Just before Christmas, when everything was going berserk with Grandmother (again) and me (as usual) and Mom (which was new) and all the usual December craziness (birthdays and shopping and Christmas and doctors, oh my), something happened that hasn't happened to me in a long time, and I've been trying to write about it since, but the words didn't come till now.
I hope getting it out there will stop making it so important in my mind. I write about everything here, so (even though it feels raw still) it'll be worth saying it 'out loud', as it were.
Mom & I were driving out to see Grandmother at
the rehab (like we were doing every day at that point), and I'd spent
the morning chopping up all the ingredients for beef stew and thrown
them in the crock pot and turned it on low before we left. And I'm
sitting in the car and mom makes some random comment about leaving
things on and fires, and blah blah blah, and instead of just being a piece of our normal everyday conversation, it was like SPARK! and that tiny little off-hand remark
managed to ignite an instant fire in my brain.
Immediately I started to worry
about the crock pot, to reanalyze ever step I'd taken in making the stew - had I really turned it on low, or had I set it to
high and it would burn the meat so quickly that it would catch fire?
Was it safe to turn it on and leave the house at any setting? Have we
ever done this before, even though I read about it all the time on the
internet, that people make crock pot stuff and then go to work with it
cooking, have we ever personally tried it before? Are we too far from
the house to go back and turn it off? Just a constant stampede of 'could I be setting the house of fire' thoughts tumbling around in my brain, while I'm attempting to still chat with mom and seem like everything is ok.
know that what I'm worrying about is stupid: We leave all sorts of
things - computers, cable boxes, the fridge, the dryer - on at home by
themselves all the time. Nothing has ever happened, nothing is going to happen. House fires are rare, and I was
careful and made sure the crock pot wasn't near anything and was on
low, and I know all of this, and yet, I can't stop worrying. Some
fifteen minutes later, it's still in my brain, still rolling around in
there, maybe even picking up speed, because it's loud enough now that I've said it out loud, trying to make it seem casual, trying to act like we're still joking. Ha ha! we laugh, as I say "but that wouldn't really happen, right?" Big laughs all around.
Still, 25 minutes into the ride, and now I've been muttering about it and obsessing about it for our
entire ride, and my next deliberately casual "It's not dangerous to have left that cooking, right?" pops out of my mouth and Mom says sharply "Oh my god: just let it go already!" Which is
the normal response, if a person is just being stupid about something, and it's driving you crazy. But this wasn't just normal "oh, gee: random thought - let's giggle about this some more!" comment.
Nope, by this point I was full steam ahead into my first real anxiety
attack in years.
I've had minor ones here and there -
during other people's drunken fights, mostly, when I would swear some sort of PTSD part of my
brain kicks in and I have to excuse myself from the tension of the current
screaming match to go throw up before I can wade into things (either as
peacekeeper or firebrand). Sometimes just the sound of the cork popping
out of the wine bottle in the kitchen is enough to have my shoulders
creeping upwards with tension. But for the most part, I've managed
them, and managed to avoid them (which is even better). I wouldn't even say that anxiety is one of my top 20 CFIDS
symptoms, probably because I was never not a slightly apprehensive
person: it's just part of my genetic make up, I'm afraid.
But these huge panic attacks - of which I've (thankfully) only had about 6 - these huge, really full blown, tornado brain of worry, hold your shit together or you'll lose it monstrosities. When those mothers come, it's so frightening, because you know you don't have to be worrying about the thing, or that worrying about it won't help the situation at all, but you just can't stop yourself. Your brain is a runaway worry train, and you're just along for the ride.
she snaps at me, semi-facetiously, and I burst into tears. 'It doesn't
help,' I tell her 'to tell me that the thing I'm worrying about is
stupid. I KNOW IT'S STUPID. Now I just feel even more anxious because
I'm ashamed that I'm freaking out over something so dumb."
But here's the thing that people who don't have anxiety don't get. To people without panic attacks (those lucky bastards), it's just like regular worry: "Oh I feel like maybe that wasn't the best choice," but it's not a big deal, because Oh well, shrug. People will worry. It happens. I'm a champion worrier, and that's not what a panic attack is - for me at least. Worry is one thing, panic attack is a whole 'nother level of worry, combined with an astronomical confidence level - confidence in the truth of the fear, that is.
A panic attack is not just dread, but certainty. It is an absolute conviction of doom. I may know full well that whatever has set this off is a ridiculous thing
to be worried about, but I am still 1000% sure in my gut that it doesn't matter
that the odds are astronomical that something could go wrong: something
is telling me that it's not right, so it must be so. Something is warning me to fix the
situation, and I'm not heeding the warning, and that goes against every instinct you have. In this case, all the signs are all pointing
to the idea that the house will have burned down by the time we get
home, and I'm supposed to blithely ignore that and continue on with our
day as if nothing is wrong? Impossible: it feels WRONG.
when the logical part of my brain shrinks down to nothing, and instead I
remember all those news stories about people who 'listened to their
gut' and saved their families. Or I replay all the times my feeling
that something wasn't right was an accurate representation of the
situation, and try to convince myself that this time it's ok to ignore
all the DANGERDANGERDANGER signals my brain is trying to send me.
dripped tears for the remainder of our ride, playing the tapes in my
head that I know work to calm me: 'This is just a panic attack, it will
pass. This is SO not about the beef stew chica: you're life is feeling
more than a little bit out of control right now, don't ya think? Let's
just ride this one out, and things will get better. You are not
psychic, and the house is not burning down while you ignore all the
warning signs - this is not a real threat.' But because it feels like a
real threat, it takes me the whole ride to calm down.
I'm not shaking by the time we get to the rehab, but I'm still so ashamed - of the panic attack; of the tears, of not handling things like a grown up and instead
breaking down into something useless; of the fact that I've broken a streak of panic!
attack! free! years! over something so ridiculous - that we cut short our
visit and go home relatively early. I know that this is mom's way of
apologizing for snapping at me (which, was nice but I'm not sure it was
necessary), and reassuring me all at once.
We arrive home to stew - nothing more. Once I calmed down enough, 99% of me was sure that was all we'd find. But the whole ride home, there's that one percent, that one embarrassed, fear-soaked percent, that's trying to get me ready to deal with the fact that I've failed to save all of our worldly possessions, just because I didn't trust myself enough to say "let's go home and I'll shut that off, and then we'll go." And because of that one measly percent, I'm not reassured, because
once that panic genie is out of the bottle, I don't know if I'll be able
to stopper him up again.
That's why it took me five months to write this post: because god forbid that I tried to tap back into that feeling enough to write about it, and it exploded all over me again. I had to be sure enough of where I was, emotionally, to write about that, and even that feels like a weakness to me: to be so scared of remembering how scared I was? Panic attacks are ridiculous.
And I was right, about the genie part - I've felt him trying to creep up on me a few times since, but I'm better at recognizing it than I used to be, so I've been cutting them off before the fear can blossom on me (for the most part). And some pretty stressful shit has gone down since then, so I'm feeling like I've got a handle on managing it right now, which is good.
Because the next time I let something out of a bottle, it better be granting wishes, not paralyzing me with fear. (Look: wish number one is all ready!)