There is so much to fear in this world, if you choose to pay attention. I try not to pay attention. I focus on all the happy, happy things in the world. Like cupcakes and babies and long baths with lavender salts.
There are days though, when it doesn’t work. I’m cruising through a day, bright and shiny, happy and jolly when something happens and anxiety stops me in my happy little tracks.
Suddenly, something terrifying happens. Freak accidents. Terrorist attacks. A glaucoma test at the eye doctor.
Okay, the first two don’t cause me to tremble often, but yesterday when my eye doctor put the funky eye numbing drops in my eyes to do a glaucoma test (which really, why do I need it?) I passed out. Cold.
I’ve successfully managed three pregnancies, natural childbirth, a c-section, Chronic Lyme Disease, CAT Scans, MRI’s and root canal. I’ve been a rock climber, cantered horses through open fields without fear. I didn’t flinch when I said I do. But those eye drops, they threw me for a loop. I was out in seconds.
Last year, while having blood drawn I had a similar panic attack that drew a crowd. And by crowd, I mean a team of EMT’s who finally revived me with oxygen. On first check, they couldn’t find my pulse. When I told them that it was just a panic attack and that I would be fine in a few minutes, they insisted I look at my hands.
Ever been to a wake with an open casket?
My hands had lost all color. Apparently my face wasn’t much better. I looked like a corpse. I refused to go to the ER. They thought I was crazy. They were right, in a way, but I know this kind of crazy very, very well.
I was born this way. I have a very early memory of standing at the top of the stairs in my parent’s house, getting dizzy, and waking up at the bottom of the stairs.
My first public display of panic happened in an 8th grade science class. Then a year later I fainted in church. Then it happened in college, at a bar on Fordham Road in the Bronx. It seems that when I hit the ground in the crowded bar, the bouncers simply carried me out to the curb, dropped me there and walked away in the middle of a winter night in a not so desirable area of the city.
It never happened when I was climbing the side of a cliff. It never happened when I was on stage in front of hundreds of people, or walking the runway, or competing for a sparkly tiara on national TV. It never happened when I felt the weight of responsibility that came with holding a new born baby in my arms.
I feel compelled to share this now, after all these years, because at the eye doctor’s office something strange happened. My doctor understood. She explained what goes on in my body when I have a panic attack so intense that I pass out. She was sympathetic, as only someone who has been there can be. While a therapist can be helpful, (though mine never was), talking to someone like me in many ways yet still totally normal sets my mind at ease.
She is a successful doctor, mom of three girls (just like me) and she suffers from anxiety as well. She’s hit the floor unexpectedly herself.
Hitting the floor like that teaches us something. It teaches us to depend on – and be grateful for – the kindness of strangers who pick you up again and send you on your way. It makes it clear that you cannot do this on your own. And I try to do everything on my own.
I felt accepted. And I can now accept this about myself, finally. I have a problem. I know. I’ve tried treating it and I will continue to work at overcoming this inconvenient problem. But in the meantime, I’m going back to focusing on all the good things in life and the people that wake me up when I check out, dust me off and tell me everything is going to be just fine.