Childhood panic attacks aren't logical unless they happen to you.
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My anxiety disorder has been the bane of my existence for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a young girl, I felt like my life consisted of a multitude of mentally exhausting roller coaster rides. All of which are developed by entirely made up scenarios, which I am never fully prepared for until I’m already halfway through the upside-down loop-de-loop. But by then, it’s usually too late to buckle up and enjoy the ride. Childhood panic attacks are not fun.
Growing up I tried many techniques, both self-taught and professionally guided, to pull myself out of these childhood panic attacks as soon I began to feel them. Unfortunately, for me, nothing ever proved to be a reliable, bullet-proof method to halting them attacks in their tracks!
“Stomach knots would appear first. Then I would start to feel tense and uncomfortable.”
Looking back, I think always knew when I was about to have one of my childhood panic attacks. Stomach knots would appear first. Then I would start to feel tense and uncomfortable. The sensation something awful was about to happen would appear in my mind; my own anxious intuition. Then the conspiracy theories would kick in: horrific images of something bad happening would fill my head, and I would jump straight into worst case scenarios. Reason, sense, and sensibility went straight out the window during my childhood panic attacks.
This might sound like a nightmarish problem to deal with, and some days it was exactly that, a nightmare. But there were times my disorder offered some comic relief; even if it didn’t feel that way at the time.
Childhood panic attacks and back-to-school shopping
The time I was in the mall with my mom and my brothers stands out the most of all my childhood anxiety-riddled episodes. I was about ten or eleven years old, and my mom wanted to take us ‘back-to-school’ shopping. The mall was extra busy that day, and we all wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.
Me, being the oldest of four children, often got stuck on babysitting duty. It was never for long periods of time, but it did happen more frequently as I got older. Normally I wouldn’t have minded being left in charge, but having to mind my three younger siblings in the mall while mom did her shopping, was not the easiest of tasks.
My youngest brother Dave was the most manageable to keep an eye on. All he wanted was to sit on the quarter operated fire truck and press buttons on the toy machine. My oldest brother Chris, who was not much younger than me, only cared about his Gameboy. He could comfortably sit in one spot for hours playing Pokemon if my mother would let him. My middle brother Doug, on the other hand, was a whole different story. He was a reckless and accident-prone child. Always getting into things and proving to us again and again why he couldn’t be left unsupervised, even for short amounts of time.
While my mom browsed around in Bath and Body Works, I did my best to stay attentive towards all three of them. I would shift my attention back and forth between Dave and Doug and occasionally glance over to Chris. Dave started fussing when I ran out of quarters, so I had to pick him up and comfort him for a moment. In that brief instant of distraction, Doug had taken off and was suddenly nowhere in sight. Just my luck.
Childhood panic attacks aren’t logical unless they happen to you
Looking back on it now, I realize the logical thing to do would have been to bring my two brothers with me to my mum, to let her know I couldn’t find Doug. I could have brought them with me to look for him myself if I was really feeling ambitious, but I wasn’t. In fact, the only thing I could do at that moment was panic.
I began dry heaving and pacing back and forth, calling my brothers name as I did so. While Chris was still engrossed in his Gameboy, and Dave was still clinging to me for attention, I began to lose my mind over what was happening. I didn’t know what to do. My stomach was in knots as I imagined the very worst outcomes from my brother and me.
I imagined someone sitting on the bench next to us, watching and waiting for the moment I wasn’t paying attention so they could whisk him away without me seeing them. I was overcome with a sudden overwhelming fear for what could have happened to Doug. My heart started beating more rapidly. I was sweating profusely, trembling and short of breath. I wanted to vomit. I was experiencing one of my full-blown childhood panic attacks.
A very kind older woman noticed me having a complete meltdown and rushed over to see what was wrong. I told her I thought my little brother had been kidnapped, and of course, the old woman began panicking as well. Before I knew it, there were several other adults gathered around me, trying to comfort me as the old woman rushed to get help from mall security.
Mall cop helps break childhood panic attacks
He questioned me about how long we had been playing alone?
Where was my mother?
Did I notice anyone watching us?
What did my brother look like?
I did my best to answer accurately as I possibly could despite being a mess. The mall security cop wrote down my answers in his notepad, and then called for backup while continuing to reassure me everything would be okay. In a nice way, he reminded me of Paul Blart.
Just then my mother came running out of the store. Her eyes filled with a ‘what the hell is going on’ expression, which spread across her face. I wondered how I would ever possibly explain to her what happened. I thought she would surely disown me or never speak to me again.
As I contemplated my horrible fate, the mall security cop walked over to tell my mother what was happening. As he approached us, I dry heaved into a paper bag. At the same time, Doug casually walked out of GameStop and ran over to where we were, all as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Everyone looked at him like we couldn’t believe he was physically alive. He looked at us like he couldn’t understand why we were looking at him that way. My mother looked at me like she couldn’t wrap her head around what was the hell was wrong with me.
While everyone else was staring at each other, I was thanking God that Doug wasn’t locked up in the trunk of someone’s car.
Although my nerves remained rattled for a while, I was eventually able to calm myself. It wasn’t the last of my childhood panic attacks, but it was by far the most noteworthy one to date.
There’s always a silver lining to every awful scenario. Mine being I wasn’t asked to watch my siblings in public very often that ‘mall incident.’ I was frequently reminded by my mother how embarrassing the outburst had been for her to deal with, and how everyone thought she was an awful mother for what happened.
I could see why my childhood panic attacks might have caused such a reaction, but at least my mom would never have to question how much I cared about my brothers again after that day.