It was a normal, boring maths class. Michael Mell sat up the back next to Jeremy Heere, attempting to concentrate even though he wanted to fall asleep. The two boys rolled their eyes as the loudest people in the class made homophobic jokes. They never spoke up about how the bullies were behaving, as they both had anxiety, but they did spend most their time snickering up the back at their ignorance.
Speaking of anxiety, Michael could feel himself getting more and more agitated and fidgety. He wasn’t sure why, exactly, as usually the homophobic jokes didn’t trigger him, and no one was even looking at him. In spite of this, he was anxious. In an attempt to ease his fear, the teenager began twirling his pencil between his fingers. Michael closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on his breathing. That’s what his therapist told him to do, right? In and out. In and out.
“You okay?” Jeremy leaned over and murmured in his ear, knowing that this was how he acted before a panic attack. Michael nodded earnestly, as though pretending nothing bad was happening would make it go away.
He was finally feeling slightly calmer when the teacher had to go and set him off again. She called on him in her wavering, high-pitched voice, saying, “Michael, what is the answer to question 4?”
As he had been focusing on not freaking out in front of the whole class, Michael hadn’t even opened his book, let alone figured out the answer to question 4. His stomach turned and writhed into knots and his hands began to slightly shake. His eyes flickered around his peers. They were all staring. The teacher was staring. Jeremy was staring.
“I-I don’t know, I’m sorry,” the boy replied quietly, hardly able to talk properly due to the resurfacing panic spreading throughout his chest from his heart. The maths teacher pursed her lips and squinted her eyes.
“How very disappointing. I can see you don’t even have your book out. Do better, Mell.” She then went to pick on a different student, and the class continued as normal.
This was the comment that broke Michael. His shaking doubled in intensity and his vision grew blurry. His breathing picked up. Jeremy turned to Michael and took hold of his clammy hand, more than aware of what his best friend was like when he got panic attacks.
“Do you need to leave?” he whispered, being sure to sound kind and gentle. Michael tried to talk, but nothing other than silent gasps came out of his mouth. That was all the answer that Jeremy needed, before he put his hand up and asked if Michael could take him outside with the excuse that he was feeling sick.
Whilst Jeremy was trying to persuade the teacher to let them leave, Michael felt as though he was dying. Every movement another classmate made was too much for him. Every sound set him on edge. The room was too bright. His chair was too uncomfortable. The air wasn’t breathable enough. Everything was just too much. He was only half aware of Jeremy hauling him up and dragging him outside the classroom. Michael couldn’t see. He couldn’t hear. All he was conscious of was the pounding of his heart in his temples, the chills making his sweaty body tremble and the elephant that had to be sitting on his chest. He was vaguely aware of being guided to sit on the ground and his friend speaking, though he had no idea what he was saying. All he could think about was the nausea rising from his stomach to his throat and each individual nerve in his body shaking and shooting electricity.
I can’t breathe. Oh god, I’m going to throw up and everyone is going to know and judge me and hate me and I’m fucking so annoying and such a burden and I forced Jeremy to go out of class for me and now he’s going to leave me because I’m way too much to handle and I’m just so weak an-
An icy hand touched Michael’s face, snapping him out of his panic induced spiral.
“Michael. Are you with me?” Jeremy asked, his eyebrows creased in concern as he knelt in front of him, his hand still placed on his cheek, giving Michael that small comfort.
Michael tried to reply, but due to sheer panic and fear of vomiting if he let himself talk, he couldn’t get his mouth to open. He made a pitiful whimper.
“Hey, hey. It’s okay. You know that you’re having a panic attack. It is going to pass. I know it’s scary, but you’re strong. I’m here.” Jeremy said calmly, taking his hand away from his friend’s face and sitting next to him on the ground, holding Michael’s hand with both of his own. This grounded Michael as well. Deciding that there was nothing that he could do to make this more embarrassing, he buried his face in Jeremy’s collarbone, trying to feel the boy’s deep breathing and copy it himself.
After what felt like an eternity of the two of them sitting together, Michael felt his breathing return to normal. Jeremy’s own breath tickled his scalp, his hands providing the support that Michael didn’t feel he could give to himself. He finally looked up and saw that Jeremy had led him to a locker room, and he was leaning against a wall on the tiled floor. The lights were off, so the only light in the room came from the sun shining through the tinted windows. Jeremy himself was still holding Michael’s hand, and he was looking at him with worry evident in his expression.
“Hey,” he smiled. Michael grinned weakly back, running his other hand through his hair wearily.
“How long was this one?” he questioned quietly. His sense of time was always distorted during a panic attack.
“About ten minutes,” Jeremy replied softly. “How are you feeling?”
“Better than I was,” Michael chuckled.
“Good. That’s good,” Jeremy nodded. “You stopped responding for a bit there, Michael. It scared me.”
Jeremy slapped him lightly. “It’s not your fault, man. You can’t control your panic attacks or when you get them. If you could, you wouldn’t get them.”
Michael hummed in reluctant agreement.
“Can you stand?” Jeremy asked. “We need to take you to the nurse.”
Too drained to protest, Michael simply nodded, allowing his friend to pull him to his feet. Although still shaky, he managed to stay standing with Jeremy by his side. Michael grasped his hand as they began slowly walking to the sickbay.
After a while, he spoke.
“Thanks for, you know, helping me.”
“Anytime, man. You’re my best friend. You’d do the same for me. You’ve done the same for me. I’m here for you.”
Michael smiled, squeezing Jeremy’s hand. He definitely didn’t feel perfect, but he was content.
That was enough.