My panic attack: How I avoided it today.

by | 16th March, 2015 | thoughts on life

Today was the first time in a long time that I felt I was not going to cope. I was sitting in a lecture theatre full of first year Biology students. Not just any old biology class (here is the heart, here is the liver etc) oh no, this is molecular biology.  It’s a compulsory subject. I am completely lost in every lecture.


decoding biology

The only way I cope in this class is by doing lots of self study out of hours, but I still struggle with it. I was particularly overwhelmed today because I felt behind on the previous week’s lectures so I knew I would be facing an avalanche of information. I sat in my usual seat and felt my breathing become shorter and faster. I felt my mind becoming foggy. I became engulfed in my self talk that said

What are you doing here?  You can’t do this!  You’re not able to do this.  Everybody knows you’re not coping.

I looked around the packed lecture theatre and imagined that every other (younger!) student in the room had this subject under control. I am the only idiot that doesn’t understand. It took every single ounce of courage I had to stay in my seat. Every muscle in my body wanted to pack up my books and leave. While I still could. While it wouldn’t be obvious. I just needed to get outside and breathe.

As I fiddled with my book, my bracelet clinked on the seat. It’s a custom bracelet that has a tiny tag on it that reads

Love the fear.

It’s the motto John and I adopted this year. How can you love fear though when your physical body tells you that you can’t cope with a situation? I desperately wanted to stay in that room. I wanted to hang in there. I decided to try some self compassion. That was all I had at that very moment. Here’s what I did:

1. I bowed my head so the size of the room and the people around me were no longer overwhelming.

2. I took some slow deep breaths.

3. I told myself I was going to be ok. I was safe. I said the self-compassion mantra to remind myself that what I am feeling is perfectly normal. We all have doubt at times. We all feel scared. Above all though, I became mindful that right at that very moment, I was just sitting in a seat, and in that seat I was safe.

4. I gave myself permission to just stay for five minutes. When that passed, I decided to stay for another five minutes. Then I decided to stay until the mid-lecture break. I did this for the whole two hour experience.

mindful self compassion

I plan to continue the Biology class. I want to at least achieve a pass, and I don’t mind having to work for it.  I have realised however, that the work I do in this class isn’t purely academic – it’s psychological too. If I can remember to remain self compassionate, I just might bring home a High Distinction for that element of this experience. I am going to get so much more from this experience than an understanding of eukaryotic cells.