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  • Emma Pscheid Juul

That Time I had a Panic Attack on the NYC Subway

Five years ago, I was in New York with one of my best friends. She lives in a different country to me, and we hadn't seen each other in a long time, so I was really excited to go. Until...

My boyfriend, at the time, broke up with me three days before I was meant to board the plane.

My heart was BROKEN. I called in sick from work because I couldn't get out of bed. We lived together, so we had to split our lives up. I considered cancelling my trip, but refused to be one of those people who stop living their life because of a partner.

This is me

I finally managed to pack a suitcase, check in, and once I was on the plane and picked the movies I was going to watch en route, I was glad I went. It aligned with who I felt I was.

I eventually landed in New York, got on the Subway and headed to the Mexican restaurant I was meeting my friend at. Once I saw her, and had a margarita in-hand, I felt happy, content, and certain that I had indeed made the right choice by going.

We planned the days ahead, and our first stop in the morning was a bottomless brunch in Williamsburg.

Alcohol is the enemy

We decided to walk to Williamsburg on this particular, frosty November morning. We crossed the Williamsburg Bridge, and I briefly forgot about the heartbreak, and remembered how deeply I had fallen in love with New York 15 years prior to this visit. I felt good, I felt empowered by my decision to go, I was embraced by the love from my friend, and it seemed like everything was going to be okay.

It certainly was for a good few hours.

My friend had the bottomless Bloody Mary, and I opted for the bottomless Mimosa. We chatted away, and I remember laughing A LOT. I also remember being moved from our table to the bar at some point, to finish off the bottomless pitchers we were being served. Then I remember going outside for some air, and I remember my friend vomiting. I remember getting a taxi - but struggling to get get one (likely due to said vomiting friend). I remember potentially quickly getting out of a cab (likely due to said vomiting friend), and switching to a new cab. Then I remember having serious political chats with new taxi driver, and making him go past Trump Tower so I could take a picture of it with my longest finger in front of it. Then I vaguely remember us losing $100 (but not how). And then I don't remember anything until I woke up (because of jet-lag and dehydration) feeling horrendously depressed at 10pm.

From this moment on, I don't think I went many hours without crying every day until I went back.

Sights to see, panic attacks to be

We decided we needed some food, and thankfully there was a French Bistro right next to our hotel, which served food until 4am. Sadly, I was very vegan at the time, so I had avocado on toast and French fries (my friend had every other beautiful item on the menu).

When we got back, she fell into a delightfully food coma-induced sleep, as I tossed and turned for hours, counting the hours I would get to sleep if only I fell asleep NOW, only increasing the anxiety I was already feeling.

The following morning, we left to go explore the city from a sightseeing bus. Everywhere suddenly reminded me of my ex-boyfriend. Along with the heartbreak, my lack of sleep, and the movement of the bus, I felt more tired than ever before. I decided it was best if I went back to the hotel for a nap.

NYC Subway panic attack

On my way back to the hotel, a sudden wave of severe panic took control of my body. I couldn't breathe. The air just would not reach my lungs. I couldn't focus, everything was spinning, my heart was pounding out of my chest and into my stomach. I started shaking. I finally realised what was happening, and I remembered some things I read in this book about anxiety.

What Are Panic Attacks? Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear, triggering severe physical responses in your body. They exaggerate the body's normal response to danger, stress or even excitement, when there is no apparent reason. They can be very scary, and can be difficult to deal with. But with the right techniques, and patience, it is possible to get out from under the intensity that they bring.

Becoming THAT person

I remembered the book told me to start describing something. I started describing the things around me, "my jeans are blue, they are a light blue, they have 1... 2... 3... 4... 5 holes in them, they feel soft when I touch them" etc. I went into as many details as possible.

Then I started humming. I remembered the book had said that activating the throat, enabled you to regain control through stimulation of the vagus nerve (located on both sides of the voice box). This apparently signals to the brain that the body is not actually under attack. And once I was able to think of ANY song to hum, it actually worked.

The above two exercises, helped me regain some kind of control, which enabled me to focus on my breathing through the 4-7-8 technique.

The 4-7-8 technique: 1) Close your lips, inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. 2) Hold your breath for 7 seconds. 3) Exhale completely through your mouth for 8 seconds. Making a whoosh sound (pretend you are holding a grain of rice between your teeth) or a low hum at the same time. The 4-7-8 technique is proven to decrease anxiety.

I eventually got off the subway and somehow found the hotel. As soon as I got the chance, I told my Mum, my ex-boyfriend, and my friend in NY about the incident. This helped me regulate my emotions. I also found that verbally expressing it almost helped me physically rid of some of the experience.

I then went straight to bed and slept for hours.

I woke up panic free.

But I still had some healing to do to mend my broken heart.

What I learnt from this experience:

  • I need enough sleep

  • Alcohol increases my "hanxiety" (hangover anxiety)

  • Regaining control over myself is within my power

  • Self-care is important. Paying attention to what your body needs after a panic attack encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself

Examples of self-care: Resting, eating something you like, having a nice long shower, masturbating... etc.

If you would like to submit a story, anonymously or under your name, please get in touch! You can fill out the contact form on the website or email!​


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