My heart hammers in my chest. My breath comes in laboured gasps. Every noise stabs at my consciousness like a hive of angry wasps, irritating me to the point of rage.
Panic floods my system, my sweating hands shake uncontrollably.
Am I under attack? Facing sudden death, or a major exam?
image from Shutterstock
This terror - and it is terror, not panic, anxiety or stress - is caused by getting in my car. Any car. Ever. And it isn't just driving triggering the 'anxiety' I have been plagued with since my early twenties.
I've always struggled with what people think of me socially, which was exacerbated when I found myself parenting a child with ADHD; a child with absolutely no filter.
My favourite example of this was his interest in the general election, where he took a particular shine to Nigel Farage (N.B. he is ten). This led to him contributing to a discussion about politics with 'well, really all the Polish should just be sent back'. Loudly. In a park full of Polish people.
It was quite innocent I hasten to add. Once I explained why this was not ok, he was mortified, but it did lead to me wonder that given I spend around 80% of every day thinking: 'Jesus, will the floor not just swallow me up already,' I should probably be over it by now. I should be able to laugh it off.
I'm not. Instead I smile at people who are rude to me. I shun any person or situation that causes my mind to become overwhelmed by negative internal messaging.
Except I can't shun my son, or gag him, mores the pity. Instead I do the maternal smile of death (gritted teeth, manic eyes, twitching jaw) and kick him under the table. In my head.
Client relations are especially fun. 'Can you change this Kirsty' sounds like: 'Call yourself a professional, you illiterate primate? I'm hiring a competitor RIGHT NOW!'
I am not alone. The number of women experiencing the same is shocking. The ADAA suggests up to 18 percent of the population struggle with anxiety at the moderate to debilitating level. A scan of my social groups put the figure closer to 25%.
These aren't neurotic types, with shaky hands and nervous dispositions. They are smart, outwardly confident women with successful lives. They are tortured by panic, fear and extreme self-doubt daily.
Googling 'women and anxiety' reveals 155,000,000 listings. On the Huffington Post alone there are over 37,000 mentions of the subject.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the topic has been done to death and yet every day a new piece of advice, or statistic is given to highlight how serious and ingrained this issue has become.
It isn't an understatement to suggest that fear and worry is epidemic amongst western women.
Dr Arun Dhandayudham, Medical Director of the Westminster Drug Project and a specialist in treating anxiety and panic disorders, suggests that although we all have anxiety to some degree. This fear was bred in to us by biological necessity as a survival instinct but usually lies fairly dormant.
It is modern diets and lifestyles ramping up the tension to a level unexperienced by previous generations. He says:
"I think it's a mix of stress, pressure, overwork, fatigue, lack of sleep, unrealistic expectations of oneself and others thrown at what people expect their lives to be like.
"Our "always on" lifestyle does not really help."
Charles Linden, founder of The Linden Method, which helps anxiety sufferers treat themselves without medication believes creative minds are often behind the issue. His research suggests that the creative mind is often the cause, due to its ability to visualise negative scenarios so easily.
Part of the issue is that there seems to be no consistent solution to the problem. Doctors refer to it as a mental health issue, and often prescribe drugs, instead of the more effective CBT which has a longer waiting list and a higher cost to the NHS.
Charles Linden's Nine Pillar Method has considerable success. In it, Linden explains that you are not anxious about driving, or seeing your friends. You were once, and your body naturally primed itself for feeling anxious the next time. Over time this grew leading to you feeling anxious about feeling anxious. The trick is to break the cycle.
Working similarly is ACT, or 'acceptance and commitment therapy', introduced to me by my talented friend and fellow anxiety sufferer, writer Rebecca Summits.
ACT, championed by Russ Harris reflects Dr Dhandayudham's belief that anxiety is a natural state of being for human beings. Instead of fighting against it, the trick is to listen to what your anxiety is telling you about yourself or your life.
Something all experts in the field point to is diet. Caffeine (be it in fizzy pop, coffee or chocolate), Nicotine, Alcohol - all have experienced a huge rise in consumption in the last 30-years. All contribute to an acceleration in the base line of anxiety. Ditch the chemicals, ditch the fear.
Meditation offers proven clinical benefits. Dr Dhandayudham's recommends 20-minutes a day. If you are in full panic cycle though it can be hard to sit for one minute, so apps like Headspace, offering mindfulness training in short bursts.
The key thing to remember seems to be not to give in. No matter how bad it feels, you are unlikely to die. You are afraid. It WON'T last forever. So breathe. Breathe again. Talk to someone.
We will be ok. Even if it's really hard to believe right now.