[on the anatomy of panic]

This post originally appeared on 3/17/2014 on an earlier iteration of this blog.

I often wish I cared less.

The guilt and anxiety complexes I had would be largely gone, or at least manageable. I wouldn’t panic as much about what people thought or what I need to change or why I’m not more successful. I wouldn’t have to wonder when I was finally going to refill that Xanax prescription because I wouldn’t lose my breath to fear. I may not find myself in marathons of “pretending to forget” with “just one more” glass of whiskey.

It starts with a feeling like I got punched in the gut. Without so much as a warning, my breath is gone. My ability to perform those most basic of human reflexes: inhale, exhale, repeat forever–it’s not that they are just not working. It’s like I never learned them…like there’s a class one takes in rudimentary survival, and I missed the part of class where we learn to fill and empty our lungs.

Next, the heartbeat stops. The respite is only momentary, however, since it picks up pace quickly, trying to make up for lost time. I can feel it hit the front of my rib cage, beating itself against its own proverbial brick wall, mocking the movements I often find myself making against the same proverbial space. It feels like a fist is clamping around it, wringing it out of blood and feeling and at least 5 years off the end of my life.

Then the water seeps out of me.

This is always the strangest part–like there were gallons of warm water inside me keeping me heated and functional and alive, and now it just seeps out of my pores. Suddenly, my palms, my armpits, my forehead, my feet all feel like I did a private 30-minute spin class in my head. As the sweat comes out, the cold sets in. I am freezing. I am lost in a cold pool of water and I can see my own breath and I momentarily lose consciousness in the cold and the wet and the loud.

It’s like I can feel the neurons firing off in my brain–like there’s a little explosion and the fireworks deafen everything for a minute. “Another 2 years of my life,” I think. With the frequency of these attacks, it’s surprising I’m coming up on year 28.

I always do my best to focus elsewhere in vain. I think that if I can just look at something else, listen to someone else, get up, move, feel ANYTHING BUT THIS, that it will stop and go back to normal. It never does. After 23 years of this, I still lie to myself.

I try to talk myself down–reason my way out of it. This works about as well as one’d imagine, which is to say not at all. My go-to these days is to quickly try to reconcile myself to the worst possible outcome and move through it that way. “Well, you didn’t die,” I say–as if that’s all it took to live.

I spend the next several hours in a daze–a cycle of remembering and forgetting and focusing and wandering. Eventually, I come down.

Sometimes, I ask myself what the alternative is. When the anxiety has compounded, unchecked, for weeks on end, it easily gives way to depression. Then I care less,  because I don’t care at all. Then I want to hold tightly to each experience just to feel anything at all.

Panic is a different drug. Produce superhuman feelings, reactions, exaggerated thoughts, exacerbated experiences–it leaves you drained at the end. I don’t want to feel, afterward. I want to do only what is basic and human to make me feel normal again. Eat. Sleep. Fuck.



And out.

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