10 Rules for Coping with Panic: Rule #7 (Part 2)(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.)

After deciding I hated the bra I’d ordered from the Victoria’s Secret website, I decided to return it.

In person. At the Victoria’s Secret store. Which is at the mall.

The mall. An agoraphobe’s nightmare. I mean, the word “agoraphobia” itself means “fear of the marketplace” and a shopping mall is the marketplace of all marketplaces. There’s people. Stores. Very few places to sit down. A lot of open space. A lot of stimulation.

Why did I decide to brave the trip? It was because of Rule #7:

It [panic] is an opportunity for progress. Remember that the whole point of practice is to learn how to cope with fear — without avoiding it. So this is an opportunity to make progress.

I walked into the mall feeling confident. Panic disorder is a tricky beast: some days, running down the street to the local deli borders on impossible. But on other days, inexplicably, the world doesn’t seem quite as frightening. Is it chemicals? Is it hormones? Does it have something to do with my diet?

No idea. I don’t have those answers. But I can certainly tell you that panic comes in waves — and when the tide is low, I swim.


From the entrance of the mall, I spent about three minutes walking to the Victoria’s Secret store.

“If I start to panic,” I thought to myself, “it’s only a three-minute escape.”

The line at the cash registers looked uncomfortably long, so I decided to browse for a few minutes until they died down. I circled the sale bins and poked around for anything worthwhile. I fixed my hair in a mirror.

And then, I looked through a rack of clearance pajamas, and that’s when things begin to go horribly wrong.

As I was pulling hangers to examine fabrics and check the hand-written discount prices on the pink tags, I felt a wave of vertigo. I tried chalking it up to the fact that I was in the corner of a Pepto-Bismol-colored room that was filled with a dizzying array of neon-colored undergarments. (That’s the trend now, I guess. Hot pink, electric blue, lime green. One bra for every color of Puffy Paint that I owned as a child.)

But that didn’t work: I became dizzy, and therefore, I became nervous. I tried to quiet my automatic thoughts.

“Summer! If you’re dizzy, you won’t be able to walk through the mall and get to the exit,” my panicky mind tried telling me. I swatted the thought away and, cautiously, got in line with my pink bra.

But the feelings only got worse. I started sweating, so I ripped off my hoodie and stood next to the lip gloss and the perfume in an old tee-shirt. Then, I started feeling woozy. My heart rate shot up when I briefly entertained the idea of what would happen if I passed out inside a freaking Victoria’s Secret store.


When I got to the cashier, I could hardly talk. I could hardly talk, of course, because I could hardly breathe. Each breath felt short and inadequate as I handed her the bra.

“Was there anything wrong with it?” the associate asked.

“Color,” I nervously spouted. My teeth had started to chatter.

“Okay, no problem…just give me a minute here.”

A minute, while in the midst of panic, is roughly equivalent to an entire game of American football for a non-football fan.

I waited. I took items out of my purse and put them back in again. I touched the countertop. I fiddled with my hair. I ran my fingers along the edge of my debit card.

I was truly convinced that I was going to pass out at any time. I grew warmer and warmer and my shirt stuck to my sweaty back.

And I continued to wait, now holding on to the edge of the counter (what good would that do if I fainted?) and growing queasy.

This — this was my opportunity for progress. This horrible feeling. This.

“Here’s your return receipt,” the cashier finally said. I gave her whatever variety of half-smile I could pull off and bolted out of the store to the nearest bench.

Check back later this week for the final part of this story.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ciron810