They're referred to as anxiety or panic "attacks." One definition of attack reads "to set upon in a forceful, violent, hostile, or aggressive way." An attack is usually from an external source. An unwelcome incoming.
A few years ago I had an unexpected spell of anxiety. It manifested itself in several different ways. Most of them were physical in nature. My life is basically an 8 to 5 routine bookended by weekends occupied mostly by yard work or something the family has planned. Each day and each week—a clone of the next. As this feeling of anxiousness slowly crept into my existence, I was baffled as to what could possibly be triggering it. There was no more stress than usual. Nothing different was happening. The soul-sucking, daily routine plodded on and on as it always does.
At first it would begin with the heart jumping. The feeling you get the instant you realize you forgot to do something very important—that flopping sensation the heart seems to do or at least what it feels like it's doing. This would continue and increase in frequency as the days bore on. Again, triggered by nothing. The overactive heart beating was soon accompanied by the sensation of a whirlpool of adrenaline swirling about in the center of the chest. This became almost constant. These awful, combined attributes were reminiscent of the physical effects of a very lengthy roller coaster ride. Butterflies. Heart jumps. Adrenaline spikes.
More days come and go. Now breathing has become affected. Have to keep taking deep breaths. Can't seem to "catch it." Borderline hyperventilation. All the physical symptoms invariably impact the mind. Waves of fear overcome me though there's nothing I'm actually fearful of. Just a pure feeling of fear. This continues for weeks. Lack of sleep worsens. The moment I awaken, my heart is pounding and I'm taking huge breaths. I find if I jog, then the gasping for air isn't as severe. Jogging, of course, causes the heart rate to increase so my desperate hope is to somehow mask these unhealthy physical sensations with matching healthy ones. Several early mornings I found myself running around the block trying to drown out this new affliction. It's all bizarre and confusing. What is happening? What is causing this? What's next?
It was yet another Saturday afternoon. This one in April. It was unusually hot for that time of year. I was home with the family. Nothing planned for the day. Just home. Familiar surroundings. A stressless environment. By mid-afternoon I became voraciously thirsty. My thirst could not be quenched. My breathing was erratic. My heart was in overdrive. I'm overcome with fear. I have no control. It genuinely feels like an attack from the outside. I have this terrible urge to get out. To run. To flee. To breakaway. I grab a bottle of water and quickly leave the house and just run, run to nowhere. Just run. The run quickly erodes to a swift walk. Can't catch my breath. Can't quench my thirst.
A thirtysomething guy is walking in the opposite direction toward me. We acknowledge each other as we pass. An odd thought occurs to me that this guy has no concept of the internal crisis I'm experiencing at this very moment. I'm just a stranger walking down the street. No reason to think anything of me. For some reason I can't forget that moment whereas his memory of that instant most likely ceased to exist before it even began. I continue walking briskly—aware of how beautiful the day actually is but at the same time—under siege and the day is a horror.
I made my way back to the house but could not bear seeing my family and I didn't want them to see me. In a few weeks it will be my wife's birthday. She had asked for a beach cruiser bike. I had ordered it online and it sat boxed and unassembled in the garage. Upon entering the garage I saw it and immediately tore open the box with every intention of putting this thing together come hell or high water. I had to keep busy. I had to be distracted. During a full-blown panic attack I completely assembled a full sized adult beach cruiser bike. Drenched with sweat, I then went into the house to seek my wife where I told her what was happening to me. I was breathless and on the verge of tears and I'm sure I sounded like a crazy person to her. It was most likely very alarming for her. She wisely remembered I had a prescription for Xanax that a doctor had given me for sleep. I had no interest. She wanted me to take two. I compromised and took one. She sat me down in the back yard on a reclining chair and told me to relax, close my eyes. She had to leave for an errand but would be back shortly. In time, I eventually settled down and actually dozed a bit.
I would not wish this on my worst enemy. It was one of the worst states of mind I had ever experienced.
The anxiety has leveled off. Sometimes it returns briefly but not at the intensity it did that day. If I had to choose between depression and anxiety, I would choose depression without blinking. Anxiety is most likely a by product of depression. An evil henchman. I pray it never visits me again.