Nighttime panic attacks: it feels like I’m bleeding
“When people have a nighttime panic attack 'it’s very common that they might be experiencing situations in their life where they feel relatively trapped.'” Dr. Scott Bea, PsyD | Photo credit @Fabio / Adobe Stock
Nighttime panic attack: it feels like I’m bleeding
Nighttime panic attacks are relatively common in most people who have been diagnosed with panic disorder. While anxiety is thought to be a component of sleep panic attacks, other stressors can trigger them. This is a true personal story of what anxiety and panic attacks at night feel like.
It feels like I’m bleeding. And yet, it’s definitely pee. I’m peeing, but I feel like I’m being bled by something. It’s pulling me from the toilet. It’s too physical. It feels too intense. I’m all solid. My breathing. The air a few minutes ago. Before I went to sleep. I was controlling my breathing on purpose. I took control. If I turn on the light, will I see red streaming from the penis to the toilet? This is not good. Why do I feel like this? It’s the middle of the night. Shin-pad is asleep. It’s all catching up. I feel sick. I go back to bed and lie down.
I start to feel an incredible fear. I can’t control anything. Peeing is bleeding. Breathing is liquid. I’m not doing any of it. I’m not in control of anything. What if I can’t breathe? I feel sick. I feel like I should vomit. A poop has arrived in my ass. I’m sweating. But there is no poop. I can’t poop. What is it? The sweat is covering me. It came like a blanket of cold water. I’m boiling hot. I’m burning alive from inside. I feel like I’m dying. I’m going to die. I need to be sick. I need to put my head between my legs to limit the nausea.
I sit up and put my head between my legs to precisely zero effect. I feel like I felt when I first had weed, and I was sick and saw faces in the paving stones at the front of the house, and everything cleared up, but there is no way of being sick here; I know it. This is something else. What am I going to do? How can I get through this? My body is a pulsing mass. I feel like I’m going to explode my way out of it. The madness has finally arrived. I need to wake her up. She’ll help me through this. I don’t trust myself otherwise. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what is happening.
“Shin-pad, I feel sick.”
During nighttime panic attacks I lose sense of time and comprehension
How did I manage to say it? My head is spinning. I’m not sure where I am. I don’t have a place or a time or anything. I’m fighting to stay attached to my body. At any moment, I could be taken away, but I’m not there yet. I’m holding on. I’m in transition. I’m in some sort of fight.
“In your stomach or in your head?”
She’s next to me.
“In my head.”
Only and always in my head, I am sick.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No. I just wanted you to know.”
She’ll know what to do. My body is covered in sweat. How did it come out so fast and efficiently, so entirely without my say-so? Nothing is in my control. I don’t know what this is. What if I do something terrible? What if I go to the kitchen and get a knife and turn it on her? What if I jump out of the windows? Is this it? Am I going to commit a murder-suicide? She’s sat next to me with a wet towel from the bathroom.
“This helps me when I feel sick.”
She dabs the towel sequentially around my neck and on my shoulders, and on my temples.
“A cold-water towel”
It feels absolutely the same temperature as my skin, and my skin is boiling hot. I’m burning alive, and she is dabbing me with a burning towel.
“It always helps to be near water.”
Of course. Water is life. I am water. I need water. Coldwater to wake me up.
“You’re right. I’ll take a cold shower.”
She has no idea how intense this feeling is. All I have are words, and they’re not working. This could go on forever. This could be it now. The new me. Totally out of control and tied up in the hospital. I need to get through this. Time will solve it. With time I’ll feel better. But what if I don’t? What if this continues forever? I’ve finally gone mad. This is it, son. I’m in the shower. I turn on the taps, and it gushes out over me. I suddenly feel freezing cold.
'When people have a nighttime panic attack 'it’s very common that they might be experiencing situations in their life where they feel relatively trapped.'
Can a cold shower stop nighttime panic attacks
The plan was to have a cold shower to wake me up, but now I need the warm water. I struggle with the hot and cold-water taps, failing to achieve anything like a temperature that feels pleasant. It’s boiling hot, so I turn the cold one more, and then it’s far too cold. I need a sort of lukewarm that will casually warm me up, but I can’t find it. The water feels good; it does. I feel better, no I don’t. I’m shaking. I try to dry myself as quickly as possible, but more importantly, I get back to bed and under the covers. So I rush the drying and get in bed with patches of water around my body.
“I meant just a bit of cold water on your face, but a whole shower might work too.”
I lie on my side. Fetal position. Don’t they say something is soothing about the fetal position? That will calm me down, but I’m shaking. I’m violently shaking, and I’m freezing cold. I try to stop the shaking, but it makes it worse, and I shake even more. Now I need to get warm, and I’m pulsing. I realize that thinking is what is causing this. I know that it’s all in my head. It’s all the words that I’m intensely thinking. I need to meditate. I need to think nothing.
“Whenever my mum has panic attacks-“
Do I have anxiety and panic attacks at night? Am I having a nighttime panic attack right now? Of course.
“- I guess it is like a panic attack that I’m having. Have you ever had one?”
For no reason at all, I was certain that she would have had at least one.
“My Dad feeds her a spoonful of sugar-“
I’ve become her mum, and she’s become her dad. I’m glad she has experience in this. She’ll know what to do. She’s going to get me through.
“-He thinks the panic attack is a lack of blood sugar and that sugar will make her better, and it does. Do we have anything sugary we could feed you?”
This is nonsense. What I am feeling has nothing to do with blood sugar. Sugar will do nothing, and all this talk about panic is making my anxiety and panic attacks even worse.
