This is a reprint and expansion of today’s word count entry on my tumblr thing.
I had panic attacks all night long, last night. Each time I fell asleep, I woke up what felt like minutes later, in absolute terror. Like, imagine that you’re on an airplane and everything seems fine, and then it suddenly drops like 1000 feet. You know how you think you’d feel? The rush of adrenaline, the certainty that you were about to die, the helplessness to do anything about it … that’s how I felt all night long (all night, yeah).
I recall four specific times this happened, because each one had some different physical sensation when I woke up. There was the hot tingling in my arms and legs, there was the sense that I was not quite awake, but awake enough to know that the terror was about to hit, and then struggling in vain to prevent it, this cold wave that started in my chest and spread out all over my whole body like ripples in a pond, and the time my heart was beating so hard, I thought I was having a heart attack. Oh, and each time I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. Once, I didn’t know who I was. So I guess that’s five times I can recall, but I know it happened more than that because I didn’t get any meaningful rest. Also, a lot of the neurochemicals that I need to function are only created in my brain when I’m sleeping, so my dumb brain, which is already sort of challenged to give me the juice I need to exist, didn’t get to do its thing. That’s been really great.
I’m lucky that I didn’t have anywhere to be today, so when I finally fell to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, around 6am after my dog asked to go outside, I slept until almost 11. I can function on five hours of sleep, but I can’t function on five hours of sleep after eight hours of intense, adrenaline-draining night terrors.
So this is a long way of saying that I really wanted to work on my rewrite today, but I am mentally exhausted the way I would be physically exhausted if I’d been forced to walk on a treadmill for hours at a time.
I honestly don’t know what to do about this. I’ve had a sleep study done, and I don’t have sleep apnea. I’ve changed my meds more than once, hoping to find one that works for my depression and anxiety when I’m awake, and also when I’m asleep, but there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between these panic attacks and one med or another. I’ve tracked my food (and I don’t drink any more, but it was nights like last night that, until I quit two years ago, drove me to drink so much that I wasn’t capable of waking up), I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried tons of exercise. I’ve tried no exercise. I’ve tried every bullshit herbal tea pseudo science hokum whatever (and of course none of those things work because they are bullshit, but … desperate people and such). Nothing works, and these panic attacks are the most terrifying and frustrating and upsetting things that just show up without warning, and then just as suddenly go away. I really wish there was something I could do to make them stop, or at least to understand what causes them, so I could get to work on getting my sleeping life back from them.
And because it wasn’t bad enough overnight, all day today, I’ve been anxious and afraid, with a generous helping of existential dread thrown in, because fuck me, right. Go back to imagining that you’re on a plane. Now imagine that the plane is in terrible turbulence, bouncing around, shaking side to side, with a violence that makes you worry that the plane will be torn apart in midair. That’s how I’ve felt all day, like I’m in a swarm of bees. It’s totally irrational, and I know that it’s all in my head and isn’t real, but when the part of my body that is responsible for how I perceive the world and how I exist in it is fucked up, it’s challenging to separate what’s real from what’s just in my head. I’m super grateful that I’ve done so much work with so many licensed professionals over the years, so I can do my best to manage this … because I can assure you that while this is a challenge for me now, it would be close to impossible to deal with if I didn’t have that professional help (ask for and use professional help if you deal with any of the mental health issues I deal with, gang. Please. Trust me on this.)
All of these things go together to ruin my ability to be creative, which is a giant bummer, because I really love being creative. I’m having the time of my life rewriting this manuscript, and I’m so excited to finish this pass so I can give it to some early readers for their feedback. I hope that tonight goes better than last night, so that I can work on it tomorrow. And I just love it that I am having such a good time with this draft, and it’s so satisfying to work on, that I want to stay at my desk and work on the weekend.
147 thoughts on “panic attacks suck”
Wil, my son is 17 and going through learning how to deal with anxiety. He’s also had persistent daily headaches since last December. I’m trying to be supportive over and above what we are doing with varying treatments and evaluations through medical science. It sucks what you are going through but I want to thank you for continuing to share of yourself as it has helped me to understand a little bit more of what my son is going through. So, thank you for sharing, and I hope that something clicks and it can lessen for you. The fact that you have your life gives me hope that my son will figure out how to live his.
