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A Swarm of Bees

"Have you ever wondered what a panic attack is like?"
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Published 6 years ago
This musing only available on Stories Space. if you are reading it elsewhere, it has been stolen.

"Pull yourself together!"

"Mind over matter..."

"Don't be so ridiculous."

"Get a grip."

"Just calm down."

"Take deeeeep breaths..."

If you've never suffered from a panic attack, you cannot possibly know what it's like. I like to think that empathetic people can understand it, at least, and maybe get an inkling of how it feels. Sadly, there are not many empathetic people around.

When it comes to mental health and illness, whilst there are those trying to make it acceptable to talk about it, and trying to create space for discussion, there are still thousands of ignorant, inward-looking people who don't have a clue what it actually is, or how to treat a person with these sorts of problems. Mental illness is different to "physical" illness, because you cannot "see" the soul's foot fallen off, or the scan of the spirit's tumour.

Mental illness is a scientific fact, that is not always answered by drugs, or counselling, or drugs and counselling, or, most proffered advice of all, by "pulling yourself together".

Mental illness is evil, because we do not understand it. We cannot rationalise the emotions and feelings it creates. We cannot even identify all the emotions and feelings it creates, nor cage the physical responses our bodies have to it. We cannot rein in the explosion of reactions that splatter ourselves and onlookers without warning. We cannot see outside our self to look in upon our self. And if we could, would we have as much mercy and compassion for ourselves as those precious few who do "get it"? I don't know. I like to think I would. Rather, I hope I would.

Some people can learn to live with depression and anxiety. Others cannot. Some have ups and downs. Sometimes, it's a rollercoaster, or a rough voyage, or a stony path, or a midnight valley. Sometimes, mostly, it is inexplicable.

I have learned that when my depression is worst, I simply have to wait for "A Better Day". I cannot feel that Day will ever come, but I must remind myself that it will. I have a great understanding of how the depression works in my mind, and how to cope with it during low periods, where I cannot raise my head from the pillow.

But far more difficult for me to deal with at this point, is the anxiety. Pointless, stupid, pathetic, uncalled for, irrational anxiety.

My brain is perfectly reasonable most of the time. But all of a sudden, what is termed a "panic attack" will hit me. Sometimes, it's a slow build, and I can feel it coming and head it off. Other times, it hits me from nowhere, and I have no idea what triggered it, or what it is that I'm panicking about.

This musing is not to explore reasons and fail-safes and coping mechanisms. I simply want to try and explain how it feels in the moment. I cannot tell you why or how or when or what is happening, but I can tell you how it feels...


I work in a shop. Customers who buy things in the shop need specific sizes, colours, drapes and weights of different amounts of different things at different prices. We have to write by hand every single item on a receipt. Once we find what they need, and they are satisfied, then we have to work out how much they'll take of whatever they need to do their job, and how much of whatever it is, is going to cost, and then add up all the other whatevers together. Whilst this is happening, other customers butt in, asking questions, wanting prices, demanding attention, whilst colleagues awkwardly dance around each other in the tiny space behind the counter, all trying to be in the same place to do what they have to and get what their customers are wanting, whilst the same three CDs that have been playing for the last six years are playing loudly, and you can't do maths, because you have a maths version of dyslexia, so you're trying to concentrate whilst people butt in and the music is eating your ears off, and your colleague is having a loud conversation right next to your head whilst the till is beeping because it's gone wrong, and the sixth item price on your hand-written receipt is empty, and you have to start again whilst somebody demands to return something they've decided they didn't want, and you just lost your place in the adding up...

The noise is a swarm of a billion bees flying around your face; there is nothing in the world but your head and the bees body-slamming against your forehead, your cheeks, your nose, your eyes, your neck, and they sting your face and your ears and your throat. You squeeze your eyes tight in your mind, but they are staring, staring through the bee swarm at the people gazing at you and demanding attention, and why can't you do those sums without the calculator, you fool?

You cannot breathe, and your hands are stuck out in front of you, holding your book and pen, and you cannot move them. People are staring at you, a face full of swarming bees and lead weight on your chest. Your brain is screaming at you to move, to breathe, to get a grip, to snap out of it, to serve the mass of faces and get them out.

Your hands start to shake and you watch them, held up in front of you uselessly, wondering why you cannot put them down. Sweat begins to pour off your face between the onslaught of bees, and you feel a ridiculous single trickle of sweat wend its irritating way down your back. Your lungs are full of water and your chest will not rise or fall. It's in spasm between fear of living and fear of dying, and it will not yield either way. You can feel a surge of thick dread in your stomach, a pepper-hot madness that heavily crawls its way up your gullet with needle-sharp talons, threatening vomit if you could but breathe to let it out.

Stuck with no breath and a billion bees around your face, with the taste of fear a metallic burn on your tongue, and the shop of waiting people is staring at you and ready to slap you for your weak-minded patheticness. Tears are freely flowing from your eyes, soaking into the honey the swarming bees are coating you with and they fly down your throat to meet the taloned creature crawling out. There is no room for both, and the creature kicks at the bees with a "HUH!", as a breath escapes, and a high, tiny "uh" as some feral instinct clutches a snatch of breath in.

Your legs are a part of the floor, captured and bound to the mantle of the earth, whilst your stomach has filled with the bees that are still slamming against your face. More taloned creatures are clawing their way from the depths of your bowels, fighting for room with the bees, and there is no room for the "HUH! uh" of a sorry excuse for the breathing your body once did without thinking.

Screams of agony rage inside your head, a torment of thunder crescendoing with the wheedling monotone of the bees, thudding dischord as the taloned creatures kick shame like a hammer on stone throughout your ribs where the thirst for air is burning pain and the snot runs down your face with the tears, and there is nowhere to escape the screaming bees with humans faces that yell "Idiot! Pull yourself together! Calm down! Take deeeep breaths..." in your bleeding eyes that carry the instructions to your talon-filled ears. The world is wobbling wildly, spinning in uneven dips and rises, trying to throw you to the wall and smash you on the ceiling and the counter whilst the bees are buzzing and the creatures are screeching and the music is still fucking playing, playing, playing...

Everybody is watching you.

There is not a damn thing you can do about it. There is nowhere you can go. There is nothing you can say. There is nothing in the world that can calm you down, help you breathe, give you peace, let you move, let you find a space that is secure.

Everybody is watching you, and judging you.

But they cannot judge you more than you are judging yourself.


A true panic attack is not something that can be, or should be judged. It is a fact that some of us have to deal with every day. I make no excuse for it in this musing, although I am often reprimanded for my constant apologies in real life. They are pointless, silly apologies, but somehow, my mind seems to think it can make it better if I say sorry for the fuss that I cannot control, or anticipate.

Panic attacks can stem from many things, but each of them is a swarm of bees that will not let you breath, and stings your broken soul from the inside.

Please, if you cannot understand, at least be informed. We do not do this for fun.

I try to live my life as well as I can, and put steps in place to make social situations as easy as possible, not just for me, but those with and around me. If I choose to sit in a certain place, or cannot go into a busy shop, or can't go to your party, it's because I am refusing to let the bees swarm. I'm not being difficult. I'm trying to live.

This musing only available on Stories Space. if you are reading it elsewhere, it has been stolen.

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