Down the Rabbit Hole

CW: Anxiety and images of death.


I never know when it’s going to hit.

I am sitting in an airplane as it begins to speed towards the end of the runway and take off. It’s a normal flight— one of the the hundreds you take when you live on an island, getting either to the mainland or island-hopping. It’s routine, at this point, to find myself on a plane.

Then, there’s a slight bump as the jet soars higher. The plane pitches forward for an instant, and I hear the metal begin to rip off and break. The bolts are popping off, loud and violent, and I look up to see a fireball shooting down the aisle of the plane, straight for me. In that moment, I realize I am going to die. My eyes engulf the flames coming towards me, the silver second I have left on earth quickly flashing away. My mouth turns to ash as I whisper, “No,” thinking of all the things I do not want to lose.

Then, I blink, and it’s gone.

The aisle is clear, the plane is steadily taking off, safe as any other flight I have been on.

I blink again, and the sequence starts all over, a movie playing behind my eyes on repeat. Over and over I watch myself die— which is not necessarily the worst part. The worst part is imagining what comes after. I see my family, devastated and in mourning, all the things I left unsaid, everything I will not get to do. My heart breaks. My chest clutches and I feel like I cannot breathe.

I blink, and it’s gone. Then again, in an instant, the movie starts all over.

I take a deep breath, and close my eyes, trying to stop the anxiety that is not the monster looming on my shoulder or the storm cloud passing through my day, but torture in the worst way. It is my own mind, forcing me down the rabbit whole of my worst nightmares over and over and over.

May is Mental health Awareness month. My anxiety is something I’ve written about often— in regards to my teaching, my running, and just my day-to-day existence. I can easily share many of the ways it will manifest: crying jags, a temporary inability to breathe, insomnia.

I’ve been quiet about it, though, because I’ve been in the throes of some of the worst manifestations of my anxiety that I deal with.

Which is difficult, because it’s something that’s hard to talk or write about. It’s not the anxiety that my body unwillingly throws at me when I least expect it, a physical mutiny of panic as my rational brain scrambles to try and calm me down. It’s a descent deeper and deeper into the own, darkest parts of my psyche and, if I’m not careful, I can spiral may way down into a pretty terrible place.

My most intense trigger, in truth, is death— more specifically, death or pain happening to my loved ones. Since childhood, I have been occasionally overcome with the deep fear that someone I love is going to die and I won’t be there to do anything about it. As a kid, I would follow my family around because I’d feel certain that if I didn’t, something bad would happen and I wouldn’t be there to try and help them or simply be around for their last moments. My stomach will fill with hot lead, I’ll get nauseous and light headed— not just anxious or scared, but unable to stop seeing the horrifying movie in my head. It plays my worst fears back to me in vivid detail— seeing my family brutally murdered, discovering their bodies strewn on the street after a car crash, the anguish of discovering they’d been killed in a fire.

Like Hamilton in Hamilton says, “I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.” I am no Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I understand what it’s like to imagine something so vividly over and over that you relive a memory that hasn’t happened at all. The sequences will repeat itself over, and over, and over again. It can paralyze me. I have lived with the specter of death since childhood, and there are times its presences looms so large that it overshadows anything else. Instead of living my story, I can find myself caught up in the horror movie my brain insists on writing and rewriting.

Now, we live in an increasingly scary world, where our ability to stay safe feels even more out of our control. There are only more images of people mourning lost loved ones that feed my own ability to feel like I am living that trauma myself, over and over again. While I can manage some of the physical aspects of panic, it’s hard to control my vivid imagination when our current climate only adds more ammunition into the gun that shoots off rounds of “what if, what if, what if” over and over through my mind.

The world is scary for many of us, and I think there’s a natural anxiety that comes with a lot of what’s in the news today. I’m not saying I’m special or that my anxiety is any more unique or interesting than anyone else’s. I am just admitting that my panic is not only the out-of-my-control physical reaction I often write it as. My anxiety is just as much mental as it is physical; it takes the horror of events and overlays them onto my own life.

Which is not only painful but, frankly, inconvenient and annoying. While there are many real fears that can upset me, my anxiety also makes it hard for me to function rationally at times where, truly, there is no need to panic. It’d be nice, for example, to not have a panic attack after watching Avengers: Infinity War, because, in watching the end of that film, it triggers the film in my mind that forces me witness my family or partner disintegrate before my eyes over, and over, and over again.

Do I rationally know that this is ridiculous, because this is a fictional movie and, while there are many scary things in the world, the possibility of Thanos snapping his fingers and removing half of us is not one of them? Of course. But that doesn’t make the feeling any less real in the moment. Even though, in my head, I know that it’s ridiculous, it doesn’t take away the overwhelming heartbreak, the tears burning in my eyes, my chest caving in so I cannot breathe, as I see the fear, sadness, and horror in their eyes over and over again.

There are things that help, of course, but anyone who’s ever had anxiety, depression or running thoughts will tell you that saying, “Well, then don’t think about it,” is like giving me a box of tissues to try and stop a flood. Even while well-intentioned, it not only will not work, but also leave a soggy mess in the process.

My therapist has also tried some other tactics, like asking me to play the movie to the end. What would happen if any of those tragic events did occur? And this is what’s also difficult— my mind knows that, rationally, I’d be okay. I would be heartbroken and devastated, but I would live. I’m strong enough, now, to believe that. I trust in the love and support my loved ones have given me to know they would want me to be happy, and that they have given me the tools to move towards happiness again.

But it doesn’t make the moments where I am living those very real things feel any better. Knowing that, eventually, I’ll stop falling down this well of darkness, doesn’t change the fact that I am currently falling and it’s really terrifying. The hardest part with being told that “it will pass,” or “it will be okay,” is that I know those things are true, but it doesn’t fix the feeling I am having right now. Knowing that this will pass doesn’t un-cave my chest or bring back my breath. 

Unfortunately, the best option I have found when I find myself going down this spiral is to try and distract myself so that I don’t fall too far down. I claw my way out towards the light and attempt to move forward by focusing on something else.

Of course, though, that means that it’s really hard to talk or write about, because in doing so, I have to think about it, which makes it really hard to not trigger a downward descent into the darkness. Even in writing this post, I have had to take multiple breaks so that I don’t let myself go to far.

Recently, though, my anxiety has gotten worse, because it’s started attaching to my partner, Michael, as well. Before, it would only be my family I worried about. Once Michael’s departure got close (he is surfing and adventuring for a month), my anxiety went into full affect. I have been terrified that now that I am so incredibly happy and feel stable in my life, that it will suddenly be ripped away from me.

In the weeks before he left, I was a mess. I will be honest: there are time now that he is gone that I am still a mess, because I can’t stop myself from watching his death in my mind over and over again.

Which is a pretty shitty way to live. Michael has been really supportive, but I feel bad dampening his deserved excitement with my morbid fears of his death. It also means that there have been times where, instead of enjoying the time I did have with him, or the time that I have now with my friends, I am very close to being paralyzed in terror on my couch.

But… that hasn’t happened. At least, not yet. There have been a few close calls, but after crying for a few minutes, I have been able to breathe through it, remind myself to let it go, and call a loved one or put on MTV’s Catfish because it is the perfect kind of TV distraction that helps me stop seeing this morbid movie in my head.

I can’t help but wonder, though, if this is a sustainable plan. As vulnerable and thoughtful as I have tried to be with my anxiety, this Mental Health Awareness month I find myself at the end wondering if I’m actually as aware with myself as I could be. Yes, Catfish is a fun distraction, but running from this trigger for the rest of life (one that I imagine will be worse when I have kids) doesn’t seem to be the most enduring response.

For now, I am trying to breathe through it. I am sitting in these feelings taking each day as it comes, and thinking through what comes next while still trying to be kind to myself and figure out my next course of action on my terms. The rabbit hole can be dark, but I know I can claw my way out, and I feel lucky that the light at the top I’m reaching for is full of joy and strength and, most importantly, love.


Hi there,

I know sometimes with posts about mental illness, we want to share our own experiences as a way to validate and connect, and I really appreciate that. But if this is a trigger for you, too, hearing your vivid imaginings of death or tragedy is kind of upsetting and hard for me, so I’m gonna ask that you hold off. Also, I’m not looking for feedback or ideas on how to handle this at the moment, since I’m dealing with a lot and don’t have the capacity to focus on that right now. I’m just sitting in and sharing these feelings. Thank you!

Lifting the Veil

“The hardest story to write is always the one you struggle to tell the most.”

This is what I typed a few minutes ago. Then, I look at the sentence and laughed. Well, duhI thought to myself, That’s pretty obvious.

What meant to say was:

The hardest story to tell is the one you need to write the most.

or maybe

The story you need to tell the most is the one you struggle to write.

That’s the place that I have been in. I know there’s a story I need to tell, but I haven’t been able to share real words about it yet. Because I haven’t really felt like myself for about two or three weeks now.

It’s a little terrifying, to be honest. When I’m trapped in an anxious state like this, it’s as though there’s a veil behind my eyes that separates me from the rest of the world. It’s not active, necessarily– it’s not as though I can’t do my job or generally act like myself. It’s more subtle than that. I remember conversations after they happen, but feel as though I’m watching them in the third person instead of having lived them. My students notice when I misspell easy words (“fued,” “Aril”), or switch them around completely when I speak. I write sentences like the above, which are a bit nonsensical.

This has happened before, of course. I’ve been dealing with anxiety since my childhood and all of these things point to an incoming panic attack. The difference now, though, is that my life is actually, truly happy and stable. There is no big “thing”– relationship worry, job concern, etc.– that will trigger an attack. In the past, there has always been something that my anxiety could latch on to– whether or not I admitted it– that could set me off and, at the very least, allow me to have the attack, get the anxiety brewing inside of me out, and help me move forward.

It’s the most hilarious problem to have, in some ways. Now that I can’t default my normal ways of “bursting the bubble,” I have no choice but to face it. I try and breathe through it. I try drinking or not drinking. I went to yoga twice this week and am working out daily. I am attempting everything I can to be “okay.”

I will think I’m fine, but then something will happen that reminds me that, actually, my body isn’t yet mine. One Saturday, after a wonderful writing workshop, I was standing in the middle of Foodland when the world around me went fuzzy and I suddenly felt like I could no longer stand. The rest of the day was hours spent of trying to work through nausea, lightheadedness, and worry. I didn’t run the half-marathon I’ve done annually for the first time in 4 years, unsure if my body would be able to. This feeling lasted for days, and each morning I’d wake up hoping this would be the day my anxiety lifted away, and at some point, my chest would begin to bubble, my heart race and my throat close, as it hit me that I am still separated somehow from my reality.

Yet, somehow, having anxiety is not the end of the world. Unlike the past, I’m still able to function well, laugh and love and be loved, despite the looming veil of clouds on the horizon. With the exception of that one weekend, I am able to have this anxiety and still feel, well, happy.

Which is a weird reality to sit in. For so long, my anxiety was the monster I ran from, the black smoke that swallowed me whole when it came, leaving me gasping and weeping on the floor. Now, I am in a place where I can still live a generally happy life, if only behind the veil a little.

And it does eventually lift.

Michael and I were preparing for our Friday morning workout when, out of nowhere, my body broke into a sweat and began shaking uncontrollably. I sat on the ottoman by the door, back flat against the wall, trying to breathe, as Michael got ready in the other room, not knowing I was fighting through a storm.

“What’s wrong baby?” He asked, as soon as he saw my face. I shook my head and said I just needed a minute. He came over, stood in front of me, and rubbed my back for a moment. “We don’t have to go,” he said quietly.

“No! No. I want to go. I can go. I can… I just…”

“Just breathe.” He responded immediately. “Just breathe. It’s okay.”

And just like that, the wave broke. I leaned my forehead against his chest and my hand on his back, as if to steady myself against the storm. I started to sob, crying into his shirt as everything inside me whirled about. He stood there, ever my rock, as the storm raged through me.

Then, things settled. I took a long, shaking breath. The clouds began to dissipate.

And there I was. Somehow, slowly, feeling the light of myself shine through again.

Michael asked me later why I hadn’t told him I was feeling so disconnected. “There wasn’t anything anyone could do,” I shrugged. “So it made sense to say to just wait for it to go away.”

“But I could’ve known,” he pushed me. “That way I could understand better.”

For the first time, I realized that panic is not always the monster I have to battle or run from. Panic can just be the sometimes-storm-cloud in my forecast, and I don’t have to wait for it to pass alone anymore. 

It is not perfect (as the sentences at the top of this post show). I was still tired much of yesterday and today. I am still catching myself a bit out of it, but finding a quick shake of the head brings me home. While I am still recovering from this cycle of anxiety, I at least feel like the veil is lifting and I’m seeing the world as myself again. Yesterday morning, I stood under the shower, feeling the water hit my scalp as I dug grains of sand out of my hair from the day before. I inhaled deeply and rejoiced that, in the solitude of my simple, little shower, I was able to finally be my full self.

I smiled then, relieved to realize that these little moments– while lacking in drama or intrigue– are the things making up the happy life I have wanted for a long, long time.

Maybe One Day

I never know when the urge will overtake me.

Something will happen– I’ll see a name pop up on social media, get a notification from an old email– and then I’m down the rabbit hole. I’ll sign into old accounts and start uncovering a past that I forget I didn’t want to remember to begin with.

It’s innocuous at first. Old job applications and embarrassing emails to former bosses when I was in college. A few exchanges between friends. The memories are often funny and ridiculous. It is fun to be transported back.

Then, I see a name. The Big One. The one that rips me to shreds when I do not expect it, and terrifying memories pop and crackle behind my eyelids like flashes from gunfire. It hits me right in the chest and, for a moment, I cannot breathe.

I do not want to waste time nor anger on him. I just want to grieve and move on.

This day, though, and not for the first time, I begin typing the name into Facebook and search engines.

What happened to him? Where did he end up? Why am I looking? Maybe if I can put him into some kind of current context, I can staunch the flood of memories that runs through my veins.  I find very little– a few research papers he published, a mention of him in a club– and one picture that I dare not open, because the face in the thumbnail is enough to make my stomach drop.

I close my eyes. Close the windows, I beg myself. You don’t need to do this anymore.

I can’t tell you why I do this, but I wish I knew how to stop. As much as I will myself to forget, I know a part of me will always bear the mark; a burning red thread woven down my spine, through my belly, will always live there. No amount of time will ever make it go away. It will wear down, slowly, until it is barely visible, but what happened will always be stitched in.

And yet, even if I were to unstitch myself, there would be a permanent hole where the thread– wound of the sights, smells, and images I’d rather forget– once was. I’m not sure which is better.

It’s surprising and not that, even with my skilled internet sleuthing, I cannot find him. It’s strange in this day and age for anyone to be unfindable on the internet, yet he was a self-described “misanthrope” (I had forgotten that until I saw it in one of our final email exchanges) who mocked social media, even a decade ago when it was still new and exciting.

I, on the other hand, am very findable on social media. A quick search of my name will usually land here, or to some other profile with pictures and life updates. It’s a part of the job, in some ways, and I honestly really enjoy connecting people with online. That’s what I tell myself, at least.

But there are times, like now, when I am clinging to the sides of a dark well that echoes his name at the bottom, that wonders if he ever remember me the way I do him. Does the image of my face, my smile, my eyes welling with tears, sneak up on him the way his does to me? Does he round a corner and hear my voice whisper, “Boo!” into his ear, a spectrum calling him down a dark well of a different kind?

He never acknowledged anything after. Once, in the months after, I would get angry and bold and send a text message saying, simply, “I hate you.” It was the only time I had allowed myself to be openly bitter. I still have his number burned into my brain, even now,  but he was an adult (hadn’t he also been an adult when it happened?) and never responded.

So, now the thread hangs there, and I wonder if the other half is wound into him. Does he feel it sometimes? When he does, does he search for me as I have? Does he gingerly, slowly, type my name into a search bar– each clack of the keys asking, “Are you sure?”– and see my smiling face– now molded and thinned out over the past twelve years– on his screen?

As much as I hate to admit it– I hope that he does. He slipped silently out of my life, but I will not afford him that luxury. I will not go voiceless. If he remembers me and looks for me, my face is there, my smile ringing like a bell that will not be silenced.

Maybe one day I will find out something about him but, for now, all I am left with is his  name. I search, let myself whisper it quietly, and close my eyes. The thread starts to burn. My eyes start to sting and I feel my chest twinge. I let myself cry, try and heave it out of me. Instead, my breath is bitter and hot in my throat, his name fouling me from the inside out.