It saddens me what youre going through. For me it helps if I analyze or write down how I feel and read what I wrote so I can comprehend the possible triggers? Sometimes its the food! as weird as it sounds whenever I have dairy before I sleep I get weird dreams or nightmares so I cut that off. Drinking cold water after a panic attack helps me calm down as well. I know these points could be of no use but I really do hope you feel better.
My first thought is that you don’t want or need to hear any more advice or ideas on what to try next…. but I’m going to examine some of these other posts and try some of them myself soon — Dr. Ben’s post in particular, but that podcast also sounds very interesting. Sometimes it helps me to start up a spa-like pan-flute whale-song album on my phone and prop it up on the pillow next to me (I don’t like earbuds). At least I can concentrate on the songs and get out of my head for a few minutes.
I believe there is still an ongoing program at UCLA that is open to the public that offers some type of cognitive therapy-style process to help with anxiety attacks. A good friend of mine had great success with it, and speaks of it often.
I used to describe my attacks as the feeling you get when you make a snarky private email comment to a friend but you accidentally “reply all” in response to a group email. It’s that hideous sinking feeling that goes from base/gut to chest then brain and causes you to lose your breath when you realize in a split second what you’ve done, just as you’re clicking that send button. Then that stabby feeling keeps coming in waves, over and over again. The airplane turbulence scenario sounds even worse.
I hope you’re feeling better real soon — I can’t wait to read your book as soon as you’re finished with it.
Hope you took the day to pet the dogs and replenish your HP. Looking forward to reading the book when it’s done!
So many comments . . . there really isn’t much left to say. I’m bipolar 1. That’s what they call it now. It was called manic depressive when I first started dealing with it. I guess I’ve learned to live with it, sort of. Like you, I have tried many things and do have some understanding of what is happening regardless of my inability to control it. All I really want to say is . . . Thanks for speaking out and good luck.
Strangely, I had the same experience, the night before.
First of all, I‘m very truly sorry to hear that you are struggling with this. It makes me really sad when I hear that other people also have to suffer like this, because of anxiety.
I know what it means to struggle with anxiety on a daily basis, too.
I believe, when panic and fear come as a surprise without any obvious events or thinking patterns that could have evoked these kind of reactions, it may stem from processes that happen on a more deep, subconscious level, rather hidden from the conscious mind.
Yet, I also believe that these hidden patterns causing emotional / physical disturbance CAN be recognized, revealed, understood and thus made conscious – through mental work, such as the techniques of psychoanalysis (or other approaches aiming towards intensified awareness of the mind).
And that which is made conscious can be processed properly (emotionally) and also be changed.
Regardless of what the root of the problem is, I think it’s important that you don’t stop believing that you can find out what it is, that there is relief and the possibility of healing for you.
I hope you’re feeling better these days and that you’re able to do what you love.
Keep your head up, Wil.
Sending a big, big hug,
Hey, Wil! My hubs and some friends also suffer with depression and panic attacks – and a few even get migraines go with them. UGH. BUT one friend had a thing called TMS done for his migraines (which is off label in the US) but it stopped his depression in its tracks AS WELL AS helped his migraines. Perhaps it might help you, too? Here’s some info: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625 Hope it helps and hey, YOU ARE NOT ALONE, buddy. <3
I know exactly what it is and I fight again it using my creativity. These days I just started writing…
I’m so sorry Wil. I feel you so much it hurts. For reasons I’m not ready to reveal to myself, I will just say that I feel how you have the midnight panic attacks. It’s not only not an easy feeling, but it jerks you into a reality that you are not ready to handle and makes the waking hours so much harder. I hope to get to the end process someday, but my mind won’t allow it yet.
I have spent my last couple of months reading your blog and listening to your books. They have really helped me to come to grips with the fact that i am not crazy. I am a writer that wants to write. Also, I have a crazy gene that will not go away. I love your writing.
I know exactly how you feel. I started having similar attacks when I was about eight years old. I remember waking up paralyzed with fear and my heart beating out of my chest. It was not fun. I did finally manage to get those under control with lots and lots of therapy and a little hypnosis. I think that worked for me because I knew what had caused my initial panic issues. I won’t go into that.
My biggest anxiety issues now seem to revolve around PTSD from a really bad accident and like you I never know when they will strike and meds don’t do much to help with them. Finding yourself permanently disabled after living the life a of a perfectly healthy person will cause all sorts of anxiety and depression issues. I found that with each creative venture I start, I begin to feel better and more in control of my life. I found I love to create things, I’ve experimented with cooking, Jam making even knitting. Recently I decided to start publishing my creative writing here on WordPress, and I love writing, but I have a panic attack each time I publish something.(I’m like Oh my God what if everything I wright is crap! I think it’s ok But is it really?) It has taken me a good forty five minutes just to get the courage to post this. I just keep forcing my self to move forward. I’m sure you understand that.
Mr. Wheaton, I think you would find yourself greatly benefited by doing a week long fast from food. You’ve tried everything else, how about you try not eating and only drinking water for seven straight days?
Get well soon Wil. Best wishes and prayers.
I wonder if you haven’t tried meditation? I guess if you found something that works, good on you. If ever CBD fails you, you might look into a book by Eknath Easwan titled… “Meditation,” appropriately enough. Good luck to you, whatever you do.
Thanks for sharing this Wil, a good friend suffers from the same and I just can try to understand how hard it is. Please never give up!
Dear Wil, sorry to hear about what ails you. Hope you find a solution soon. I am not in the medical field, that being said, I am taking the liberty of adding my two cents (sense!!)…
I always thought that a panic attack was something conscious, that happened while you are awake. Seeing that this seems to occur to you in mid-sleep, did you ever consider maybe suffering from sleep apnea. I’m sure that would startle me awake real good. Maybe you could slip a word to your physician along that line. Just a idea in passing…
Take care, and good luck! A fan from a long time, and from afar.
Hi Wil – I know you don’t really know me. And I think I can help. Contact me at [email protected]. I so appreciate what you write about working out what’s real from what’s in your head. ~Debbie ps – sorry for the delay in responding, I was at a conference in NYC.
Hi Wil, been there too. I know this will sound silly, but in addition to my meds, I carry a tiny bottle of bubbles in my purse. The bubbles can help me be mindful, provide distraction, and help me take long slow breaths. It may not work for these major events, but I feel they have helped me curb more than a few rising anxiety incidents. Love your work. Be kind to yourself.
I struggled with panic attacks myself, for about five years. Typically, the intensity would vary, sometimes, the attack would be too powerful to even think, to even believe that this was all simply in my own head, to hope that it would ever let me go as one would begin… It’s not easy, I know.
In any case, I began going through exactly the same desperate list of widely sourced remedies; NONE of which, if I might add, ACTUALLY WORKED.
I was at the edge of my wits before I got better at dealing with them…but,
And I’m sure that is the first word which pops into your mind.
Well, I began to see subtle signs of relief when I meditated the day of, also through the meditation 🧘♂️ I allowed myself to learn how to focus on my breaths.
The breaths are very important to focus on, as well as creating a ridiculous image that brings out the ridiculousness of what your own brain is doing to you.
Those two combined made a world of difference for me, and I continue to use the technique on the rare occasion, if ever, that those dark deep feelings start welling up inside. If it sounds like rubbish, I guess it’s not for you, but I highly advise you to at least try it a few times. It’s a bit of a process if you don’t initially fully believe it will help you(I didn’t either lol). Anyway due to my personal understanding of this nasty experience, I just hope you the best.
You’re stronger than the attack, remember that and believe it.
Best of luck.
Different strokes for different folks. What works for me is Red Rooibos tea mixed with Chamomile tea (1 bag each, once a day). That doesn’t make me desperate – it makes me someone who that tea combination works for. Glad to read in your updated post that CBD works for you! Would it work for me? Maybe, maybe not. But I don’t need to try it because I have what works for me. Hope that’s understandable.
I’ve struggled with those too. Here’s my perspective: you say that “All of these things go together to ruin my ability to be creative,” but in my experience that struggle is where creativity comes from. I mean, look at what you’ve been doing- digging around in your childhood, poking at old demons to record their reactions. Robert Frost says “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” and those tears don’t have to be at the keyboard. I have to remind myself all the time- Use Those Feelings. We relate to them.. we understand.
