Michelle's post Finally a few days ago got me thinking about, or re-thinking about, something that happened to me in the distant past, something that I think still effects me to this day, something I should not forget.
I was going through the same kind of struggles at college that I am now; fat, indecisive, confused, lost, only it was much more intensified, everyday seemed more dire. At college I was surrounded by peers my age, men and women to the tune of 30,000 + students which by itself was not a very scary thing, only I hated myself and wanted to change desperately. I had not declared a major, I was gaining weight, I was drinking and experimenting with other things on a nightly basis. Yes, I was having a good time, yes I was the "life" of every party, but inside I knew I was doing it out of a kind of desperation, and every night when I went to sleep I kept thinking that tomorrow would be different...it wasn't.
One day some friends and I decided we were going to the movies to see the "last" Star Wars film "The Return of the Jedi". During the movie, right about the part where the Ewoks were about to kick some serious ass, a wave of panic overcame me , my heart began pounding and it felt like it was going to leap out of my chest. I became short of breath, dizzy, I was convinced I was going to die. I suppose something inside of me deep down knew it was not real because I was too embarrassed to tell my friends, I just got up, walked out of the movie and walked to the college infirmary.
They poked and prodded and at the end of it told me that I was having an anxiety attack, something not uncommon to college kids. That knowledge did not bring me any comfort, nor did it help the panic attacks, which I began to suffer daily. The fear fed on itself, growing larger and larger until it engulfed every aspect of my life, what happened in an instant with a thought had now become a massive problem. It quickly got to the point where I was aware of my heartbeat constantly, aware of every breath I took, every single breath, every single day, all my conscious minutes was now one long panic attack. My only "relief" was a drunken stupor or sleep, I could never get one with out the other. It was driving me insane. I had no choice, I had to drop out of school.
I went home, went to the local doctor, same thing, panic attacks. My parents, I should say my mother because my father, still drinking, was oblivious to the whole ordeal, was convinced that it was all the "drugs". The doctor gave me Valium, I took one and I can not describe the exquisite relief that came to me that night, for the first time in about 6 months, I was not aware of my breathing, my heartbeat, I was able to concentrate and watch TV, it was a miraculous feeling...and I never took another one again in my life.
I suppose the fact that I took it and it made me feel better was proof to me that It was "in my head". Once I knew that, I knew I had to deal with something else, taking the pills scared me that I would not deal, become like my father and I did not want to get hooked on the pills. So I kept suffering and suffering like before, one long panic attack day after day.
I did not want to go back to school, so I took a job where my father worked thinking that the "distraction" might help. Rather than drive in with him while he suffered another hangover, I rode a bus that the company provided to the job site. One early morning I am sitting on the bus, a wave of panic about to hit me again, and I think to myself...so what?. I begin to think, what is the worst that can happen? I will pass out, stop breathing? Well, My body will take over and I will breathe. What if there really is something wrong with me and I die? Then I die, big deal, me dying is not any more or less important than a thousand children in Africa who have already died today, or more significant than any number of people who will die today that are significantly more important than me. The world will turn no matter what, I am just not that important. The very worst that can happen is I will experience pain, then pass out and I will either find out the mystery of life or I will remain unconscious. There is nothing I can do either way.
Suddenly I had a handle on it all, suddenly, I was in control of this thing, I had mastered this fear that gripped me on a daily basis. The panic attacks did not go away instantly, the monitoring of my heartbeat and breathing did not end abruptly, but the importance of it vanished and slowly, day by day it all began to fade away. When I started to get another attack I just shrugged my shoulders, said, "hello old friend" and remembered it just did not matter that much, we are all going to die someday anyway.
One day, I don't know the date when because it happened a little at a time, the panic attacks left and never came back the same way again. It had been about a year since I dropped out, since the attacks began, but I was able to return to school the following fall. I wish I could say that return was a triumph, but it was not and those events were detailed in my previous post history lessons suck.
Sometimes I forget about the terror of that year, but I should not. In a way those attacks have returned, in a much more obscured and deluded way, only now it is so subliminal that I can not recognize it for what it is, but FEAR IS FEAR, it is here like a lamb or ripping your heart out like a lion. I defeated it before because I let it grip me and did not care, I mastered the fear only by allowing it to engulf me and saying, is this all you got? Fear needs you to believe that it is all important to your life, that nothing else matters but itself, the fear. The moment you are willing to ride it instead of fight it, it fades and fades and fades. This is the definition of courage, doing the work, trudging on with your life even though fear is nipping at your heals, shouting in your ear, gripping you by the throat. This is what Michelle has done by leaving her safe zone for something she wants, this is what I must do if I want to live a "normal" life.
Hello old friend.