“We have bananas.”
I have no idea how I am talking. My mouth is also out of control. Whatever I’m saying is just an automatic response to whatever she says. She could say any one of an infinite number of things, and my head knows what to say in response and doesn’t even ask me about it, just does it. I’m spiraling. I have no idea how I’ll recover from this. I need to think positive thoughts. I need to tell myself I’ll be okay, but how can I do this when I know that I won’t be okay, not okay at all.
“Do you want some grapes?”
Mistake. She knows what she is doing, not you. The shaking gets entirely out of hand. Surely she knows the severity of this? I should be listening to her. She is the only thing that might probably get me through this. I’m vortexing. I should have said yes to the grapes. I need the grapes. That is what will make me feel better, the grapes. I’ll sit up and be distracted by the process of eating the grapes, and maybe even the sugar from them will work; perhaps I was wrong to dismiss this as not a sugar problem. This was a sign. The grape thing was a sign. The grapes will stop the shaking.
“I feel like the grapes would help now.”
I sit up, cross-legged, and wrap the duvet around myself and instantly realize that I’ll look like a mental case; I belong in a psych ward; I sat here, rocking, struggling to see how I could survive. I’m not going to get through this. She is trying to help by asking about what would make me feel better, but I have no idea what would make me feel better. I’m in remarkable control 100% of the time. Until now, I’ve been in control. This could be it, forever: no control. She’s back with about 3 grapes, and I eat them in one, stems included.
“I need more.”
All the fear that I’ve been suppressing has sprung a leak, and it’s taken over. Everything is bleeding. Pee is bleeding. Poop is bleeding. Breathing is bleeding. She’s back with all the grapes. I take the first bunch. I’m eating at the speed of light, pulling off grape by grape with consummate ease and stuffing them all inside, and breathing like a maniac.
I’ve eaten all the grapes in less than 10 seconds. I’m starting to feel warmer. What am I scared of? This is a fever. I’ve self-induced a fever. I went hot, then cold sweats, then freezing cold, now I’m warming up again. Before I know it, I’ll be boiling up and heading to a cold shower again.
I’m scared of people. I’m afraid of this new environment. That’s what it is. I need to go back home. I need to get out of Copenhagen. As long as I stay here, I’ll be going insane. I need to get out. But this is making me worse. I need to accept the environment and control myself from within, which I can’t. I’m fighting to keep hold of my own body. This is some sort of sign. What is the point of this? Thinking is the problem. I know it is. I need to meditate. I open my eyes. I don’t know if they were closed or not, but they certainly weren’t seeing anything. I need to start living my life for me.
I look at the bedsheets over my crossed legs. Black and white stripes. I see the white lines arranged over each leg. I see the valleys strewn over my legs. I see the whole light of the cosmos shining back at me. I’m looking at the stars. I see the stars from the night sky shining back at me. I’m shining these stars, and they are shining me. They are sparkly and glorious. This is all there is: the light that I see, the light that sees me.
Everything else is darkness. Maybe I need people. The thought of people calms me down. I need to be around people. They’ll take care of me. But will they? I can’t help but feel that these thoughts are just the obvious ones that would arise because of what I’ve been told. I feel like I’m going mad, and so I think I might go to the kitchen for a knife or jump out of a window because this is the story I’ve been told about madmen. I believe that people will take care of me and get me through this panic attack because people have said that people will help with something like this. I feel warmer. Shin-pad is hanging from my shoulder. She’s stopped talking now.
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what will help me through this. It’s all-new.”
I’ve started talking to her, even though I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t be talking. I shouldn’t even be thinking: words are the problem. I’m thinking too much and too intensely. Or is it because of Copenhagen? I’m scared and need to retreat back to Salford. I need to go home. I notice how much my ankle hurts. I’ve been sat cross-legged too long. I’m warmer now. I’m getting better. I can lie down. I lie down, fetus again, and I’m absolutely not better at all. The shaking starts again, or maybe it never stopped.
“I’m cold. Can you hug me? I need the warmth of your skin.”
She spoons me from behind, and the shaking gets violent.
“I’m going to be okay,” I say, and I know that I’m not.
"Anxiety and panic attacks at night are terrifying"
I need to stop thinking. The thought that this anxiety and panic attack is irreversible returns to my head. And then the notion of the hospital. Should I go to the hospital? Maybe I’ll feel better in the hospital. Maybe I’m dying? Keep going, and I’ll be lifted from my body. I need to control this myself. The only thing that works is to meditate. I try to drop the words again. I get about 10 seconds of pure bliss, and for the length of it, I’m cured, but then I feel the intensity again. I drink some more water. I realize I’ve swallowed something like 2 pints of water since this started and that you can die from drinking too much water. I need to bleed. I feel myself warming up, so I push Shin-pad away. I need to get back to sleep.
Why did I ever get up for that pee? Is she scared? She should probably be frightened. I’ve thought about murdering her- no matter how fleeting an intrusive thought- so she should probably be frightened. I feel warmer, but maybe too warm. I get up to open the windows, the one in the kitchen and the one in the living room.
What if I’m just going for the knife in the kitchen? I see it on the kitchen surface. I open the window and walk to the living room. Or what if I’m about to jump out of this window? It basically feels right. How can she be relaxed in the bedroom when I could be about to jump out of the window or go back to the kitchen for a knife that will murder her. I open the window and turn back to the bedroom. I need to meditate. I need to lose the words. This nighttime panic attack must end.
Eddie Revel, the author of "NIghttime Panic Attacks," has recently completed a PhD in Neuroscience and now embarks on his illustrious writing career.