So last night was awful. I was just getting off to sleep when I suddenly woke up gasping for air. I went back to sleep again and just as I was dozing off the same thing happened again. I was then wide awake and terrified. I couldn’t get the air in quickly enough and I started to panic. Every time I breathed in it didn’t feel like enough and I felt like I was drowning. My lungs felt empty and I couldn’t stop focusing on my breathing. The more I focused on it, the more laboured it became.
I tried to go back to sleep but I couldn’t get my breathing back to normal and I was terrified that I was going to die in my sleep from lack of oxygen. I rushed up from bed to go straight to the beloved internet (foundation of all knowledge!) to look up my symptoms. I wanted to see if I was suffering from some kind of illness where you get woken up without being able to breathe. There were lots of possibilities I found which worried me even more. Then I started to shake and my body shuddered away.
I thought, well this is it. This is how I die. Sat shivering by my computer screen in my pyjamas, desperate for help. I even considered phoning an ambulance. However, this provoked even more anxious feelings. Will they think I am hysterical? Will they think that I am wasting their time? Even more concerning to me was that they would see me in my pyjamas. My priorities were obviously completely wrong… but hey this is how it was!
My partner told me that it was probably just anxiety and I needed to calm down. I took some diazepam and crushed it up so it would get absorbed faster. Within about ten minutes of lying in bed worrying, the meds kicked in and I fell asleep for (13!) hours. I woke up this morning and my breathing seemed fine.
I am still not sure why I woke up gasping for breath whilst I was asleep both times. There may have been a physical reason which I should probably get checked out. However, I am now pretty sure that my response after this was one of anxiety and panic. It was the worry about not being able to breathe that then meant that I started to have a panic attack and so my breathing got worse. I realise that the shaking must have been all part and parcel of a panic attack too.
It is strange how something psychological such as anxiety can cause such strong physical symptoms. So real and physical that you think you might die from lack of oxygen. But this is the way that mental illness seems to work. It doesn't just affect your feelings and thoughts. It affects your physical body as well. It affects your energy, your appetite, your sleep patterns, your digestive system and even your breathing.
I would love to know: do other people have panic attacks like this? Please feel free to comment or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.