In the Grip of Panic | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

In the Grip of Panic

By Jacob Bradshaw

When I was in 6th or 7th grade, the panic attacks began.

Nearly everyone will have at least a mild panic attack at some point in their life, but for most people they are in response to an extreme situation.

For me: I lose my keys, get worked up, spill a drink, then my dad asks me to do a chore while I’m still worrying about the drink and I’m gone.

Sometimes it would be something less. Frustration at not being able to explain something clearly. Losing my glasses.

When you have a serious panic attack, it's traumatically awful. I can remember being curled up in a fetal position, screaming and crying, unable to speak, muscles spasming because I was so tense, hyperventilating and terrified. It didn’t always get that bad, but such occurrences weren’t rare either.

It got to the point that I was having one or more panic attacks a day. My relationship with my younger brother, who has always been my closest friend, began to deteriorate. I had an anxiety disorder and was constantly stressed, and I would take it out on my family because I knew they would still love me. My brother became afraid of me. My parents never knew what might set me off. I pulled a knife on my brother once to scare him – I would never have tried to use it on him – but that hardly made it ok. Another time, I shot him with a pellet gun – I hadn’t realized that I’d charged it and meant just to scare him. It was barely charged and didn’t hurt him much, but I immediately stopped when I realized what had happened. I was overcome by horror – my brother means the world to me.

I realized that if I didn’t learn to control my anxiety I would never be able to lead a normal life. I wasn’t lashing out at school, but how would I ever have a family? What about when I was in college and living on my own? Even in the midst of the darkest panic attack, part of you is still rational. The rational part is paralyzed, a helpless spectator to your madness, and it cries out in despair and brings more stress and more panic in a brutal cycle.

Now I'm alright, but it's likely that mental health will be a concern for my whole life. I have ADHD, anxiety, OCD and a tic disorder. But none of them rule my life. None of them define me. And most importantly, I am no longer a prisoner to panic attacks.

I was incredibly fortunate to have a mother who was a psychologist and a father who also dealt with anxiety. They worked tirelessly to help me learn to cope with stress, to find me psychiatric care and to encourage me to work at bettering myself. After Junior High I began to improve rapidly. I went to a magnet school where I fit in much better and switched to a medication that has proven much better at managing my anxiety and OCD. 

My panic attacks are now rare and when they happen I am able to calm myself and regain control before I am lost to the panic. I refuse to again be found lying on the floor of a closet, feeling like I’m dying but knowing that I’m not and that I’m irrationally losing control of my emotions.

No matter how upset, terrified or hopeless you may feel, you can never give up. The medicine and the new school gave me the opportunity to heal, but they did not do the healing. That came from me and my determination to improve. I spent many hours learning how to not take offense at every slight, how to control my breathing, put my stressors into perspective and how to defuse an incipient panic attack.

Don’t give up. Just because you can’t see the way out right now, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).