Panic Attacks and Writing Prompts

Happy Saturday everyone!

Is anyone else having a most delightful autumn/October? It’s seriously my favorite time of year. I think I have reverse seasonal affective disorder, where I get sad in the summer and happy in the fall and winter. Maybe it’s the fact that summer feels so stressful. Like you have to be going out and doing things all the time or else “you’re wasting the good weather.” I don’t know when 900 degree heat in the blistering sun became good weather, but ok. You do you. Imma be in the air conditioning with my books and my bad attitude until the leaves start to turn.

Any way.

I just finished a micro fiction course with Sarah Freligh and wanted to share a prompt and some writing that it generated. If you have time or are interested in taking a writing course, I highly recommend Sarah Freligh. She gave lots of great prompts, and her feedback was super helpful.

One of the prompts was about writing a sort of “how to” guide in 300 words or less. I chose to write about my first panic attack at a cafe in Barcelona. A most memorable experience, if I may say so.

My thirties have been defined by this particular trip. I’ll go into detail in a later post, but for now, here’s a condensed version of that experience.

Prompt: The Why or How of It

Start with a how or why title – “How to Make Your Mother Cry,” “Why I Live at the Laundromat,” “Why I Don’t Date Men With Children,” “How to Lasso the Moon” – and on and on.

Now write a story that answers the question — or better yet, don’t! 300 words or fewer.

This is what I wrote.

How to Have a Panic Attack in a Cafe in Barcelona

It starts with a flight to Spain, where you’ll spend a month in a sixth floor walk-up in the heat of July with no fans or air conditioning. There’s no relief. It’s 100 degrees in the shade. You and your friend, who you are sharing the apartment with, walk the cobble stoned streets of the gothic quarter marveling at cathedrals and roman ruins between visits to coffee shops to cool off and use the Wifi. Because, did I mention, you and your friend, slightly homesick, use up all the Wifi within the first three days of arrival. Twenty-one days into the trip, it’s your 30th birthday. On a jaunt with your friend, you cry while sitting on the rim of a potted plant. Because you miss the person you went on this trip to get away from. So, you call him. But he’s not saying the things you want him to say. 

Your friend leaves a week later, giving you space. And silence. And a lot of time to write and think. You go shopping at H&M and buy clothes you can’t afford with a maxed out credit card. You write a bad story. You listen to the rain fall outside your apartment terrace and pack for your trip to Portugal. And then one morning you wake up with a migraine because you get those sometimes. You take two excedrin on an empty stomach and go to the cafe where you drink coffee and write emails and ignore your body’s need for breakfast. And that’s when the adrenaline hits. Head dizzy. Heart racing. Legs wobbly. You leave the cafe and stumble toward home. Up the stairs. Into bed. And you are absolutely positively certain that this is how you die.

That’s all for now, folks. I currently have a bit of a migraine and am two hours away from getting on a flight to Las Vegas to spend a few days with friends. I’ve packed a million books, so get ready for some recommendations next week!

In the mean time, wishing you a week filled with creativity and fun! And feel free to share about your experiences with writing, reading, anxiety, or travel. I’d love to hear from you.

Published by Robyn Neilsen

I am a writer and educator based out of New Jersey. My creative nonfiction essays and flash fiction stories have been published by Thought Catalog, Vocal Media, and On Mogul. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy honing my craft through writing workshops with LA Writers Group, Gotham Writers, and The Moth. I am currently querying my first novel and am actively working on my second.

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