Panic disorder. No one knows what causes it, but anyone who has it knows that it is a bitch. I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced a panic attack at least once in their lives, and especially if they are a parent. Think about those times you walked into the kitchen and found your toddler climbing onto the table or saw your 8 year-old on the roof with a cape on, insisting that “If Superman can do it, I can, because Daddy says I am a Superhero!” or had to give your kid the Heimlich Maneuver to dislodge a piece of candy or chewing gum from their throat. That immediate, paralyzing, jolt of unadulterated fearful panic you experienced on those occasions? That’s a panic attack. Now imagine having those for no reason, randomly, just, well….whenever.
It adds an oh-so-interesting element of pure suckage to one’s life, let me tell you.
I’ve been having panic attacks for decades. I didn’t know that I was, but once I overcame my natural distrust of doctors and therapy and medication, I realized that I have suffered needlessly and most ignorantly. I therefore put my family and friends through the hell of having to deal with me when I was rushing around with this super-charged energy, angrily lashing out, because to admit that I was – quite simply put – terrified and I did not know why? How do you tell someone that and not assume that their response will be to call the men in the white coats? When you want to be seen as invincible and strong, and when others expect that of you, it’s quite a tall order to quell that current of adrenaline that courses through your body, humming just underneath the surface. I would tap my foot, or bounce my leg. At work, I would drum my fingers to a beat that only I could hear, driving my coworkers crazy. I was never still, never quite able to settle down. My sleep began to become disrupted, and insomnia became my friend. The depression fed the anxiety, and the worries that I went over and over on repeat, like counting sheep, would fuel the panic. I was making bad decisions, and worrying about my bad decisions, and then, BOOM, it happened.
One morning, I awoke in the throes of a panic attack so bad, it had me frozen in my bed. I could not move. I knew I was safe. Intellectually, you are there, you see, but there is something in the body that kicks into overdrive and overrides every rational thought you have, hijacking your brain. When I was able to move my arms, I sent out a text to the husband, who was in the library. “Come here” was all it said. Thus began a routine he would perform 2 or 3 times a week: he would go get me a Xanax, I would take it, and then he would wrap himself around my body and hold me tight until I relaxed. This was so hard for me to do. Before, I was insistent that I not be touched, that I be left alone or allowed to race about in my furious whirlwind of fear and anger. To allow someone to “cage” me was probably putting his life in danger at first, but it was an important step for me to admit to him that I was so scared that I was positive that I was just going to die, and to allow him to see me at that most vulnerable state. In trusting him, I saved myself.
I found that, as my life eased up a bit and I made the changes that needed to be made, and most importantly, STAYED ON MY MEDS NO MATTER WHAT, this morning terror began to recede. Now, I can go months without a blast of fear upon opening my eyes, but I do notice that it begins to happen again when life becomes too stressful and the worries begin to mount. But, how to stop that stress? There are no easy answers for a person like me, who worries and gets paranoid for the most ridiculous reasons. It’s all a part of my diagnosis, and at least I am intelligent enough to understand that the diagnosis may define what is wrong with me, but it does not define ME. I have the power to reduce the stress to certain extents, and when I can’t do it myself, there are drugs that can assist. Granted, popping a Xanax is not going to magically restore the number of hours I can work next week back up to normal because my company decided that
HAPPY FUCKING HOLIDAYS, WE’RE A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR COMPANY AND WE WANT TO SHOW YOU HOW MUCH WE CARE BY REDUCING EVERYONES’ HOURS ON THE WEEK YOU’RE WORKING FOR THAT LAST PAYCHECK BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!!
Nope, that little, white pill won’t fix that stressor. It won’t fix the fact that there are family members who persist in creating endless drama to the point of hurting people I love. Nope, the pill won’t make all that go away, and it won’t make the idea of cracking the offending person over the head with a sledgehammer or whacking them in the face with a shovel go away either, but that little, white pill does make those thoughts less rational and more ridiculous. Because really, is one act of rapturous violence, a moment’s blissful satisfaction, worth going to jail for? Nope. Nope. Nope. During a Trump Presidency, acts of violence seem to be the answer, but they are not, and actually feed the beast that is ravenously chowing down on our values and our very identity as the Greatest Country in the World. I don’t blame Trump for people who act like twatwaffles, because I’m sure they acted like that before he came into power. But I do blame him and those of his ilk for making twatwaffles think that it is okay to be a twatwaffle. It is never okay to be a twatwaffle. Let us just establish that. If I am far away from my little, white pills and you are a twatwaffle and there is a shovel handy, you might find yourself in possession of a new, more compact, face. I make no guarantees if the pills are not there and the husband is not available to restrain me.
This year for Thanksgiving, my daughter and her family were home for the holiday for the first time since her husband joined the Army. He is now a veteran and they made the trip home before settling into their new home in the private sector. I bought frozen pies for our dessert. My daughter looked on, incredulous, as I put 4 pies into the cart. “What happened to my mama who made everything by scratch?” she mused, baffled by this sight. Later, as I was mixing up a pumpkin cheesecake, which was the only homemade dessert we had this year, I explained to her why we were eating Mrs. Smith’s instead of homemade. It was pretty simple: there are so many things we do that makes life more difficult. We wanted the holiday to be fun and without the stress of drama and discord. I wanted there to be less time figuring out how much time I had to do this, or that, and while mixing up pies and peeling apples and such doesn’t sound like that much time, opening a box and putting a pie in the oven is ever so much easier and tastes pretty close to just as good. I used to rush around and become cross and tense over feeling like I had to do all these things just because that’s how we always did it. Guess what? We don’t always have to. We can choose. In becoming less rigid and more open to change (I swear, the minute the husband reads that last bit, I will hear him hoot with laughter no matter how far away he is) I am giving myself permission to be more fun. I am warding off those morning panic attacks that paralyze me. And if a Mrs. Smith pie can do that? I may never bake another homemade pumpkin pie again.
I do have kernels of wisdom to impart. Ease up, people. Ease up on the demands you make upon yourself. Tell everyone to back the fuck off and let you do your thing. Don’t force yourself into so many commitments this holiday season that you forget to have fun. And the best advice I can give you? Buy an upside down cross and wear it. It is a natural twatwaffle repellent.
Because you may not always have a shovel handy.