So I was telling my therapist about my panic attacks the other day. She asked me when I had my first panic attack. That took me a moment because most of my childhood memories are laced with unease.
The first panic attack I remember having was at age 7.
Purple Owl (age 7)
Mom: We have to go.
Purple Owl: I can't leave. I haven't finished my project.
Aunt: You have to go to school and we have to go.
Purple Owl looks at the table and down at the floor.
Purple Owl: But my project's due. And I can't present it if it's not finished.
Aunt: Do you think...
Purple Owl looks back at the adults.
Mom: We do have some time. Purple Owl, let's finish your project.
Purple Owl jumps into her seat. She picks up the materials to work on her project. Aunt pours a cup of coffee. And Mom reads while helping Purple Owl.
Purple Owl: I'm done.
Mom: Great. Let's go.
Purple Owl takes her sweater from Mom and freezes.
Aunt (from the open front door): Purple Owl, what's wrong?
Purple Owl: I'm late. I can't go to school. I'm late.
Mom: You have to go to school. Now that your projects done, don't you want to show your teacher and friends?
Purple Owl: No. I'm late. I don't want to go. Can't I just spend the day with you?
Mom: No, Purple Owl. You have to go to school today. Your project looks nice. You'll get a good grade.
Purple Owl looks down.
Aunt: We have to go, Purple Owl.
Purple Owl: Okay.
She follows the adults out of the apartment and to the car. She gets into the backseat and stares out the window.
School is going to be terrible.
Mom: Purple Owl, we're there. Are all your things collected?
Purple Owl: Yes, mommy.
The adults look at each other.
Purple Owl stares at her school.
Aunt: Purple Owl, you have to get out dear.
Purple Owl: But...
Mom: You've missed too many days. I can't take you with me. And you have your project.
Purple Owl sighs and closes her eyes.
Aunt: Purple Owl?
Purple Owl: I'm going. Just a moment.
Purple Owl eases the door open. She picks up her backpack and lunch bag. She climbs out and leans over to get her project.
Mom: Have a good day, Purple Owl.
Purple Owl: You too, Mommy. Bye, Aunt.
Purple Owl walks to the office. She waves to her mom in the passenger seat. She pulls open the office door and hears the car drive off.
Office Lady: Hi.
Purple Owl: Good morning. Purple Owl, room 15.
Office Lady looks through the files. She writes on the card and hands it to Purple Owl.
Office Lady: Make sure to give this to your teacher.
She opens the gate for Purple Owl.
Purple Owl: I will. Have a good day.
Purple Owl puts the attendance sheet on her project and opens the door. Down the ramp and across the yard.
She passes the restroom. Then stops.
Purple Owl: Hmmm, I could use the bathroom. I don't need to. But maybe I should.
She takes two steps back and enters the restroom.
She sits down and puts her project next to her. Purple Owl leans her head back and takes a breath.
She's late. If she goes in, everyone will stare at her. The teacher will ask what happened. She'll disrupt the class and ruin everything.
Purple Owl lets out her breath. Her eyes widen and her fingers shake.
She stares at her chest, confused about the pain.
She looks back at her project and sees the attendance sheet. Purple Owl picks it up and follows her name. Purple Owl... 8:45.
It’s been a few minutes. The restroom is a good enough excuse.
She closes her eyes again and tries to breathe. It's painful and difficult. The air won't go through. But she tries to breathe.
She looks at her project again and smiles warily. She worked hard on it. She should turn it in with pride.
But she can't. She can’t go to class. Her heart races and she stares at the bathroom wall.
Purple Owl pushes herself off the wall. She walks to the sink. She turns it on and wets paper towels. She wipes down her face and stares in the mirror.
Purple Owl: I can do this. It's just the door, teacher, and then my seat. Everyone in the class is my friend. They aren't scary.
She raises her eyebrows. Purple Owl in the mirror questions everything she said.
Purple Owl: I have to go. It will only get worse the longer I stay.
Purple Owl in mirror looks defiant. After a few moments, Purple Owl sticks her tongue out at her reflection and shrugs. She's not the one in charge.
She puts her backpack back on. She picks up her project and walks to the door. Purple Owl looks at the bathroom and shakes her head.
Purple Owl: Someone will find me if I stay here. I have the attendance sheet. I have to go.
She starts the walk to class. It seems so long. Her legs feel heavy. She gets to the door and takes a deep breath.
Purple Owl: Here it goes.
She opens the door. And as expected, her classmates and teacher turn to look. She walks up the aisle to her teacher. She hands her the sheet.
Purple Owl: I'm sorry I'm late.
Teacher looks at the clock.
Teacher: The attendance says you came 20 minutes ago. What happened?
Purple Owl: I was in the bathroom.
Teacher: For 20 minutes?
Teacher: Okay. I'm glad to see your project. You'll present just before recess. Have a seat, Purple Owl.
Purple Owl goes to her seat and her guy best friend smiles at her.
Classmate: Why are you so late? Might as well not have come. I mean you never do anyway.
Guy Friend: Leave her alone.
The classmate huffs and looks away.
Purple Owl stares at her friend. Usually she's the one standing up for him.
Purple Owl: Thanks.
Guy Friend: You're welcome. You do it for me.
He looks at her.
Guy Friend: Are you okay, Purple Owl?
Purple Owl nods.
Guy Friend: Are you sure?
Teacher: No talking.
Guy Friend: Sorry.
He glances at Purple Owl and then looks at the student presenting.
Purple Owl feels a nudge. She looks up to the class and teacher staring at her. Guess it's her turn. She walks up and gives her presentation.
The bell rings as she finishes. She walks to the back of the room in a daze.
Her two best friends wait for her.
Girl friend: Are you okay?
Purple Owl nods.
Guy friend: For sure?
Purple Owl sighs. Her pain is gone. She can breathe. Purple Owl smiles.
Purple Owl: Yes, for sure. Let's go eat our snack so we can play.
Her friends follow her out.
Purple Owl talks to her friends while she eats. She laughs while she plays. And listens closely to the rest of class.
I filled out the conversations a bit. But the framework was the same. My first panic attack is burned into my memory. I wish I couldn't see Purple Owl falling apart in her elementary bathroom.
But I can. And it gives me understanding of the panic attacks I've had since. At 7, I didn't even know that phrase. But now it gives me relief. Relief to know I'm not alone or strange.