My heart was palpitating.
“BA-THUMP, BA-THUMP, BA-THUMP!”
Thudding like a stampede across rocky terrain. Every beat made me shiver.
The foundations of my soul trembled, it’s Earth cracked and its soil went loose in the air.
At first, it began like any seismic disturbance, initially, it was a faint pitter-patter, as soft as fresh raindrops on windscreens. Then gradually it grew greater and greater until eventually, it thumped my entire being.
My breath was hitched, my right leg was shuddering, and my hand shook as I grasped at my chest. I could feel my veins bulging as my blood rushed.
A consuming black hole had spread from my epicentre, sucking in my rationality and breaking my calm. Uncontrollable adrenaline squeezed me with its snake-like grip.
My core, my entire being was being devoured as I sat there in my seat. In the middle of my afternoon lecture, amongst the multitudes of students around me.
It is funny how unassuming I must have appeared while I was in the throes of panic.
While I was breaking down, my glass shattering, no one noticed, no one heard me crack. The boy next to me didn’t even look away from his static screen.
I was invisible to him, to them.
My pounding heart seemed limited to my own ears, my loud rasping breath perhaps a figment of my own imagination.
Perhaps it really was imaginative, induced by the insidious anxiety slinking around in my skull.
Forced on me by my terror of being noticed.
My terror of being called out, of being put on display, of being brought away from my state of comfort.
You see, this all started with a thought.
A few moments earlier I had entered the lecture hall. I sat at the front and I had this determination to do well, to make an impression.
I was tired of being one of the extras, one with the background. I didn’t want to be the girl that came to class, said nothing and left saying nothing. I wanted to leave my mark, I wanted to be actively involved.
When my opportunity came, a question was posed, a debate started in the hall.
Excited voices or serious tones brought their arguments to the table.
I listened earnestly, made some notes and then an opinion appeared, a counter-argument to a point just made by another student, popped into my head.
I wanted to voice my thoughts, I slowly raised my hand. Excitement and enthusiasm ran through me.
But, when the TA glanced in my direction my lips became iron weights. My arm suddenly cramped and lowered as that shimmering confidence eroded to dust instantaneously.
He had only glanced in my direction yet my body reacted so strongly. Perhaps it was because his gaze had changed me. I had transformed from a background character into an individual with a simple glance.
When I lost that invisibility when I nearly had my chance, I couldn’t do anything.
Like a boulder in a stream, I stood still while Time flowed around me.
The TA picked another student who had been waving their hand and the heated debate continued, yet I was paused. Cut out from the scene, an isolated event with no consequence to them or the rest of the world.
I wanted to say something, anything, I was willing myself with all my strength, yet this pressure defeated me.
This pressure from unknown roots. Perhaps I was scared, scared of being wrong, scared of being seen, scared of standing out. Fear of failure.
A deep-seated fear that I had never acknowledged, never even recognised in myself, had been boiling up under the surface. Building this silent force against me, biding its time until that moment when it could choke me whole.
My face was beginning to grow hot, my shaking fingers grasped at my throat and my foot tapped on the wooden floor so hard that I was certain the entire row was moving to the rhythm and waves of my panic.
I felt like crying but my throat wouldn’t make a sound. I just sat there and waited for it all, for that sensation, to end like I was a passenger in my own car. The breaks were no longer working and the steering wheel had become stiff. I could only sit back and pray I didn’t crash.
I couldn’t resist it, I couldn’t stop it.
Trying to fight it only made my helplessness more abrupt and my symptoms more amplified.
The only option was to give in.
Therefore, I closed my eyes and went with the ride.
My fierce tremors eventually became subtle twitches. The patting of my leg transformed to slow spasms. My pounding heart switched back to its regular tempo like a Steam Train nearing its next station.
The warmth of my cheeks subsided and eventually, even my breathing became shallow.
But I wasn’t yet free from this quacking panic. This torture. After that day I was never free from it.
Even as my senses physically calmed and rationality seeped back in. I still felt it, lurking inside me.
Coiled around me. It had broken its way into my veins, spread it’s poison into my lungs and wrapped its thorns against my heart.
Warning me, reminding me that it hadn’t disappeared, that it held me hostage, and in any moment my tectonic plates could shift and once again I would be shattered.
There was this strange sense of suspense as I waited quietly for the Lecture to end. My twitching fingers made my handwritten notes illegible.
I was in a daze when I heard the rustle of standing students and the sharp bangs of closing laptops. While so consumed by the pain by my internal torture, the ending of the lecture had passed me by.
As I gathered my belongings and walked out from the hall and into the humid rain, I could taste bitter defeat on my tongue and acidic tears from my eyes.
Reality was bleak.