I think I had my first panic attack yesterday. The thing that surprised me was how sudden and unexpected it was. I’d have thought the circumstances in no way would’ve elicited such a reaction, but then it was upon me and I had no idea what to do.
So what happened? Let’s backtrack a little.
I was in a “dirty talk” workshop at Playground Conference which was going fine. For someone as loquacious and playful as myself, even I’m surprised that when intimacy wraps its embrace around the situation, words seem to vanish. It’s something I’ve always wanted to get better at for the sake of my partners’ enjoyment. I like the idea of having fun, joking around and making the most of the moment. Banter, whether just jovial or more sexual in nature feels like it’d add the missing spice to bedroom proclivities. The workshop was low stakes, beginner level stuff trying to introduce concepts and ideas of how to express oneself between the sheets. I’d been looking forward to it for the whole conference and couldn’t wait to expand my vocabulary and communicative skills. I was a little nervous, but so were many people. It was a welcoming space, nobody was being put on the spot. A perfect environment to learn. We were given a list of words defined under different categories (romantic/sexy/naughty, nouns/adjectives/verbs) and encouraged to think about scenarios in which we’d use them. As I said, low stakes.
For the final exercise we were asked to pull out our smartphones and send a text to our partner. The text was to read “The next time I see you all I want is…” with us to fill in the blank however we chose. If we didn’t have reception or a partner, we could just write it in a note. Simple enough, right? I tried, I typed something out, then deleted it. I typed again, didn’t like it, deleted it. I typed again. I didn’t realise at the time that I was sweating and something was coming over me. Thoughts started to surface, why can’t I do this? Why does everything sound so uncreative/unsexy/childish? I felt so small, like a child trying to fit in with a group of grown ups but being totally overwhelmed instead. I felt immature, stupid, undesirable, inadequate, pathetic and worthless. Negative thoughts stacked on top of each other, rising in intensity like intrusive static until I couldn’t even make them out, I was just left with raw, dark emotions that I didn’t have the mental reserves to manage. Then it hit.
My breath suddenly came in short, ragged gasps. All of my muscles constricted and I started shaking uncontrollably. I felt weak and frail. My eyes began to well up and I found myself virtually incapable of speech. I had a vortex of thoughts swirling in my head, too quickly to understand any of them, so I didn’t. My mind shut down and seemed to leave my body. Technically I was there, I could move and had basic instinctive reactions, but in reality my consciousness was vacant. I could see, hear and feel, but I couldn’t process. Words just swept past me, sounds registered without meaning. I had to leave and be away from people. I went to the toilet, but muscle memory was the only thing guiding me. I looked in the mirror and looking into my red, dewy eyes was too much.
I went off in search of my friend. I couldn’t handle interaction, but I just needed to be held somewhere private while I sobbed. I stood outside of the room where she was attending a session and waited. Thumbing through my phone, eyes glazed over, I just tried to keep myself from shutting down entirely. At some point a friend spotted me and asked if I was alright. I looked up like a zombie and tried to speak, but couldn’t get out much more than scant mumbles. He begrudgingly left me on my own, as I implied I needed and I waited a bit longer. Somehow deciding that I didn’t want to burden her, I left and went to another session. I sat at the back, just taking up space as coping mechanisms kicked in, staring directly ahead. My mind was a million miles away as my brain shut down and tried to reboot. At some stage my friend found me and stayed close. I rested my hand on her back, but from the looks of concern she gave me I think she understood something wasn’t quite right.
In the last minute or two of the session things clicked, gears started turning and I came back to myself. The clouds parted, I looked up and around like I’d dug my way back to sunlight. I was back to myself, mildly shaken from what’d happened, but not overly worse for wear. I don’t know where I go from here. Much as I can trust the therapeutic nature of putting words on a page, I think I need to talk to some kind of professional. The experience was terrifying and I need to unpack the roots of what brought it on so I can harness tools for managing it if it resurfaces.
Also having a set time to talk at someone about myself seems like a narcissist’s dream. I’m not gonna pretend I’m better than that.