When I tell people I have PPA and panic attacks, I know what they envision. They envision a hyperventilating woman hiding in a corner trying to breathe. I know, because that's how I envision panic attacks. And I've had my fair share of those. But those are easy to deal with. I recognize them immediately, talk myself through it, and take a Xanax if I need it. After a little while, I feel loopy, but not panicked. Problem solved.
Unfortunately, that's not always how my panic attacks happen. Often, my panic is hidden behind a calm facade of just feeling (and acting) distant. A fog rolls in and clouds my mind, making it difficult to focus on anything. My brain immediately searches out any stimulus, and focuses on it to the point of shutting off everything else. It is a coping mechanism I learned as a child - if something is worrying me, I simply ignore it and try to shove it out of my mind.
The problem is, as an adult, I often don't recognize that this is what I'm doing. It happens so automatically that I don't realize it until I finally look up to see that several hours have passed without feeling 'present' at all. I know it looks like laziness, or worse, like I don't want to spend time with my family. But in reality, my brain has gone on autopilot and is fighting the panic in the only way it knows how - by avoiding it. And when I 'wake up' to the world around me, I feel terrible for wasting all of that precious time with the ones I love most.