It has been a difficult week — persisting anxiety most days, a couple of severe panic episodes that had me testing the Emergency speed dial on my cell phone.
This is what panic attacks do — they trick you into thinking you are on your way Out and you need to start interviewing new parents for your children, or, as in my case, for my 13 or so four-legged vet bills.
Something terrible is about to happen.
If you were out walking in the woods and a grizzly bear suddenly jumps out from behind a tree, adrenaline will do lot of good things for you. Your sympathetic nervous system springs into action. Your heart races, breathing becomes more rapid, you break out in a sweat. All of these are good if there is a bear, because your body is preparing for strenuous physical activity — either to stand and fight the bear, or run away from the bear.
With panic, there is usually no grizzly bear, but you get all of the physical symptoms of the same adrenaline rush, plus tingling or numbness, dizziness, a sense of unreality or disassociation. These can be overwhelming and cause more fear, which naturally causes more adrenaline. It builds and builds, churning, strengthening, spiraling upward, your own personal tornado. With flying cows and everything.
You really do think you are experiencing the onset of something terrible and deadly.
It just so happens that these are also the same symptoms one typically gets from riding a rollercoaster. The thrill and excitement and fear and exhilaration — all of these things bring on the adrenaline and the effects are pretty much the same as the grizzly bear in the woods or a panic attack.
The difference with the rollercoaster ride is that you perceive the ride as fun. Mostly. Unless you ate too many corn dogs to squelch a bad case of the munchies. Because you were smoking weed like we did in Santa Cruz in the 1970s.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Big Dipper — ah, memories. Or lingering hazes. Whatever, man.
I get the same “good” adrenalin rush from riding my horse. In all rides I get a physical work out and some adrenalin pumping around, and in some rides Mo offers some Extra Added Attractions very very similar to a rollercoaster that cause more adrenaline. This does not cause me to panic. It just causes me to want some Gatorade.
If the only real difference between a panic attack and a rollercoaster ride is perception of fun, and if panic gains power from fear, then it makes sense to me to aim for the gate. Aiming for the gate means that when I get the initial “OH NO!” feeling of panic coming on, I run toward it instead of trying to hide from it. I call it by its name and embrace it. I let all of the physical symptoms just happen. And ask for more.
I buy the rollercoaster ticket, buckle in, and hang on for the ride. Delight in the thrills. Laugh while screaming.
Sounds a little nutty. Therefore, I must try it.