Talking smack and panic attacks: An autopsy of the time I snorted some pills and had a freak out. What went wrong and what I wish I'd known.
By a member of The Level.
It was day two of the music festival. The light waned behind thick grey clouds as the afterglow of the acid found me. I’d put the acid under my tongue that morning and enjoyed an intense ride of colour-shifted perception. The midpoint of the trip had been close to being too much – making me feel a bit uncomfortable in my skin, and a bit overwhelmed by everything that was happening around me. But I rode the wave of the trip and came out the other side.
Now, the aftereffects were giving me a soft sense of euphoria. As I chilled in my tent, anticipation started to build. It was almost time for the night sets to start, the first of which was a metal band I love. I felt giddy as I held my bag of non-descript yellow pills that according to the rando I got it from was “definitely MDMA”.
Things I Wish I'd Known #1: Drug checking exists.
Drug checking services or a reagent test could have told me if my MDMA was actually MDMA. If I had found out that it was synthetic cathinones (bath salts) then I don’t think I would have taken it, or I definitely wouldn’t have taken as much as I did.
From over the hill, beyond the field of tents, I heard a note on an electric guitar. A single booming note soaked in so much distortion it was practically tearing through my brain. It was time. I took a few pills, crushed them, and snorted one giant line in my tent, feeling the hit immediately.
Things I Wish I'd Known #2 and #3: You don’t have to take all the pills. And you definitely don’t have to take all the pills and shove them up your nose.
If I had just taken half as much as I did – especially considering I didn't know what it was - my whole night could have gone a lot better. Also, I've learned now that if I had swallowed the pills instead of crushing and snorting, it would have hit me slower, and I would have had a bit more control over the events to come.
I tore the flap of my tent open and sprinted to the stage. It was actually just sound check (because I’m smart), so I waited around feeling wired until the band started playing. When they did, everything was hitting me at full force, the rush of being a part of the mosh pit, thrashing my head and body throughout the crowd. My throat was so dry, and I kept on find myself gasping for air, not understanding why.
Things I Wish I'd Known #4 and #5: Where you’re at (mentally and physically) plays a huge role in the experience, and water is a great time.
At this point, I’m pretty sure I was already having a panic attack. I was so into the moshing that I didn’t fully appreciate how short and fast my breathing was, and how fast my heartrate was going. At that point it could have been a good idea to pull myself out of the mosh pit and stand on the side, using slow breathing or mindfulness to let myself calm down. I also should have brought water with me - luckily there was an absolute legend who saw I was struggling and gave me his water bottle, telling me he didn’t need it back (pre-COVID days were wild).
The band finished playing and the mosh pit dispersed, but still I was out of breath and my heart was beating incredibly fast. I tried talking to people to give myself some kind of distraction, but soon the fear crept in that something was seriously wrong. I wondered if I was actually having a heart attack and was about to die. I walked around the festival by myself, trying to figure out what to do. Until I passed the medic tent. I stopped and considered if I should go in but was worried that I would get in trouble for taking drugs. So, I kept on walking.
Things I Wish I'd Known #6: Medics won't get you in trouble.
I wish I'd gone in to see the medics. I wouldn’t have been in trouble, they probably would have been really supportive and would have helped me break out of the weird headspace I was in, reminding me that panic attacks exist, and I wasn’t dying.
As I meandered around the festival, stuck in my own anxiety, I started to feel a real darkness hitting me. In the distance, one of the artists said to the people in the front row that they looked like they were all on Molly and joked that that was how his uncle had died. That didn’t help.
Eventually, clarity started to find me, and I wondered if I wasn’t actually dying, but having a panic attack instead. I went into a portaloo and practiced my favourite mindfulness technique to help with anxiety. Focusing on 5 things I could see, 4 I could feel, 3 I could hear, 2 things I like about myself, and 1 deep breath (not recommended in a portaloo, but what can you do). I immediately started to feel better. Elated, I continued on my way with a newfound relief, realising that I wasn’t dying. I found an indoor section, where it was warm, sunk into a chair and enjoyed the sense of calm that found me as ‘Sunday Morning’ by the Velvet Underground covered me like a warm blanket.
Looking back, that night was a huge learning experience for me. As a teenager, I had learnt that I always needed to lie and hide my drug use so that I didn’t get in trouble. I had no one to talk to about my use of drugs, so I ended up making risky decisions instead of slowing down and planning things out a bit more. I also didn’t know how to ask my friends for help, thinking that I needed to deal with everything on my own. If I could go back in time and talk to my past self, I would say:
“I get that you can’t go around telling the world about your drug use, and it’s really hard to ask for help. But when the opportunity’s there, you have to take it. You’ll be so glad you did…
…and maybe ease up on the drugs that give you panic attacks.”
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