I force my hand to my chest, rub my heart, and try and drown out the bitter, festering taste of his memory. I remember my mother’s hand rubbing my back wordlessly as I cried. I feel a friend’s hand squeezing mine. I picture the man I love and the men I loved before and after it happened. I inventory every kiss I had or body I touched, special in that I had choice, in that I willed them into existence. I think of all these things and, slowly, the memory burning inside me slowly cools down.

Maybe one day I will be able to remember without needing to look, or notice the thread slipping through me, shrug, and move on.

Maybe, one day, I will no longer see the name and feel my body burst to shrapnel. I will breathe deeply, easily, and let it go.

Maybe, one day, I will be able to say his name without my breath turning bitter, but instead taste communion wine, stinging, but softened with forgiveness and redemption and mellowed as it brewed in my heart.

Maybe, one day, I will simply move on.

Maybe.

Like Water

There is something about the shock of cold that is powerful as a writer.

I know that’s a funny thing to say, as I live in Hawai‘i, of all places, but any time I get to go somewhere cold (oddly, this time, Houston for NCTE), I’m reminded about what a powerful sensation the cold is.

The cold makes me turn inward. It focuses me. It forces me to eschew the outside world (which, for me, is often distractingly beautiful), and instead turns me back to what’s it inside.

And that’s powerful, because as teachers, we’re so quick to nourish everyone else’s voice. Rarely do we make the time and allow ourselves to grow our own voices. We’re so focused on what everyone else wants or needs, we forget that our students look to us as models, which means modeling the practice of prioritizing time to nourish, to self-care, and to read, write, and grow as people.

So, as I ran down some cold, dark trails one morning in Houston, I thought. I asked myself: What are the stories that are sitting in my heart that I have been too busy to share?


A few weeks ago, I went home, looked at my running shoes, and started to sob.

I don’t know what came over me, but I was just so sad. I was devastated. It felt like I was watching the slow death of a part of myself. The sight of my abandoned running shoes lying against the door frame hit me– in the past, my shoes had symbolized struggle, discipline, pain, joy. They were literally covered in my blood, sweat, and tears. So, to see them laid against the door frame, a reminder of what I wanted but felt was unattainable, was so cheesy, yet such a powerful symbol of the place I was in. I felt a pang of longing and sadness swell inside me that was so big it felt the only way I could get it out was to let it seep out of my eyes and wring it out of my throat.

I flopped onto my couch in a heap and began to cry. My throat grew hoarse as I let my mouth hang open, sadness ringing out of it like the mourning church bells at a funeral. I held myself, quite literally, on my couch, and let myself steep in what I was feeling.

A few minutes later, I was able to catch my breath. I inhaled, and felt the cool stream of air flowing into me slowly bring me back to a calmer place.

And then, 40 minutes later, I went out and ran 6 miles much faster than I had in a while.

Sadness is a funny and powerful emotion, and one that we run away from far too often. We associate sadness with tragedy. We do everything we can to stifle or erase or “get over” it as quickly as we can.

The thing is, sadness actually forces us to take time to check in with ourselves. Like a cold or an ache, it’s way for our bodies to let us know that something is off or in transition, and we need to check into that part of ourselves and try and understand that some part of ourselves is in flux.

I look back on that day and ask myself what I needed to heal, what needed to change. As I remember, I realize how quickly I had let the world around me pull me away from tending and cultivating the world growing in my heart. 

It’s certainly not an unusual phenomena for me, particularly at this time of year. The beginning of the school year always tends to be crazy, and when you combine that with my first year being a full-time cross country assistant coach and the handful of part-time jobs I have, it was so crazy that I barely had time to breathe. I didn’t write– for the first time in nearly a decade, I haven’t written a post about my birthday and what I want this year of my life to be. When we get so pulled away from ourselves that we forget to nourish our internal growth, the lack of light and care makes it a lot harder to feel like we’re on solid, fruitful ground.

It’s hard, though, because in some ways I feel like I’m doing some of my strongest work as a teacher this year. I’ve incorporated student feedback and finally have a manageable plan for reading and writing this year. My kids are having some really meaningful conversations, and I’m feeling like I have a better handle on my work coaching first-year teachers too.