Turning the bathtub on and sitting in the dark helps me so much when panic attacks switch on 💕
Just wanted to say how much you discussing this means to me. Years ago I had a ten minute conversation with you. I was a PA on a commercial shooting in Culver City. I remember it as a very intelligent, respectful conversation. You taking a more Libertarian position and me more Liberal. If only the level of discourse came even close to that we’d all be in a better place. But at any rate, you talking about your night panic attacks made me realize I had them also. When I was a kid, 12 or older I’d wake up in a sweat. I’d have to leave the house. Sometimes I’d walk for miles in the middle of the night. In Utah that could be cold, but I’d get by. My parents found out and thought I was ‘unique’. Don’t think mental illness ever crossed their mind. They meant well, but this was so our of their element. In most ways it’s still mine. This is the first time I ever thought of it a some kind of mental illness, just thought of me being a freak. Still find myself pacing my house for hours in the middle of the night. For years I worked in various positions in the film industry. That went away and now I’m trying to start a business. Have a business plan, know exactly what to do next. But there are days, even weeks, where I feel frozen. Sit in my house and say to myself ‘why don’t I do anything, just get up.’ Yet I don’t. Going to work on that. But again thanks for giving me a light for which to reach.
Hello. I had the same thing happen to me in late 2014. I had no idea what was happening. I read Will’s article the other day wanted to share something that worked. Panic Attacks and Anxiety are absolutely manageable/treatable. I’ve not had another and if I do, I know how to deal with it. There is a great book written by Barry McDonagh called DARE – its cheap, it’s on Amazon. Read it. Follow it. Go through the steps – it’s not always easy but you will get your life back at the end. https://dareresponse.com
http://a.co/iUzZHIn and if you can believe it, there is a very helpful FB page full of people who experience the same thing and are pushing past every day. Check it out. Get your life back.
I just read your story re: depression and panic attacks. I have very limited knowledge of biochem. I regard you to be a highly educated individual with resources that reach beyond your personal expertise if required. I have some personal experiences that cause me to question the relationships of some of our bodies systems..specifically this relationship..or not..between thyroid disorders n these other various symptoms we experience. IE depression/ anxiety..and many more!
I wonder if you have knowledge to apply to the correlations of cause and effect for these symptoms and that variations of thyroid disorders?
Id hope you consider ging me some feedback on this that might be basic to this concepts pkausibilty…Again…or not!!… Lol!
To my limited knowledge, many people have some level of thyroid disorder. It is relevent to controlling so many of our regulatory systems responses. It seems there is a possibilty to it’s responsibility as a root cause in many correlated disorders or illnesses. Wonder if you have ever considered that evaluation?
Hello – uncertain if you will see this since I’ve stumbled in the room well after the fact.
I’ve been in a similar boat and I know what you are going through. However, I was able to handle my panic attacks through cognitive behavioral therapy (I had amazingly negative self-chatter which took a good two years to clean up). With all the treatments you have attempted that are geared toward psychoactive meds and behavior changes, I wonder if this increase in attacks might be due to a general physical health issue? Panic attacks can trigger a severe physical response and a physical reaction unrelated to thought can, in turn, trigger a panic attack. Low calcium levels, low vitamin D levels, low potassium levels, low folic acid levels, even dehyrdration can all create a physical reaction which mimics a panic attack symptom thereby triggering an attack. I would recommend seeing your GP get comprehensive blood tests and see what pops up. At the very least you may be able to rule something out even if you don’t find an exact cause.
I am sorry for what you are experiencing and I hope you find relief. Take care.
As a fellow sufferer of Panic Attacks I sympathize!! Hoping you find some relief soon!
Yep.. I had the exact same problems. Felt like I couldn’t breathe, was on the floor sweating buckets. Thought I was gonna die. Was the worst time of my life. Had them almost every night. 44 years old and started out of almost nowhere. Started popping clonazepam like tic tacks which certainly worked but just was just gonna give me a new problem. Finally put on my big boy pants and quit smoking weed and cigarettes and it all went away. Who would have thought weed and cigs could cause anxiety?!? In retrospect I think the anxiety attacks started when CNN started airing those horrid anti smoking commercials.
