Popular culture seems to suggest that panic is this super-detectable experience that causes sufferers to pull their hair, widen their eyes, and clutch their fists or faces. Not so.
I decided to make the next dosage cut: 20 mg to 15 mg. I would have preferred a brief hiatus at 17.5 mg, but measuring out seven-eighths of a pinky nail-sized pill would be, frankly, a pain in the ass.
We collapsed the camping tent and, immediately, my symbolic safe space had been rolled up into a bag. Enter the nausea.
The scene: a small road off of a two-lane state highway in the woods. The cell phone coverage: first none, then a single bar. My panic state: full blown.
I was laying down in my car, following the EMT-in-training’s instructions to avoid sitting up or moving around, and I was scared nearly to death. I shook, I gasped for air, and I palpitated.
I hated every single second that slowly and dreadfully crawled by. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t even conjure up the energy or the clarity of mind to reach for my Ten Rules for Coping With Panic worksheet that lives in my wallet. I was in the middle of nowhere, I was stuck, and I couldn’t escape without help. Not only was I about to receive medical help, but I’d had to call my husband and ask him to drive 40 miles to be with me.
The word kept repeating in my head: failure failure failure.
Maybe I am having a legitimate medical problem instead of a panic attack. Maybe there’s a problem with my heart or my blood pressure. Maybe there’s a problem with my brain. Did I have a stroke? Maybe I’m having a stroke RIGHT NOW OH GOD WHAT THE HELL.
When your limbs are shaking uncontrollably, the gas pedal is a nightmare to control. My car heaved in fits and starts, thanks to my spasmodic right foot, but I didn’t make it far before I started to feel very cold and prickly.
Twenty minutes in: rocking out to Modest Mouse and eating a peanut butter cup. Thirty minutes into the drive: nausea, a racing heart, and a vivid expectation of death.
I wanted to re-frame a breakdown into a breakthrough.
That’s my ultimate goal: to be able to manage panic by myself, without outside help, be it human or pharmaceutical. The power is inside of me, somewhere. I just need to find it.
Should I be paying attention to my body or trying to dismiss its faulty signals? I had no idea. This is the greatest struggle for us panickers: separating the signal from the noise.