I occasionally have panic attacks. At least I used to have panic attacks. It’s been at least 6 years since my last attack, but it’s also been at least 6 years since I’ve been in the kind of situation that used to trigger them. I don’t know if I no longer have panic attacks because I’ve healed or if I still get them and just don’t know it.
One of the effects my experiences have had on me is a compulsion to keep a close eye on the activities of people near me in case I need to fight or flee. Especially men people. Especially men people who are significantly bigger than me. Especially men people who are significantly bigger than me and have a lot of energy. Especially men people who are significantly bigger than me, have a lot of energy, and a certain quality that I can only describe as twitchiness.
Most people, if you watch them, you can tell more or less what they’re going to do by the way they move. Say you’re sitting in a room with a group of people watching a DVD and one of them gets up. If you’ve spent most of your life paying close attention to people’s movements the way I have, you can tell by the way he moves if he’s going to the bathroom or to the kitchen to get more popcorn even before he starts heading in either direction. But twitchy people are unpredictable. If there’s a twitchy person in the group and he’s the one who gets up, I can’t tell if he’s going to the bathroom, going to the kitchen, or going to go get something heavy to bash my brains in.
If a twitchy person moves around too much while in my company, which he will do if he’s a high energy person, I will eventually, through no fault of his own, have a panic attack. I know that this reaction isn’t fair because I get twitchy and have to move around from time to time as well, so I should be more understanding of the behavior, but I can’t help it. It’s some quirk of my messed up brain.
The way the panic attacks feel reminds me of my late cat. When I got in one of my twitchy moods while my cat was still alive, I used to walk in circles around the couch because I needed to move and I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Sometimes the cat would be sitting on the back of the couch while I did this and she would watch me getting more and more agitated every time I passed her until she inevitably started swatting at me. That’s what the panic attacks feel like. Something in the way twitchy people move around me activates the urge to fight in the primitive parts of my brain while the parts of my brain responsible for higher reasoning functions realize that there is nothing to fight. So these two reactions of “fight!” and “fight what?” keep going around and around in my brain, rubbing against each other and it gets very uncomfortable. If the situation isn’t resolved, for example, by getting the twitchy person to stop moving for a little while, the discomfort builds until it turns into panic.