“I had a major panic attack.”
This is a phrase people throw around too lightly, when they’re under a lot of pressure, or even when they’re just a tiny bit stressed… myself included. I recently finished writing a book where my main character constantly suffers from panic attacks, and I thought if I read enough about their signs and symptoms and people’s genuine experiences, I would be able to write about it properly.
Boy was I wrong.
I’ve been under a lot of pressure those past three months. I left my job early September, and the hunt for a new position hasn’t been successful. That is not to say I haven’t been working; I’ve actually been buried deep in freelance work and I’m generating more income than my previous salary. Still, it’s very nerve-wracking when you don’t have a steady paycheck, and I have gone through several sleepless nights over it. I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually crack under all that pressure.
Nothing I read could have prepared me for that experience. I honestly, 100% thought I had gone and gotten myself a heart attack. I was going to die, and nobody would find my body for days. I’ve never been that frightened in my life, and I was about ready to rush myself to the ER… until eventually, 20 minutes later, my rationale kicked in and I realized what was going on.
And because my brain is wired in a way that its first priority is almost always – “Okay, how do we use this in our writing?” one of my first thoughts was just how badly I’d written these panic attacks, and how much I’d misunderstood my character’s suffering. I didn’t give it its proper weight or capture the experience or how the symptoms manifested correctly. It was something that happened and the character just rode it out and resumed his normal life, even though his attacks were pretty severe. Meanwhile, two days later I was still so shaken I couldn’t get myself out of bed, my limbs felt like lead, and there was still a lingering tightness in my chest. There’s much editing and rewriting to be done.
I never believed in simply “writing what I know” because it felt so limiting, but now I’m forced to think about other situations a second-hand experience wouldn’t be able to do justice. What else have I been writing wrong? What kind of feelings have I failed to properly capture?
Have you had any similar revelation when it came to your writing? What kind of situations you believe cannot be articulated properly without a first-hand experience?
And, just as a PSA, here are the symptoms of a panic attack, should you ever experience one: