One of the overwhelming goals of my 365 autobiographical-essay-a-day project was “writing as therapy.” I theorized that getting “it” all out of my head (while learning what “it” was) would ease my anxiety and panic disorder. I embarked on a journey to shovel the shit out of my garage of a brain, alleviating the past baggage weighing me down in the present and preventing me from soaring into the future.
Only I’m not so poetic and a bit too pragmatic. Traditionally talk therapy hasn’t worked wonders for me, (READ: Reason for the project in the first place), but I take accountability that maybe I never found “the right fit” for my particular neurosis, which I later learned were “very common, especially for working mothers in New York City.”
I’ve seen about five different therapists, all of whom agree on variations of the same diagnosis: versions of anxiety, panic disorder, bits of OCD, a tendency towards depression. All of them wanted me to give into my anxieties and validate them, but I just wanted a way to cross them off my pesky list of things to do. They were liberal with prescriptions for Xanax or else suggested I try yoga or biofeedback or meditation or running … or else how about changing your life to remove all of the things which cause problems.
Only if you ask me, I never think it’s bad. Knowing there are others who have it so much worse than me, I don’t think I’m particularly stressed. I’m healthy (I think) so everything else is secondary. I’m alive and I have healthy kids and a husband who adores the shit out of me and a great apartment and three fucking cats (all of which I got as therapeutic, none of which like to actually cuddle allow me my due therapy!) and I can list one thousand things I can be grateful for. I am over the moon full of gratitude for the multiple reasons listed above and guess what still happens? Panic attacks.
In the middle of an attack, my legs start shaking as the dreaded nausea creeps from some dark crevasse in my insides hobbling logic. Tears burst from me like I popped a tear duct in a four-year-old who exploded all at once in my lap. It always happens somewhere unexpected, in traffic on the West Side Highway, on my way to a concert, Hawaii. I don’t care about who sees me or the mascara running down my face, the snot streaming down my nose, I just want to feel better.
“I feel so shitty. I hate this. How could I be doing this to myself? I hate myself right now and I’m so embarrassed. You don’t deserve this. I thought the writing was going to help. I’ve written for 180 fucking days in a row. Why are the panic attacks still happening?”
Talking myself down from a panic attack has gotten easier over the years. I recognize them sooner, I acknowledge them faster, I resolve them better, but the over-analysis mid-attack hasn’t disappeared. Mid-attack, I attempt at rationalizing this behavior, these illogical feelings; I try to decipher the puzzle of my psychosis. Where did it come from? What caused it? What am I still holding in? Why does my brain cause me pain or discomfort with no physical cause?
“Maybe you are still keeping secrets from yourself,” my husband says. My husband is rubbing my back, reassuring as always. “The attacks have gotten less frequent. They just haven’t gone away completely – yet. You’re not finished yet. You’re still on your journey. You still have plenty of old you to shed.”
In the eye of the hurricane of a panic attack, you confront your deepest fear, and you feel out of control. As irrational as it sounds, I’m afraid of the unavoidable: death. The logical me understands I cannot fear the inevitable. “Death, a necessary end, will come when it will come” as Julius Caesar said. But mid-panic attack, as my body is under a deluge of hormones, I am a crippled child who cannot snap out of it.
This is what enrages me most, how I can unconsciously send the obedient soldiers of my brain to panic, but I cannot actively send them to calm.
I will not give up. Maybe the words will set me free. Maybe the scientific experiment on myself aka 365 Writing Project aka Free Internship will allow me to spill it all out and give me some breathing room. I try to stay focused on the positive. I create new worlds out of words each day, my world. I envision a book cover: a head cracked open and tilted to its side, with hundreds of words of different sizes and fonts spilling out and one word remains in focus: sanity.