This weekend, I had a panic attack.
Now, panic attacks aren’t new to me. I’ve had them in my life– while running, in the classroom, just in life in general. It happens. I remember once, when I was seven, a bout of panic and anxiety left me motionless and sad on the couch. My mom asked me what was wrong, and the only way I could describe it was, “I can’t stop thinking about all the sad things that I think about.” She sighed, and said it would pass. It did. It always does.
I guess, in some weird way, I am still susceptible to the “I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine” trap. It’s been many moons (months, maybe?) since my last panic attack. I credit this to a lot of self-care, being more upfront with people in my life, a job I love, and just generally being happier with my life. While, it’s true, panic and anxiety do not have a direct correlation, I know that I am generally less likely to have panic attacks if I manage my anxiety.
So, after months of finally feeling stable, the notion that an attack was brewing wasn’t even something I actively ignored, it was just an honest misunderstanding between my body and I. The post about being grumpy? That probably had something to do with it. I had felt moody and gross, but assumed it was hormones, or the winter doldrums or post holiday blues.
So, I tried to take care of it in all the ways I normally would. I ran, exercised, I napped. I did my best to take care of myself. I drank more wine than I may care to admit. Rationally, I was sailing smooth, and I was doing everything right.
The problem with Panic, though, is that it’s not interested in what’s rational. Panic doesn’t care about all the days it’s been that you felt fine.
I often think of Panic as the angry monster that sits waiting in my brain. It’s frustrating and irrational and needy, like a big dumb bully. And what Panic wants is for you to explode. It wants to feast on all that delicious anxiety and flight-or-fight chemicals it knows your brain will produce, if only you let it. Panic doesn’t want you to sail smooth. Panic wants to enjoy your (perhaps inevitable) explosion. Sometimes, you beat Panic, and you get it to settle down. Sometimes… not so much.
Part of you knows that. Part of you knows that Panic wants to win out. So you try and throw your brain a bone, here. You go on a run or try punching things hard, creating all those fight or flight chemicals Panic enjoys snacking on. You spend time laughing with your boyfriend or talking to your family, producing the happy-chemicals and endorphins that Panic can indulge its sweet tooth in.
At some point, though, that won’t be enough for Panic. You’ll be running and Panic will be hungry. It will bring up the things you are running from. It will bring up the painful things that upset you and you’re normally able to let go of.
Panic: LOL LOOK BAD MEMORIES HAHA THAT SUCKED AMIRITE?
Me: Oh. I don’t want to focus on that right now. C’mon man.
Panic: MWRAWWRRRRR HUNGRY! HERE IS BAD STUFF. YOU LIKE ATTACK NOW?
Me: Nah, I’m okay. I’m not feeling like having a heaving, crying jag right now.
Panic: MWAWWWRR BUT HUNGRY.
Me: C’mon dude. Not right now. I’ve got kids and teaching and stuff I have to worry about. Here. I’ll go for a run and have a glass of wine. How about that?
PANIC: MWARRRRRR …’KAY FINE.
So, Panic chills out for a bit. It leaves you alone, and you assume everything is okay.
Then, at some point, Panic decides it’s had enough waiting. So you’re running, and Panic says:
Panic: MWAR RAR RAR HUNGRY HEY HERE’S THAT THING YOU HATE!
Me: Dude. I’m trying to run. Can we not? I don’t want to think about that right now.
You run faster. You pound pavement harder, you focus on the Beyonce song that is (inevitably) playing.
Panic: RAR RAR REMEMBER HERE’S HOW THE THING YOU HATE FELT AND SMELLED AND LOOKED AND HOW IT MADE YOU FEEL HEY HEY DO YOU REMEMBER THAT?
Me: Can we… can we not?
Panic: RAR RAR RAR HEY HERE’S ALL THE STUFF THAT YOU HATE THINKING ABOUT! MWHAHAHA ATTACK NOW YESPLS?!
And at some point, you sort of get tired of fighting it. You decide that, if you can’t beat the monster, you might as well settle it down. So you breathe. You pull off the sidewalk and find a corner on the street so you can figure yourself out.
And then you cry. Then you hyperventilate for a minute, and you cry some more. Your body crumples to the ground and you have your head in your hands while you remind yourself that you are fine, you are fine, you are fine youarefineyouarefineIamfineIamfine. Stop. Breathe. Again. You are fine.
Then, at some point, you take a deep breath, and you don’t feel the need to cry anymore. Your hands stop tingling. You can see straight again. And Panic, that asshole, is sitting there, head cocked, looking at you.
Panic: You okay?
Me: Really?! You want to know if I’m okay? Ya, I feel fine now. You know what’d make me feel better though? If you didn’t make me deal with all that shitty stuff. That stuff sucks.
Panic: Ya, it does suck. But I didn’t make it. You did. I’m just an extension of you, right? I didn’t make the memories. You did.
Panic: Besides, you feel better now, don’t you?
What’s annoying is that you do, because sometimes all we needed to do was just name the elephant (or monster) in the room and be okay with the fact that we’re not always okay.
So, you pick yourself up. You dust yourself off, and you start beating the pavement again. You never know. The more you run, the more you hope you find the day where you outrun your monster. You figure each time you fight it off successfully is another day that you’ve won the battle, and maybe the eventual war. Each day you get back up is a day you get stronger.
Still, there’s the wriggling fear in the back of your mind: if the monster is actually you, maybe it can’t be outrun. Maybe it just needs to be faced.