Fear wears many faces
As we speak, the world stands on the brink of eradicating polio. One of the reasons this has taken so long is that not every case of polio exhibits the paralysis the disease is known for. As a result, the disease can circulate undetected, and by the time the first person becomes paralysed, dozens or even hundreds are infected. It’s the same disease, but it doesn’t always present in the same way. Similarly, heart disease, influenza, and cancer can each manifest through a variety of symptoms, even when the underlying cause is the same.
Now, I don’t mean to make light of these diseases and their impact by this comparison, but panic attacks can be likewise variable in terms of symptoms.
Panic attacks are commonly thought of as they appear in films or television; hyperventilation, bulging eyes, that sort of thing. But not everyone who experiences panic attacks presents with these symptoms. Some people freeze. Others appear to “zone out”. Yet others experience sudden bouts of irritability, or even rage.
As a result, panic attacks that don’t fit the traditional mould can go unnoticed, even when to the people having them, it feels like the world is ending. A casual observer may see nothing amiss, leading to the dreaded “but there’s nothing wrong with you.” Worse still, if someone’s panic manifests as anger, people can assume the sufferer is being deliberately rude or nasty.
I myself tend to become quiet and spaced out when I have a panic attack. As such, those who don’t know me well often don’t notice. I’ve learned it’s best for me to just tell people that I’m feeling uncomfortable, to avoid misunderstandings.
So remember, just because someone’s not gasping for breath or crying, that doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing severe anxiety and discomfort.