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I Wish I Could Explain My Panic Attacks in a Way You Could Understand

This poem is about my experience of panic attacks triggered by sensory problems. I’ve been having these problems for several months. I am having fewer and fewer panic attacks as I recover, but I still struggle.

I Wish I Could Explain My Panic Attacks in a Way You Could Understand

I wish I could explain,
How recently, a trip to the store
Means an assault on my eyes,
Of clashing colors of orange and turquoise blue,
Shelves in disorder and too close together.
How lately, in a crowd,
I hear every conversation at the same time,
The voices and words clashing like a discordant chord.
A sound that causes me pain with every note.
How everything feels too close and too loud.
I stand in line at the supermarket and
Am accosted by the man behind me muttering,
The man in front of me wearing too much cologne,
The woman speaking to the cashier, and pausing to echo the words
Of the music blaring from the stereo.
I take deep breaths,
Focus my attention on a woman folding the clothes in her cart,
Her hands moving in a rhythm.
I count the items in my cart.
Sometimes I make it,
But sometimes I leave my cart,
Leave the store with my hands shielding my face,
To the welcome stillness of the air,
My quiet house.

They name my problem sensory processing disorder
(Though that may not be right
Since I’ve never had this problem before).
I think my brain associates crowds
With the crowded hospital that swallowed my husband for four days in July.
The hospital spit him back out,
But since then, crowds swallow me,
And so many things are hard.
Going to a store, restaurant, or church.
Only the parks can hold me, and
Only my lonely house.

Things are slowly better.
New Year’s Eve, I sat by the wall in the kitchen,
Surrounded by 21 relatives in a tiny house,
Counting down the minutes to midnight
And fighting off panic attacks.
I made it.
Only my husband knows
How this was a great triumph.
I hold out hope that I will recover,
And live fully in the world again.

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Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.