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When Panic Is an Unwanted Houseguest

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I’ve always been the type of person to tackle things head on. My conscious brain has always been like, “If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it. Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it.” I’m fully aware procrastinating to fix something usually leads to more trouble. Running away from trouble just isn’t in my nature. When it comes to fight or flight, I choose fight (that is, when I can consciously choose to do so.) Unfortunately, it isn’t usually the case for me.

Underneath the surface though, somewhere in my subconscious, lies a scared, little girl who wants to run away screaming at the slightest flicker of instability. Since she is being tormented by an evil and malicious demon. I have no control over her visits. Worse yet, I usually have no idea when she’s going to show up and wreak havoc on the controlled environment I try to keep up in my skull. Her name is Panic and for the last 17 years she’s been visiting me.

There are times when her visits are short and sweet (except for the sweet part), and I can live life rather normally without worrying about a nagging mental house guest around. Sometimes, I feel responsible for these times. I feel responsible when the medication I’m taking is a Panic deterrent, like a citronella candle made exclusively for anxiety. I feel responsible when stress management, diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes and coping methods are making an impact and keeping that unconscious door dead-bolted. So it’s just me, myself and I in there.

Unfortunately, there are also times I live in terror. Both because Panic is alive and well and making a mess of my brain. Also when it’s bad, I live in constant fear that another one of her temper tantrums are about to happen and I can’t do anything to stop it. This is when I feel like no matter how controlled my conscious and physical world is. I am helpless, I am terrified and I am a prisoner in my own mind.

Sometimes when she shows up, Panic bursts through the door screaming and thrashing, no warning whatsoever. A sudden wave of heat washes over my body, accompanied by shivers, a rapid intense heart beat, the urge to get up and run (which sometimes I still can’t control) and an overwhelming fear of dread.

The thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to die,” is going through my conscious mind. I know I won’t die now even if it feels like it, but this inescapable fact is all consuming. I am not sure if thanatophobia — or fear of death — is a cause or an effect of my anxiety or panic disorders or a mix of cause and effect. It is definitely deeply connected. It’s a very heavy load for an 11-year-old to handle. I have to say, it doesn’t really get much easier at almost 29.

After her tantrum is over, you’d think there would be relief. There is not. The aftershock is sometimes worse than the moments of adrenaline pumping terror because it a horrid lasting reminder. Exhaustion sets in, but I am too nervous and worked up to sleep. While my heart may not feel like it’s going to break free from my chest, my rapid pulse keeps me trembling and dizzy. I feel like I need to do something to distract my mind, but my body is too overwhelmed with the physical side effects. I am almost paralyzed.

I am left hollow with only the worry that another attack may hit again at any moment. When I’m lucky enough to not experience Panic’s rampage again and again, the recovery time can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple days before I feel “over it.” I can never really plan around which it may be. This itself gives an ungiven welcome to Panics other form of visitation.

Panic sometimes likes a little extra company and she knows her big sis Anxiety is always somewhere on property. The two, in typical sibling style, sometimes like to gang up on this poor defenseless brain of mine. Anxiety exists much more consciously, and on good days, I feel like I have her well controlled. Let’s say on a leash and in heel position. Unfortunately, when Panic comes around, she snaps the leash and they both are able to run wild and free. Anxiety getting out of control is a warning sign that Panic lashing out is an immediate danger.

Like feeling a couple isolated rain drops before the big storm settles in, it always starts small. Feeling overly insecure about myself when walking out the door, being indecisive or forgetful about grocery lists, chores to be done or decisions needing to be made. Then a little worse still, I feel naked and vulnerable if I am out in public or I feel desperate and isolated when I am at home. In these moments, Panic doesn’t come thrashing through the doorway making a big scene, she uses gorilla tactics, little attacks in vulnerable places when I’m not paying attention. Little blips of fear giving momentary terror, like almost missing a step down a staircase. You find your step, but nothing is actually wrong.

This is most notable when doing something that could be dangerous, like walking along a steep hill or cliff, cutting ingredients for supper or most often when driving on the highway. Panic doesn’t give one constant hard hit this time, rather inconsistent but repetitive small shoves. Just enough to make an already anxious mind play tricks on itself. I feel like I am going to fall. I feel like I will cut my hand. It looks like oncoming traffic is veering into the wrong lane. She and her sister create a world where I’ve lost perception. I can’t trust my mind and I can’t even trust my actions.

Panic is unstoppable. Whether large and in charge, decimating everything in her sight or quiet and malicious, leering in a dark corner, I cannot keep her out. If I have a lock, then she automatically has a key. If I have a brick wall, then she undoubtedly has a wrecking ball. I am trapped with her, or she is trapped with me. Either way, there is no real running away. I live for the moments when she is mysteriously gone and I fear the day she will be here to stay.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Gain Through the Pain.

Originally published: August 25, 2016
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