So part of me doesn’t want to step away– my mind keeps telling me I have to work, work, work to keep up this quality of work.

If running has taught me anything, though, it’s that physical and mental recovery is the only way you perform at your best. Physically, recovery days allow our muscles to rebuild– the sinews and fibers in our legs heal and grow stronger after we break them down with a work out. Mentally, taking time to recover and turn inward allows us to actually reflect on what’s happened and learn from it to move forward. Grasping at the the straws of individual moments and seconds-to-breathe is hardly a way to hold on and create meaningful change in our work.

My sadness wasn’t a problem, really, it was the rainstorm reminding me that I needed to return back to myself. It was the beating of the rain reminding me I had to listen to my internal workings before everything crumbled.

I am, now, so grateful for the sadness I was feeling. I am doing my best not to run away from it, and instead listening to it as helps me return to myself. Like water, it flowed through not to destroy, but to purify– and to bring back to light the parts of me that had gone dark.

Thank God for the Stoplight

I’ve never been good at slowing down.

Well, scratch that. As an adult, I’ve never been good at slowing down. Like most people, I was a happier, more carefree, and likely a better human when I was a kid. I would have been content to spend hours sitting, reading books, watching TV and just enjoying the world.

Now, though, like most adults, I live in a world of Google Calendar notifications and Doodle polls to try and find time to do everything from attending meetings and grading to seeing my girlfriends (sometimes needing to plan weeks in advance– we’re busy! And I’m an introvert who needs emotional time to prepare to see people!).

This especially includes fitness. A colleague of mine yesterday spotted me going out on my second run yesterday. No, I’m no superhuman– I just knew that my day was going to be crazy, so instead of being able to do a regular run, I’d need to break it up into two short ones– one at lunch, and one after school but before my meeting.

“I feel like it must be something you schedule,” she said, thinking about how to get into the habit herself.

I thought about it and realized she was right– like anything else, I normally assess my calendar that morning to figure out just how I will be able to manage the many plates of teaching, part-time jobs, writing, trying to see friends and fitness. There are plenty of days where I don’t want to– I’d rather take the hour to veg out in front of my laptop and play on Facebook.

But since my running shoes are there, I compel myself to go out, often as fast as I can. The faster you go, the more miles you can run, I think to myself, using it to push my pace.

Because I feel like I’m always racing the clock and squeezing in miles when I can, I am normally annoyed when I have to stop running. I’ve crafted routes that avoid the particularly slow and long stoplights in my area so I’m not wasting precious minutes of running just, well, standing around “doing nothing.”

Yesterday, though, I went out for my second run and hit nearly every stoplight. I was perturbed at first– how was I going to hit my mileage and make my meeting like this?!

At the third stoplight, though, I noticed the light rain falling over Honolulu. In a place that is typically warm and a little humid, the rain felt wonderful– cool and inviting– it’s understandable why Hawaiian culture views the gentle soothing plop of each drop hitting your skin as a blessing.

By the fifth stoplight, I realized how grateful I was to be forced to stop. I was pretty achey (I haven’t done two-a-days in a bit), and I’m actually recovering from a nasty bout of gastritis from last week. I realized that, at each red light, there was a little bit of grace. I was being given permission to stop, to breathe, to let my body heal and to appreciate the world around me.

So often, we’re trying to fill in every second of our day being as productive as possible– how long can I go as fast as I can so that I achieve as much as I’m capable of? That can be good, but it’s important to seek out and feel grateful for the pauses where the universe forces us to stop, let ourselves recover, and appreciate the moment we are in. As much as we want to hustle, we all deserve a second to breathe too.

So, by the last few stoplights, I made it a point to look around. Towards the end of my run, there’s this beautiful chapel surrounded by a row of trees on the street. Green and luscious, their rich, shiny leaves are each a reminder of how beautiful even small things are.

I waited there, marveling at the trees, appreciating them and the rain and the bright, afternoon light. For the first time in a while, I willed the red light to stay just a moment longer, if only so I could take in the true beauty of this moment and feel grateful for the deep, peaceful pause in my heart.

