Let me preface this by saying this: five years ago, I was diagnosed with #BipolarDisorder, #Depression, and Severe #Anxiety. After fifteen years of dealing with it alone, I had finally sought help. I went so long because I was ashamed of not being ‘normal’, but I have come to realize that none of us are ‘normal’, we are all unique in our own ways.

With that being said, some of my close friends and family are the only ones who have seen the extent of all three of my unique traits. One day a few months ago, I was riding shotgun in my friend’s car when he asked, “What does a panic attack feel like?” I gave him the standard, medically accepted answer: sweating, rapid heartbeats, shaking, fear, etc. Silence.

When we got to our destination, he put the car in park and looked at me, “What does YOUR panic attack feel like?”

It starts like most: crying, extreme sweating, extreme heart palpations, shaking, chest pain, etc. Then it evolves and erupts.

Clawing at my face and ears, trying to pull the thoughts out of my own head. The thoughts and voices telling me that I am crazy, that death is near. Trying to free my mind from the feeling that I have gone crazy.

Then, I’m looking at myself from above, watching that poor soul clawing at himself. I reach out and try to calm him down and get him to stop, but I can’t. All I can do is watch. I must watch myself in this panicked state of mind, trying to clear himself of the thoughts that haunt him.

I’m back in my body, no longer clawing at myself. But now, I cannot feel. No emotion, no pain, no feeling at all. I feel like a shell, I can’t move. My whole body is cold, its what I imagine death feels like. I am simply a lifeless body gasping for air, knowing that I can’t breathe but it doesn’t hurt.

On occasion, I have blacked out. Once, I had a panic attack while driving and the next thing I remember I was on the phone with my safe person in a parking lot. I felt lost, confused, and my mind had gone back to the last ‘happy’ moment. I couldn’t remember what had happened over the last week (my safe person and her boyfriend had broken up, and I didn’t remember that). Another time, I blacked out and woke up laying on my porch, soaking in a drink I had dropped when I fell, with my fiancé on the phone trying to call out to her ‘help’.

The feeling creeps back into my body. I can see and breathe again, my heart rate has slowed, the tears gone, and everything is fine. On the outside. In my head, though, my mind continually races. I liken it to a VHS tape: you know how you had to fast forward a VHS tape to get back to where you left off, but you still see all the parts you’ve already seen? That’s what happens; my mind races through my past, stopping at triggering moments that cause the black hole in my chest to increase and my mind to wonder those dreadful ‘What If?’ questions. ‘What if I wouldn’t have done that?’ or ‘What if I hadn’t said that to that person?’

While the panic attack is over, and I appear to be back to myself, my mind is still working on recovering.

Tyler Wittkofsky was born and raised in Leland, North Carolina, mere minutes from Historic Wilmington and Southport. He graduated from South Brunswick High School and went on to receive his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Growing up, his grandmother was a high school English teacher, assistant principal, principal, and later his elementary school principal. She encouraged his creative writing style and helped him to grow into the writer he is today.
He spends much of his time volunteering for nonprofits and giving his time back to the youth in his community. He was named one of Brunswick County’s Future 10 in 2017 and the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional of the Year in 2018 for his passion for helping others discover the jewel that is Northern Brunswick County.
He currently resides in Leland, North Carolina with his fiancé Grace and dog Dutch.