Panic – A Sufferer’s Guide

Charlie Smoke

Warning: This article contains graphic reference to panic attacks which some readers may find distressing.



I bend down to tie the laces on my knock-off Doc Marten’s when I feel it; a sudden, subtle and yet unmistakeable tightening of my chest cavity.

To begin with, it feels like someone has lightly placed their foot on my ribs, applying minimal pressure, but making sure their presence is known. As it gains traction, my invisible tormentor pushes down further, forcing my breathing to shallow, and my heart rate to quicken.




The pit of my stomach contracts, tighter and tighter, filling with a cold stab of dread. Acid fizzles around my oesophageal sphincter, slowly snaking its way up my gullet like fingers scratching at bone and cartilage, determined to destroy.


Bada-bum. Bada-bum. Bada-bum.

My limbs suddenly become puppets at the mercy of my nervous system, shaking and juddering uncontrollably. The strangers foot on my chest has started to pound, faster and faster, keeping rhythm with my heart.

Bada-bum, Bada- Bum, Bada-bum.  

As the shaking intensifies, my muscles tighten, straining beneath my skin. My eyes catapult open as my pupils hawkishly invade my irises, all the while I can feel the blood drain, drain, drain away from my face. Panic descends in boundless waves.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

I delve into my head, in the slim hope that, in amongst the ruckus and the incessant beating, I might find the tiniest morsel of hope, of goodness, of happiness, of anything light. In lieu of something to save me, I search harder. Tossing aside huge stacks of paper and books in my mind, delving into deep, dark forgotten corners, desperately scavenging for something that wasn’t the impervious ratatat.

Bada-bum, Bada- bum, Bada- bum.

I don’t feel like this is ever going to go away. I feel like I’m never going to feel the sun shine on my face again. Like I’m never going to smell the start of a summer’s day, or intake sharply in the snow. I feel like I’m never going to cry or smile or laugh again.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada- bum

Somehow it feels so much worse than before. So much more real, and true, and here. The patch on the ceiling where the painted over woodchip stops and the smooth surface starts has keeps grabbing my focus as I desperately try to ignore the crushing, overwhelming blackness that accompanies the metronomic throb.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

As I sit, glued to the spot, I can see the shadows of the trees creep up my bedroom walls, swallowing them up whole. I’m terrified that the shadows will never give them up, just like I’m terrified they’ll never give me up.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

My skin is getting progressively more and more sensitive, like it’s reaching out to be touched, to feel another beating heart to know mine isn’t alone.


To know that the air I’m gulping down isn’t my own.

Bum-bada-bum. Bum-bada-bum.

To know that I am not here alone, and I don’t have to suffer alone. To know that I won’t be in this place alone.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone.

The words are ringing out with increasing ferocity in my ears, splaying themselves across the peripheries of my vision in blood red dripping further down, down, down.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

Images flash across my mind, like a high speed digital picture frame. Faster and faster they come.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

Montage on montage of my reality mixed with the false, mixed with the lies, the fronts, the nonsensical, the dreams. Mixed, mashed, bang, bang, bang.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

Faster and faster and faster and faster, in out, in out, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum, Bada-bum.

Thoughts leap and frolic with each other, fornicating above my head darting in and out, changing shape, size, theme, colour, space.
Bum-bada-bum. Bum-bada-bum. Bum-bada-bum.

Sound bounces in on itself as the world collapses down, down ,down lower and lower crushingly, intoxicatingly inwards, contract, contract, contract.

Bada-bum. Bada-bum.

Nowhere is safe anymore. Nowhere can be safe anymore. You take yourself with you wherever you go.

Alone, but with yourself. Alone. Alone. Alone. Alone.

Bada-bum. Bada-bum. Bada-bum. Bada-bum. Bada-bum.

Eyes shut, kaleidoscopic view of orchestras bouncing, cheek to cheek, round and round, furrowing my brow involuntarily for me, trumpets blast and blast louder and louder in deafening ruckus and forever you shall be alone, blind, deaf, struggling for breath.

Bum-bada-bum. Bum- bada- bum. Bum-bada-bum.

Fear spreading it’s tentacular grip on your icy heart, through the body already consumed with it, once again.

Pulse. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse.

Bada-bum. Bada-bum. Bada-bum. Bada-bum.

Again it comes, wave after wave after wave after wave.

Bum-bada-bum. Bum-bada-bum. Bum-baba-bum.

The world spins beneath and I can feel it. Thrust through space on a rock hurtling faster and faster, my own reflection distorted by the ripples from the boat. The boat I rocked. It’s tipped and gone now. Ripples turn to waves. Wave upon wave upon wave upon wave upon wave, until…’




About Charlie Smoke

Charlie Smoke is a queer writer and activist living in North London. Between bouts of duvet dwelling (depression) and 48 hour parties (mania), he's working on his first book, various projects, attempting to smash all sorts of oppressive tomfoolery and, allegedly, a degree. He likes Sylvia Plath and Jack Kerouac. A lot. @charliesmoke91