(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.)
I had just run out of a wedding reception after feeling the first pangs of panic.
I was in a car, and that car was in a parking lot, and that parking lot was in a town called Nanticoke that I don’t know very well. In fact, I barely know it at all.
I sat in the passenger seat, phone in hand, and waited for some semblance of “calm” to appear. After all, Rule #5 says that fear WILL pass, right?
Wait for fear to pass. Wait and give the fear time to pass. Do not fight it or run away from it. Just accept it.
I waited and waited and waited. I did diaphragmatic breathing and even tried to give myself a quick shoulder massage.
I opened the car door and heard some crickets starting to chirp in the distance. The sunset was all pretty and golden-like and the woodsy scent of nature was only a stone’s throw away from the car — but I couldn’t enjoy any of it. My legs and arms felt tingly and I started to convince myself, as always, that this signified danger.
Panic is a strange beast. There I was, sitting in my car on the edge of panic, yet my initial symptoms — rapid heartbeat and lightheadedness — had faded. They’d transformed, through some sort of strange physiological alchemy, to tingly legs and arms. The original problem was gone, yet the problem wasn’t.
There it is, right there in my tweet, almost verbatim: Rule #5. I sat and tried to let the feeling pass, but it kept morphing. It kept changing shape.
WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT?
It’s difficult because panic can morph and waiting for something always slows down time.
Panic is fluid. It’s not always a linear equation where Y follows X. It ebbs and it flows. It changes over time. To borrow from Calvin & Hobbes, it transmogrifies. Panic might start off as a heart palpitation and end as nausea…or vice versa.
Even if I wait long enough for the original symptoms to pass, who’s to say that a secondary attack won’t erupt? After all, my body already betrayed my wishes once (by panicking), so wouldn’t observation lead us to conclude that it could very well happen all over again?
And of course, there’s this: sitting and just waiting for panic to pass is something like watching a bot of water boil. With enough time, the water will boil — but watching the pot slows time down to a standstill. Likewise, with panic, sitting down and just waiting for it to end can feel excruciating. Is it over yet? No. Is it over yet? No. Is it over yet? No. Is it over yet? No. Is it over yet? No.
Elapsed time: 1.2 seconds.
Check back later this week for the final part of this story.