Saddens me you are not sleeping deeply and having pleasant dreams! So I made the modern version of a mixtape by making a custom YouTube Playlist just for you tonight! If you want to edit or add your personal favorites to this special playlist I made for you let me know and I will gladly add you as collaborator and send you the collaborator link.
Sweet Dreams to Will Wheaton
from Wenona Gardner
Music, Meditations, & Affirmations to Heal Panic Attacks, Witch Chants, Goddess Songs, Native American Healing Songs, Native American Flute Music, etc.
Sweet Dreams Playlist I made for Will Wheaton
Wenona Lee Gardner
Speaking of dreams. I was awoken in May during Beltane when I just moved from my birth state Wisconsin to Omaha, Nebraska in 2015. I recall having this very vivid dream about you Wil. I was dreaming about when the God and Goddess conjoin during the holy Beltane Sabbath. As I peered deeply into the lush green forest I see you emerge as a regal God of the Forest affectionly tending to the creatures who bowed down before you. You exuded total positive male power, creativity, and compassion. Literally blew my mind how RADIANT you were standing in the streaming sunlight through the canopy of leaves!
As for inspiration as an artist there is this movie I loved as a child called Xanadu from 1980 when I was 7 years old. Sonny Malone is a frustrated artist working in a soul sucking commercial artist job just to pay the bills reproducing other artist’s record covers to large billboard scale for a corporate record store. Sonny previously tried to strike it out on his own to pursue his artistic dreams but runs into financial troubles forcing him to return once again to the commercial artist job he loathes begging for his old job back from a cruel boss who never let’s Sonny forget he is a failure as an artist.
When one day comes along a mysterious girl roller skating along the beach who serendipitiuosly bumps into Sonny and steals a magical kiss. This is no chance encounter! Sonny searches for this girl since he can’t get her out of his mind which he becomes compelled to find her again! After searching everywhere he finally is reunited with her learning her name is Kira played by Singer and Actress Olivia Newton-John. Ignited by their kiss Kira’s wonderful influence awakens Sonny’s artistic passions and winds him up on a journey that ignites his creativity to fulfill his true creative destiny as a self fulfilled artist.
My 7 year old mind back then had no clue that critics had already panned the movie. My younger self was swept away by the amazing soundtrack including Olivia and ELO. I loved the story of a muse inspiring and falling in love with a lonely frustrated artist and moving him towards artistic greatness and success! It has Greek Mythology, Dance Numbers, Animation, and Legendary Gene Kelly! Xanadu turned into a cult classic and even later became a wildly successful Broadway Musical. If you haven’t seen the movie and the hilarious Broadway Musical perhaps it could awaken your inner child artist as it had captured my child’s imagination?
I Hope You Get Some Good Sleep Tonight Wil!
Wenona Lee Gardner
White Turtle Rainbow
That royally sucks man. I feel for you I really do.
I have acute anxiety disorder myself. It is crippling. I’ve lost jobs over it. Sometimes it helps me, in those moments where I can’t get a handle on my mind, if I engage my Mammalian Diving Response by breathing all the air out of my lungs and then holding for a slow count to 5 and then inhaling as slowly as possible for as long as possible. This doesn’t always help but, it does most of the time by 1) giving your mind something controlled and logical to focus on and 2)taking advantage of the physiological response for oxygen conservation inherent within all mammals.
But hey, who am I lecturing? You’re Wil-Freakin’-Wheaton, You’re a smart cookie, you already know this stuff.
Anyway, wishing you the best man! Truly!
Thanks for sharing your story so openly & I’m sorry your anxiety & depression have been knocking you around. I write a blog about anxiety, have been dealing with panic & anxiety for over 20 yrs and totally get it.
I’m guessing you’ve explored all available resources, but just in case you don’t know, Dr. Michelle Craske is at UCLA and is one of the nation’s top researchers in anxiety disorders. A couple of other folks to check out include Dr. Reid Wilson (UNC), Dr. David Barlow (Boston), Dr. Sally Winston (Maryland) and Dr. David Carbonell in Chicago. I’ve got links to their sites & most of them have great self help info online. Reid Wilson just put out a therapy video that looks great, as well.
Here’s the finding help link on my site: http://www.theanxietygirl.net/?page_id=208 and thanks again for using your platform to help normalize anxiety & depression.
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