Anna Spargo-Ryan

My first panic attack

For those of you playing along at home, my panic attack tally this week is: Monday – 18 trillion panic attacks … Thursday – one panic attack.

So I am feeling confident that this means Friday will bring either no panic attacks or just a permanent panic attack, which let’s be honest is pretty much life anyway so I guess it won’t make a lot of difference.

When I was a teenager, I thought I knew things about panic attacks. I was morbidly depressed, so that was a good start, but the first time I thought I had a panic attack I was so pleased. I was truly glad that I finally had some tangible outcome of my depression. Instead of people saying, ‘How are you?’ and me saying, ‘I don’t know, I kind of want to jump in front of a train but I can’t really explain why,’ I could say, ‘Oh my god, I thought I was going to die just now! How are you?’

The first time I thought I had a panic attack, I was on a plane flying out of Sydney in a thunderstorm. If I were to fly on a plane in a thunderstorm now, you would have to literally inject me with 60mg of Midazolam and have eight security guards on standby in case I tried to smash a window open with a plane seat, which I would have torn from the ground with my anxiety-induced super human strength. This is true.

But on this occasion, I had never had a panic attack, so I just flew in the plane like, ‘There is lightning around this plane, but luckily there is no kind of mental state that will make me feel any worse than I already do.’

Then I ate a pink Mentos just as the plane dropped out of the sky.

So I choked on the Mentos. Then I coughed and coughed to try to get the Mentos out of my throat because it hurt and also oxygen, and it wasn’t until I stood up when the seatbelt light was on that someone came to help me. When I sat down, I told the man next to me that I had had a panic attack. In reality I just choked on a Mentos and couldn’t breathe for a short while.

When I read about people who had anxiety and panic disorders, I hummed sympathetically and thought yes, I really know what they’re going through. I knew what it was like to drag a razor across my skin and I knew what it was like to sit in a tunnel of dark slop and, thankfully, I also knew what it was like to have a Mentos stuck in my throat on a plane.

And it is lucky because years later, when I had my first actual panic attack, I immediately knew that I’d never had one before at all, ever, not even on a plane. I might not have recognised it otherwise.


I’m Anna, a digital strategist and writer who likes to drink 'Ice Tea' but doesn't understand why it's not called 'Iced Tea'. By night and occasionally morning, I eat things, write things, berate my children, walk my dogs and hug my chocolate.


  • January 24, 2013 8:46 pm

    You really are a genius xxx

  • January 24, 2013 11:49 pm

    So insightful … but I guess that’s the point? Lol Brought back a memory for me that I would probably have not had reason to recall otherwise and has allowed some pieces of my story to fall into place. Thank you for writing so honestly xo

  • January 25, 2013 9:51 am

    When I first had one I didn’t know they existed so I couldn’t be sympathetic and assume to know what others were going through. But gosh those people are SO helpful! x

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