There’s this place I go to when I need to feel safe. It has a well worn, broken in armchair where I can make myself comfortable, and a good friend sitting on the other side of the room whose presence says, “Hey, you’re not alone and you’re okay.” I was in this place, safely ensconced in my chair, reading an awesome book (Shades of Blue, basically like This Is My Brave encapsulated in book form), when, for no apparent reason, I felt it.
But it’s me. It’s panic.
Go away, I said.
Oh, come on. Let me in.
Okay, fine. You give me no choice but to break the door down.
And then it took over. Overwhelming anxiety and panic. My body’s alarm system was going off, trying to alert me to some undefinable impending doom. My safe place was no longer safe. We’re not talking a little flutter of anxiety where the heart skips a beat. No, that would have been a walk in the park.
Imagine someone putting something ice cold on the back of your neck. You flinched and cringed and tensed up your shoulders, right? Now imagine that feeling surrounding your heart. Then add the sensation of your heart being clenched in a giant fist trying to pound its way out of your chest. And despite the fact that you now feel like you have ice water running through your veins, you are uncomfortably hot. And suddenly you have no feeling in your hands, but they’re trembling uncontrollably. And you’re feeling oddly disconnected from your body. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to breathe. Except you can’t breathe, because your brain has somehow forgotten how to execute that command.
Dude, you are SO gonna die.
And now your brain is going a million miles a minute trying to figure out how to deactivate the alarm system, what set it off in the first place, and how to let it know that it’s a false alarm, and you have to do this RIGHT NOW THIS VERY SECOND BECAUSE–
THINGS OF DOOM.
Why is everything going all out of focus and blurry and why am I so dizzy and — oh, right. Air. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathebreathebreathe. Maybe not so fast. Breeeeathe.
“So,” I casually say, “that terror-inducing anxiety thing is back. I’m… not a fan.”
“No, I don’t imagine anybody would be,” my friend responds.
Do your fours.
And so I count in my head: 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4… (Do non-musicians count like this? Just wondering.)
Lalala I can’t hear you.
Right. I’m in a chair. The chair is brown. There are four lights. I can hear the sound of a phone beeping. The trees are blowing outside.
Still can’t hear you!
Do the sensory thing.
Okay, 5 things I can see. 4 things I can feel. 3 things I can… can…
Ha. You can’t even remember how it goes.
Meanwhile, that damn alarm system is still going off, and I’m trying to use all my coping skills at once because my brain can’t slow down enough to process one at a time. FYI, they’re not overly effective when you try to do them all simultaneously.
I once had a therapist tell me that I’m the calmest panicking person he’s ever met. I may feel like it’s outwardly obvious to anyone around me that I am completely losing it, but I have seemingly mastered the art of containing it so that most people can’t tell. (Spoilers: You’ll always be able to tell by looking at my eyes, and I will constantly be tapping to four somehow with my fingers.) I’m willing to bet that my friend sitting ten feet away from me had no idea exactly how intensely not calm I was for nearly an hour until I finally broke down, popped a Xanax, and asked for help.
If anxiety is an angry storm at sea, then panic attacks are tsunamis with a few category 5 hurricanes thrown in for good measure. My body can’t handle being stressed like that for that long. It’s been almost seven hours since that panic attack, and I am still worn out from it. Plus it doesn’t help that I was hit by a secondary residual wave a short while ago.
But hey… at least the house is still standing.