concerned. A part of me began to wonder if I had lost my mind and if this is how I was going to feel forever. I had never had a 3 hour panic attack, let alone one that was this intense.
I began talking to my panic as I did several months back. When I asked what it wanted from me I got a wave of word vomit “I want to go home, I want you to love yourself, I want you to listen, I want you to be responsible, I want you to be honest, I want you to live etc.”
It went on for what seemed like an eternity but a part of me knew that I made a terrible mistake. I went against my word and didn’t follow through with what I said I would do. I was in a fetal position praying for this feeling to end, but it would only grow in intensity as time went on. Words cannot explain how uncomfortable I felt. It was as if I had gone completely insane, in fact, there was no doubt in my mind that I had lost my mind. Most importantly, I felt alone. The most intense feeling of isolation struck me, there was no one there to support me and even if there was, how would they help me? How would anyone know what to do with me in this situation?
No one could get me out of this situation but myself, and knowing this filled me with a cold and devastating sense of solitude.
I looked at the clock and 4 hours had passed.
It was unbelievable how I had been stuck this mental prison for 4 hours and it didn’t seem to be nearing an end. A part of me wondered if I should get myself to a hospital, but then paranoia creeped in and I thought “does the Colombian healthcare system even know how to handle something like this? What if I end up in an insane asylum?”
I texted every friend I had but at 5 am, everyone was asleep. No one could help me.
After 5 hours had passed, I gradually began to notice that my reality was starting to make sense again. I no longer felt like I was losing my mind or on the verge of death, but I was completely exhausted. I knew at that moment that my subconscious mind had fought back, almost like a child who acts out when they don’t get the toy the wanted at the store.
From that day on I had 2 or 3 panic attacks every single day, and each time I went through one, I feared that it would last several hours.
This wasn’t a healthy way to live and every day I felt like I was losing my mind. There were even days when I wondered if the only way to find relief was to die. I was at such a low point in my life that I thought about death on a daily basis, but deep down, I knew this wasn’t the answer.
I didn’t want to feel this way anymore. I wanted to live.
I was in no shape to travel anymore, so I went home to my family in Arizona so I could rest and recover for some time.
Being back in Arizona made me face a lot of emotional scars from my adolescence. I was able to get answers about certain events from my childhood that left me hurt up until my adult years. I was able to understand my past with more clarity and as a result, I learned to forgive my family and myself.
After a few months of recovery and healing, I hopped on a plane back to Argentina. It was time to “get back out there” and leave the comforting nest of my home.
I’ve been here for 4 months so far and I can happily say that my panic attacks have completely gone away. Throughout this journey, I’ve learned that sometimes our emotions serve as a navigation system and we need to listen in order to be in perfect harmony with ourselves. Every emotion we feel has a message for us, and if we ignore the message, it will only get louder until we’re forced to listen.
On a personal note, I learned that healing is not an instant solution to all of our problems. By taking part in healing ceremonies in Peru, I cleared a thick layer of trauma that allowed even deeper and heavier pain to surface. Would I have been better off keeping those demons buried deep inside? Would life be easier to manage if I had not awakened that aspect of myself? Of course it would, but only for a short while.
I know now that if I hadn’t faced this aspect of myself at that exact moment, I would’ve had a much more challenging time in the future.
In an age where we’re encouraged to set our emotions aside so we can carry on with more “productive” tasks, it’s no wonder why so many of us suffer in silence in our mental prisons.
If I can offer one piece of advice to you it’s this:
Don’t ignore what you’re most passionate about. Allow yourself to feel your joy and if you find that you’re a better person in a certain city, country, or community, don’t deny yourself the pleasure of being there.