what is happening with me lately is rediscovery of the person i used to be before panic and anxiety took over. i don’t know exactly when that happened, but i remember the first panic episode that propelled me to the local ER occurred during the same general timeframe as the big Loma Prieta earthquake in ’89. 20-plus years ago. Really?
not that i am cured — far from it. i think a new set of meds is managing the symptoms pretty well most of the time … still, there are spikes, sharp intense punches of it that pretty much just flatten me, maybe once a week. but most days, when i first wake up, i am normal.
of course, understand that normal for me is probably not normal for most people. normal on my planet is simply the absence of panic — the absence of racing heart and heavy pit in stomach and floating-outside-of-body feeling and weak knees and racing oh-no-something-is-terribly-wrong-or-about-to-be thoughts and absolute certainty that i am going to be forever lost.
i am continually taking my normalcy “pulse” … that is, asking my Other Half — are you there? are you going to bug me today? or are you far from me and i am free to live my life today?
visualize a deep gorge between two mountains. my life path follows the edge of the gorge … some days the path winds itself dangerously close to the edge, other days the path leads away from the edge and i am safe until the path heads back to the edge. on very bad days i fall over the edge.
no matter where the path is leading, every minute of every day I am aware that the abyss exists and is near.
Dr. C asked me in a recent therapy session how much time I spend not thinking about it — that is, how many minutes of the day do I go about the business of living without being consciously aware of my disorder.
My answer: None. I am never not thinking about it.
Therapy with Dr. C is building my toolbox of tools I can use to manage it. Now understand I have no concept of tools — what they are, how to use them — so when I think of the tool I need to redirect my path away from the gorge, I imagine a hand-held battery charged and Internet-capable combination machete/bulldozer, turbocharged (whatever that means), with a pretty parasol to shade my head, a built in laptop with two very large flat panel screens (so I can watch YouTube on one while on-line shopping for lamps on the other), and a comfy cargo area big enough for two big dogs and two horses to keep me company while I’m multi-tasking at trailblazing, YouTubing and shopping. Clearing the path in the direction I want — farther and farther away from the edge of the abyss.
With this tool and others in steady practice, I am now being asked by Dr. C to try to see the panic as a gift. This is very nutty to me. I tell her so.
“Dr. C, you are as nutty as me if you think that I will ever be able to see this thing as a gift.”
“Carol, I know this sounds nutty. Think of it like fighting nutty with nutty.”
Hmmm. Ok, now that makes sense.
So I have been practicing. When It comes, I invite It to stay for awhile and I just let It be. I think to myself — “Ok, here we go. Just be nutty. Breathe. It’s ok. “
I let all of the physical symptoms occur and I keep breathing. I allow all of the swirling oh-no thoughts to bounce off the walls in my head without judging or analyzing them. I try to just listen to them, and ask “What is this gift you are trying to give me?”
And then sometimes, miraculously, freedom. Not from the attack itself, but from the fear of it. And that … that is the endless loop that has to be broken — the fear of fear.
I’m actually doing it. Not always, but sometimes. Sometimes is good enough.
The fallout … now that the fear is taking up less space in my energy field, and being excruciatingly slow about it mind you, other places are opening up. Places I haven’t visited in a long time. I am seeing the person I haven’t been in a long time. The Carol I liked being, what seems now so long ago.
The voice shrieking at me in the midst of the panic is hers.
The gift – she is still there. And making a hell of a lot of noise.
And so I grieve. For me and for her. But even though I grieve for spending so many years not her, I am learning how to listen through the panic and recognize her voice.
I can see the possibility of becoming her again. Indescribable, unspeakable comfort.