Deaths and people disappearing aside, I got most of my lifer sense of life as transitory mainly from Christianity and expecting the second coming any minute now. “maybe at midnight, /maybe at noon /but Jesus is coming, / surely soon.” I readied my soul at least twice a day for at least a dozen years.
We make our own havens. Now mostly I ready my soul for the Great Whatever whenever we take a car or plane trip. Those prompt my wanting to see a lawyer and make sure the will is up to date. It doesn’t have to be a far trip. An hour will do.
When did this start happening? I’ve been in many car accidents, as driver and passenger, tipping off the road to walking away from 3 totalled cars.
Only the last accident really affected me. Unlike previous, I wasn’t injured. I didn’t get seatbelt chest pains or knees crumpling into dash.
But this time, I didn’t get back in the car. I am a believer in going towards what intimidates and exposure therapy. Fear unopposed grows like mint.
I started to have panic attacks and talking myself down even to be near one. Real ones not lucid moments.
This time each time I accepted a ride, I was left wiped and twitchy. It got constantly better, very slowly, but that lasted about 2 years.
The funny thing I learned about a panic attack is how internal it is. While I had one I was told I look tranquil. It stunned me. How could that person be so blind? How could someone be so off the mark in reading me? How could I be so unknown?
Then I watched a friend in company. She later reported that moment as being a panic attack, related all that was going on internal keyed on the conversation we both heard, how it triggered her.
Then I photographed myself during one. There is a flatness of expression that doesn’t look tense or guarded. The body is switching off. It does look remarkably “fine” from the outside while the inside is going fritzy. How much of the time when others look calm is there that disconnection between automatic behaviours and mind going wild?
If you remember the opening of the movie Amelie where the little girl imagines her camera as the cause of accidents, that hyper-imaginative. It doesn’t even need visual or verbal level. The body jump ramps. Except it rapid cycles overstimulation of emotions are isn’t as cute.
Is this a sort of death? Death seems conjoined because of the expectation that the heart will stop and the paranoid delusion that can sweep the senses.
In 2001 I was standing at a bus stop on Meadowlands and I was sure a sniper was aimed at me. I had a loop of visualization that a car would careen and smash me under it and into all the glass of the bus shelter. The cascade wouldn’t shut off and I was pinned in place with chest pains. I was certain I would die. I don’t know how many minutes I stood. To others who passed perhaps I looked in a vaguely pleasant reverie because the face goes expressionless. That was the worst what I call “grand mal” panic attack. Or among them.
It is as if, but not quite, the brain and body are in different gears. Part of the body chemistry is going one slow undulation while the other is as if caffeinated and overdrive.
Comparable was when I felt my senses scramble a summer in 2007, there was a silence around me and then as if the mental buffer released, all the ambient sounds of pedestrians and traffic overlapped and I felt the sensation of my shoulder being bumped hard from behind. I looked and the nearest person was several steps ahead. It was if the time and sensation signature were offset. And then the sense of emotions unlatching and flooding in a rapid cycle of fear, anger, paranoia. All my sensory feedback was jerked up so everything was high smell, high tactile, high light and noise which was echoing and with the sense that there was a gap between what I heard and when it occurred. My body felt under a few weights of gravity and slow motion exhaustion.
I backed myself against a wall, inside a brick corner wall, and waited for it to pass. I feel vulnerable in that state because I can’t react in good time. I know my senses are not reliable. My emotions aren’t going to behave properly. It is hard to perceive through the walls of sensations.
Yet I still was functional in the sense I could see it was screwy and step aside for the body to do it’s fritz. Inside that I was told I was fine and it wasn’t far to go. Every step was overwhelming. It has taken a lot of resources to get myself to that wall.
I was angry at my body imposes this and at having to be civil and order who I was with to go on. I would be here until I wasn’t. I didn’t want to spare more resources to argue or explain this in the moment. I felt patronized at someone trying to override my own self-knowledge, even knowing it was well-intended. I don’t know how long until the wave passed.
It was a milestone in the sense that I refused to comply with what is done. Refused to be “led” to someone else’s sense of safety. I followed my own judgement because I was best informed of what was going on.
My mind/body was overwhelmed. Toughing out more stimulus just would give more pain for no gain. Part of panic management is knowing my limits as early as possible. Sometimes I miscalculate. The whole mind/body is connected so stressors go across. If I’m fighting an infection, I’ll have less leeway for exposure to perfumes and daily and people who are confrontational without getting a cheek twitch to full-on shutdown with migraine.
I can mitigate and accommodate and balance extending myself with rest. If I overdo it, I’m going to reap panic attacks, exhaustion, back going out, migraine, hives, congestion response to dairy, joint pain, as many of the 9 yards as my body will go to say no. You stop here. Treat yourself well. Breathe, sleep, eat high density nutrition, be with good people, think kindly, make useful actions, resolve or make peace with issues, stretch, use your muscles, think about something that is productive and challenging, see beauty and humour. All the things that make for growth. Or else.
It occurs to me that the forces of depression and the forces of panic are curative, not each, but in combination. They may work together. Depression flattens significance and makes the mind/body inert. Anxiety hypes the normal to disproportionally reactive to stimulus. They may prop each other in a stable state. Life wants an equilibrium.