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Let's Talk About Your Panic Attacks

The letter below is part of an ongoing series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested. Today's guest is Alex Richards, author of Accidental, out today.


Dear Teen Alex,

There are so many things I want to say to you--about friends and dreams and pumpkin seeds (you’re allergic! Stay away!)--but what I think might be the most useful might also be the most intense. So, grab a weighted blanket and some tea, take a deep breath … and listen.

Alex as a teen

You know that feeling you get in your chest sometimes? That uneasy queasiness that makes the whole world seem slower and faster all at once? Makes you feel lonely even when you are surrounded by people, or wish you had your mom, even if she’s right there? Those moments you find your heart swerving, whirling, deluding you into thinking you won’t be okay--those are called panic attacks.

It helps to put a name to them but, the shitty truth is, panic attacks are not a phase you will grow out of, despite your mom’s insistence. Those fractured feelings will follow you from high school to college, well into your twenties and thirties. You might go so long in between them that you think you have healed, but that hungry motorcycle rev will come back. It can’t help it.

What I want you to remember is: panic attacks don’t own you. Although it may feel like an eternity when you’re in its grip, every single one will pass. Which sounds like a lie, even to 40-year-old you, because you still get them. Sometimes you can feel them mobilizing; other times they are stealth ninjas hurling fireballs at your gut. They can’t help it.

I’m sorry to freak you out right now, but try not to worry. Because worry won’t help. What helps is knowing. Having the tools to be prepared and then getting through it. You don’t need to be ashamed. It’s okay to think panic might strike on the subway, at dinner, during labor (because it’s really that same feeling, right? Heart racing, trapped inside your own body?). And, when people say you’re ridiculous and of course you won’t have a panic attack because childbirth is amazing and magical and … the truth is, you will. But you will get through it. You will roll with the punches and you will find ways to cope. (And your kids are incredible and the panic stops when you hold their tiny bodies, so keep going).

Keep going, starting now. Learn how to breathe. Greet a panic attack and work with it, not against it. Help it by getting help. Let someone teach you to breathe and unclench. Loosen that jaw, that gut, those fears that you won’t see the other side. Because you will. Every time. The plane will land, your heart will heal, the baby will come, the book will get written, the panic will pass. The panic will pass.

And try not to pre-panic right now, because there is also unstoppable happiness in your future. You’ll get married and travel the world and have two beautiful children and finally get published! Panic may weave its way throughout, but it will never own your story. As cliched as it is when people say 'You got this!' You do. You got this, and you will get through this.


Adult Alex


About The Author: Alex Richards has been writing young adult fiction since the age of ten, with stacks of spiral notebooks to prove it. Also a freelance magazine contributor, Alex enjoys making no-budget horror movies, taking photographs, and crafting. Raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Alex lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two very silly kids. 


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