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A Silent Struggle: What it’s Like to Have a Panic Attack When Out With Friends

It’s not always that I get to go out. Sometimes I just don’t have the energy. I feel like I can’t handle another one, and so I stay in, sitting on the couch, trying to distract myself with TV or my phone.

But today I decided that I’m going to give it a try.

My friends and I still see each other. They sort of know about my panic attacks. They don’t understand it, and just sort of think I should get over it, but they like me and I like them and so we mostly don’t talk about it. We see each other less now though. They’ve just gotten too bad – too frequent.

Today, though, we’re spending time together. I’m happy about that.

It’s just the three of us. They’ve been talking for a while about their work. I try to chime in once in a while, but I also want to stay relaxed if I can.

I keep feeling every part of my body. The way I walk feels off. It’s like I have lost all muscle memory. I am hyper-aware of my legs and their movements. I feel like I have to move each muscle myself.

It’s the same with breathing. I can’t even remember the last time breathing was automatic. I have been conscious of my breathing for months. Years? I feel like I have to remember to take each breath – as though if I forget, I’m suddenly going to stop breathing. I hate it.



Wait, something feels off. I couldn’t get a full breath just now.


Not again. I just need one breath. I know if I can take one deep breath, maybe a yawn, and feel like I’m getting all the air I need I can probably stop it.

My friends still don’t notice. Good. Let me fix this first.



It’s not working. I can’t seem to get a full breath. Not again.

I can feel my heartbeat now. It is so strong. I feel like it’s about to burst through my chest. Why am I so aware of my heart? I feel like I can control it, like I could stop it with my mind.

The doctor keeps saying my heart is okay, but what if they’re wrong?

My chest hurts. It’s a heart att…. No, I know it’s a panic attack. It’s always a panic attack.

My chest hurts. I still can’t breathe all the way. I want to yawn. I can’t.

I feel a sharp pain. It said online if the pain was in the center of your chest it’s okay, but if it’s the left of your chest it’s your heart. It feels like it’s on the left. It’s really sharp. Heart attacks come with vomiting and shoulder pain. I feel nauseated. Does my shoulder hurt? I think it hurts. Not bad but I feel something.

What if I need to go to the doctor?

I should tell my friends. But if it’s a panic attack they won’t understand. They’ll just tell me to get over it. They don’t get it. Maybe they’ll judge me?

I should tell them though. What if I faint? What if I might die? They’ll need to call the ambulance and if I tell them maybe they’ll call faster.

They’re laughing. I think one of them made a joke. I missed it. I’ll smile just in case. They haven’t noticed anything is wrong.

I feel so sweaty. Weak. I don’t even remember what I was thinking about. Something is wrong with my legs. Is my foot tingling? My eyes feel blurry. They’re not watering. Why can’t I focus?

What if something really IS wrong?

Maybe it’s not a heart attack. Maybe it’s a brain tumor. Or an aneurysm. I read that aneurysms can cause stuff like this. Let me Google it….

No, I don’t want to take out my phone. I really can’t breathe. I need to sit down. But my friends are walking, they won’t see me. I let them get ahead of me.

I need to use the bathroom. I keep burping too.

I feel sick.

I feel like I’m inside of my own brain. Something is wrong with my brain.

“Are you okay?”

My friends noticed. I must look pale. This is a panic attack. It always is. I’ll be okay.

I smile. “I’m fine.”

“You sure? You look like something is wrong.”

“I’m fine, don’t worry. Just need to use the bathroom.” I give them a bigger smile.

“Okay, we’re almost at the restaurant.”

I still can’t breathe. I think I’m going to collapse. Why did I tell them I’m fine? What if I’m not? Are they going to be able to help? I should call a doctor. I can’t even afford the ambulance right now. I don’t want to pay for that for a panic attack. Not again.

I feel something different. Like a pain in my right side. My appendix? Is my appendix bursting? What does that feel like? How am I supposed to know?

What if I die?

My chest is really hurting. I feel faint. My heart is beating so fast. It’s beating so hard. I see black around my eyes. I can’t think. I can barely stand. I can’t think. My thoughts are moving so fast… I can’t… Something’s about to happen. This is it. It’s a panic a… but what if it’s not. My mom. I want to call my mom. My palms are so sweaty. What if I can’t say goodbye to my mom? I still can’t think…. I can’t… I ca………..

It’s going away.

It feels like I can breathe again.

I feel kind of cold. All that sweat. My armpits probably smell.

I am drained. I want to sit down. My heartbeat is still up but it will go back down. It always does.

“Are you sure you’re okay? You’re looking really tired.” My friends look at me worried. I feel so stupid.

“I’m great. Sorry, just felt like I needed to catch my breath for a second.”

“Well, we’re here. If you need to use the restroom or something.”

“I’m okay now. Really. Just had a moment I wasn’t feeling good but it’s okay.”

I smile at them. I’m okay. Just another panic attack. I’ll be okay. I probably want to Google that right side pain though later but I’m okay.

Let me just try to take one more deep breath… Just to be sure.

Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Apr 03, 2018.

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