I wake up groggy and disoriented. As I open my eyes I see that I am surrounded by metal bars and concrete walls. I reach out and touch one of the bars to make sure I’m not dreaming and it shocks me. Its coldness sends shivers through my entire body. As I sit up, I start to realize where I am but I don’t know how I got here. I’m in prison. Everything around me is gray and old. If the small cot in the corner could talk, it would have so many chilling stories to tell. The little metal thing in the other corner that is supposedly a toilet smells like chemicals and shit.
After looking around, I try remembering how the hell I got here. I don’t have a window or a cellmate, but I feel like someone is watching me. I look around subconsciously, realizing that no one is there, but I still feel eyes peering at me, like a laser. I see brown splatters on the bare concrete walls, and as the fluorescent lights turn on, I notice they are a reddish color. Blood.
I curl up on my bed so my head is facing the part of the wall that isn’t covered in blood. Tears run down my face and I quickly wipe them away with the old cotton shirt I’m wearing. My feet are filthy. Covered in dirt and what I hope isn’t blood, they start to twitch. My big toe digs into the wall and as I close my eyes to focus on breaking through the wall, I hear a scream and feel something drip onto my forehead. I put my hand on my forehead to see what is dripping as the ceiling above me crumbles. I quickly jump out of bed, bolt across the cell, and stand with my back against the other wall. Panic hits me and my legs start to give out.
As I put my hands on the wall to steady myself, I feel an odd indentation. When I look closer, I see hundreds of scratch marks, as if the person who was here before me tried to claw their way out. I wonder what happened to them. Did they ever escape or was this their blood that was on the walls and floor? How long were they in here for? How long have I been in here for? It feels like months.
My legs finally give out and I fall to the floor next to the dried blood. I start to feel like I have been here before. My knees fit perfectly into the dents in the floor and my fingernails match the scratches on the walls. Have I been here before? I can’t remember. It feels so familiar but I have no recollection of being here. When I finally muster the strength to get up, I realize my clothes are soaked in my own sweat. My heart is racing, and the room starts to get darker. I throw myself onto the bed before the lights go out completely. I stare at the dark ceiling for what seems like hours. My mind is empty. My body is numb.
I’m surprised when I hear a guard walk toward me. I can’t see him, but I feel his presence, and it too feels familiar. I ask him where I am, but he doesn’t answer. Inexplicably, he opens my cell. I get up, dizzy and confused, and walk toward the cell door. The man disappears and I push open the door. As I step out, the lights turn on and I look around in disbelief. There are hundreds of cells identical to mine, and each of them has the same blood stains. Each of them has a prisoner inside who looks eerily like me. They all stand up and say “You survived again,” in perfect unison. Then they disappear.
I blink and the cells are gone. I’m sitting on my bedroom floor crying and shaking. My mom is sitting next to me with her hands in mine, telling me to breathe with her. I can’t figure out what happened. The feeling in my legs and hands comes back as soon as I realize that it is over. It’s all over. The panic attack is over. Each second that went by in that prison felt like an hour. No one warned me about this. No one told me that I would be imprisoned by my own mind. No one understood that when I was in that cell, I didn’t think I would survive. And no one knew that I had been in that cell every day for years. No one told me that this jail cell had a name: Panic Disorder.