Panic attacks are common with people on the Autistic Spectrum who have anxiety. They can affect people differently. People can have very obvious signs, such as palpitations, hyperventilating, or skin reactions. Others have increased heart rate and breathing.
I tend to have rapid breathing, and there never seems to be enough oxygen in the air. I had a panic attack a while back, though it was mild compared to the ones I had as a teenager. I panicked last year when I could not see a thing in the local cinema. The film had not started yet, and the house lights should have been on, as people were still entering the theater. But the lights were not on, and I could not see anything. I was walking into people (with a tub of ice cream in my hand) because everything was pitch black.
This made me feel very unsafe and claustrophobic. I said to my friend “Get me out of here” and she thought I was joking until I started pushing to get out. I went to look for the manager to ask him to put the house lights on, and he claimed they don’t need to be on, even though the film had not started. I argued with him and as he was standing in the doorway to the theater, I instinctively tried to push him into the theater saying “Go on! See if YOU can see where you are going!”
He then threatened to throw me out if I didn’t behave myself. I didn’t realize until on the way home, but my friend told me I had also been swearing, and that was when she knew I was serious.
As well as panic, I suppose this would be a classic Outburst situation, but when analyzing the incident later, I realized I was also very tired and irritable before we even got in the cinema. In the UK, we drive on the left and have Right Hand Drive cars. My friend has a left hand drive car and every time she wandered between lanes without indicating, it would be me, in the passenger seat, that the other drivers looked at in disgust! So as well as feeling very unsafe in the car, I would have drivers judging me as well. No wonder my nerves were in tatters.
So my friend wasn’t the safest driver in the world, but it wasn’t her fault that I was behind on my sleep too; a recipe for irritability and outburst behavior. I later had it confirmed the house lights should have been on, and the manager might have put them on, if I had asked him politely. But as he saw me as hostile, he was defensive and possibly lied to save face.
Luckily nowadays, these incidents are very few and far between, but they used to be very common when I was a kid. It’s easy to say that I should learn from this and not repeat my actions, but when you are scared, these feeling comes out of the blue. You can never predict what is going to spook you. The only way to minimize the chances of it happening, is to get enough sleep – and insist on driving!