by Eileen O’Meara
I’ve been overwhelmed by anxiety for as long as I can remember.
I thought it was the normal way to be!
I’d be stuck in traffic, and these irritating voices would take my brain hostage “Did you leave the coffee on? The house will catch on fire, the neighbors will burn!”
Even though I knew the fears were unfounded, I found myself turning the car around again and again.
I decided to make an animated movie about it.
On some level, I hoped there would be a power shift—if I welcomed the voices and saw them as ideas for a movie, perhaps they would be less overwhelming and frightening.
So I kept a pen in the car and started writing down all the ridiculous things they were saying (“Are you pregnant with a devil baby?”).
I wanted “Panic Attack!” to be all one shot--one single sequence of transforming drawings—to show the fluidity between different mental states. Imagined fears can seem just as real as “objective” reality. I hoped that making it one single sequence (no edits) would reflect how easily we go back and forth between perceiving the world that’s in front of us -- and the reality that’s only in our minds.
Making “Panic Attack!” didn’t exorcise my demons or cure me. However, objectifying the crazy thoughts took some of the edge off the overwhelming dread. When you can externalize or objectify some of the craziness, it seems to help a little bit.
It’s great to meet people at screenings who want to talk about their own experiences with anxiety and panic attacks. “I can’t stand driving behind trucks with sheets of glass, because I know when they hit the brakes I will be decapitated!”
Ultimately, realizing you have a shared experience that you can laugh about with other people makes it all a bit less horrifying. And the ADAA website provides a valuable resource for people to share their stories—and confirm that this is a common, universal human experience.
Panic Attack is a 3-minute hand-drawn animated film by Eileen O’Meara