It happens sometimes. I’m fine, and then I’m not. I’m okay, and then I’m freaking out. Thoughts of how NOT okay I am start careening around in my head, like manic pinballs. My heart starts racing and my body breaks out in chills, all at once. I’m convinced I can’t breathe. I think, I’m going to die. I’m going to pass out and die right. here. Terror, big and dark and all-consuming, blankets me. I can’t focus on what’s real and what isn’t because in my mind, the physical symptoms mean that death is imminent. Because something is Seriously Wrong and I. am. going. to. die.
It’s called a panic attack. A very apt name since it really is an attack of panic. Unexpected, it hits you from out of nowhere. Hard and fast and painful, it takes your nerve and your breath and your composure and consumes you.
I’ve had them for years and years. When I was a teenager, sometimes I would have them multiple times a day. Over and over. I would wake up and almost as soon as my eyes opened, one would start. Or maybe I’d already be in the throes of one. They were terrible. They were horrible. They used me up and wrung me out and left me a mess in its wake. I made a fool of myself in front of my friends, at sleepovers, at school. I cried and cowered in absolute misery because of them. I had no handle on them. I had no control. They were eating me alive.
I had to find a way to not live with them but to deal with them, and a woman whose name I can’t remember gave me the key to handling them on my own. She said to me that she used to have them, too, and that she had to focus hard on something, something solid and real and right in front of her. Something she could look at and touch and hold. And focus on that, and only that, and breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe, and make the world smaller and smaller until only that thing you’re focused on exists. Until it is the sum total of your world.
It was like being thrown a lifeline when you’re drowning. I grasped onto that concept and made it my mantra. It was what helped me get a handle on the panic attacks,
They’ve declined steadily over the years, and now I can usually head them off before they even get going. There’s not always an obvious trigger; sometimes they just come on, for no apparent reason. I’ve come to recognize the tale-tell signs, and for the most part, I can get a grip before it grips me.
And then there are the times that I can’t, like tonight. It took awhile to come back down. It took a lot to manage to step back from the brink. And now I’m afraid to go lay down in the dark and try and sleep. I’m afraid to let down my guard. I’m afraid to relax.
So here I am, tapping away on my computer. Hopefully soon I can find my way to peace before the night drags on too much longer. I’m tired.