 

A Shatter, A Death Knell, A Wail, A Rallying Cry

I’ve been writing a lot about mental health recently. At least, it seems that way— for Teaching Tolerance, thinking about it as a runner and educator. I’ve been talking about “fighting monsters” for years now, mining stories of the times I “got off the mat,” or “made the choice to stand up.”

Those stories feel good and victorious, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy I’ve written them. Those days do feel good— the days where I am able to look my monsters in the eye, to get up, to not let them control me. Those are stories that feel good to share too— reading how other people cope with mental health has also been an inspiration for me to move forward too.

There are days when the monsters win, though.

These are the days that are hard to write about.

They start slowly. Lots of times, a panic attack will hit me out of the blue– a blind-turning-truck-into-a-deer-in-headlights hit. The tsunami wave you were so sure would never come. I don’t expect, and the ferocity of it flashing through me is enough to knock me on my ass. It hits. I cry. It passes. Panic.

Some days, though, my body has been a battlefield for weeks. I start noticing little things– I’ll stutter when I talk, I’m tired all the time. I start struggling with my spatial awareness and running into desks and doors, bruises blooming on my arms and thighs.

Still, even now, I try and see if I can outrun and out work Panic. Two-a-days and yoga in between. An extra beer at dinner. Nights laying in bed, hand on my heart, repeating, I am fine, I am fine I am fine Iamfineiamfineiamfine, like a talisman to protect me. If I run my tongue enough over the words, maybe I will conjure some sort of magic that will make the statement true.

You can’t ask the external to protect you from what’s already inside you, though.

And so, over the course of the day, a few hours, it comes. I am lightheaded all afternoon, my heart feeling like it will beat out of my chest. I am so hoping it’s just an upset stomach or tired mind. I try to calm myself, taking my own pulse to prove that I am not having a heart attack or dying. I just feel that way. I hang on, for as long as I can, to the rational part of my brain.

I begin to shiver, and my body becomes the Hoover dam holding back the flood, bursting at the seams. I wrap my arms tightly around to try and hold myself in, as if I could keep my rabbit-heart safe in my embrace so it does not beat right out of my body and lose a bad fight bloody on the floor. I breathe. I tell myself, iamfinefiamfineiamfine,

And then, I call my parents. They immediately hear something in my voice. “Can you stay on the phone with me? I think I’m having a panic attack.”

And then, I break.

They stay with me as the first wave passes. They’ve been here before– comforting and cajoling me to breathe, just breathe. As I alternate between hyperventilating and sobbing, they tell me that it’s okay. They gently remind me that I’m okay, they’re okay, everyone is okay. They sit on the phone and tell me that this, too, will pass. That they are there, and that they love me.

And, in many ways, this is more than enough. The first wave passes, I am able to breathe again. They remind me how much they love me, ask me to get some rest and stay safe and, when I am ready, they hang up the phone.

The fight is not over though.

I roll onto my side and begin to heave, my body furled tightly into the fetal postition like a flag rolled up to try and survive the storm. I cannot stop crying. I openly weep, long unfettered wails pulled out of as I mourn the gentle peace my body had built. I try and let loose everything bursting from me, as if I could scrape the bottom of the well of my sadness as a sign that, just maybe, it’s finally gone

I roll onto my hands and knees on the bed, the blanket draped over my back like a fallen warhorse making its last stand that I saw in a book somewhere. “You need to get up now,” I beg myself aloud, sobbing as I press my forehead to the bed in a desperate prayer. “You have to get up.”

I continue to cry, to wail, to try and somehow call my body back out of the hole we are falling into and try and find my way. I slink and slither to the foot of the bed, trying to breath. One foot touches onto the cold linoleum. Then the other. I come to my knees on the floor, pressing my eyes into the mattress as I finally, finally start to calm down.

I don’t know how long it takes, but by the time I am able to stand, it is dark outside.

I get up, slowly find my footing.

I breathe.

And I begin to rebuild.

These are the days I do not often write about. The shatter, the death knell, the wail, the rallying cry trying to bring me back home to my body. They are the not the Cinderella-story where Panic is the thing I find some magical cure to overcome.

Yet, they are just as much a part of my story as any. At the end of the day, I always come home. After it all, this, too, does pass. And today, raw and wounded as I feel, I have put hand to body, and begin to rebuild.