(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.)
THE FOURTH RULE
This is the rule that pits “what if” against “what is.”
And, of course, it’s the “what is” that’s supposed to win. Falling into the great trap of “what if” only helps our mind to spiral downward into a dizzying fiction.
Case in point: the other day, I had to ride an elevator in an office building to the 8th floor. (I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk — I’m out of shape, and a rapid heartbeat is a panic trigger for me!)
The interior of the elevator was pretty tiny — tiny enough that only three or four adults could fit comfortably. I stepped in, hit 8, and waited for the doors to close.
At the very last second, some guy scurried between the closing doors and snuck in. He pressed 4.
WRITING A WORK OF FICTION
Immediately, my mind went off into a world of made-up scenarios: what if this guy tries to talk to me? What if he’s creepy? I mean, I’m already feeling tense and nervous being here in this tiny elevator. And now, it’s a longer ride because we’re going to stop on the 4th floor too — what if I can’t handle being on the elevator for that long?
What if I have to stumble out on the 4th floor and then watch this mean watch me as I feign confusion and head to the stairwell? He’ll wonder why I’m headed down. And what if he asks me what I”m doing? Or tries to correct me? What if I get lightheaded and I can’t answer? What if I start to over-breathe? What if I feel like I’m going to pass out?