I don’t always make good choices while in the grip of a panic attack.
And now, the rest of the story…
I’ve lived with anxiety and depression for so long now that I honestly don’t even remember what it feels like to be “normal”. Seeing it in black and white that way is pretty depressing in and of itself.
I’m one of the really lucky ones, though. For the most part, I’ve had incredibly supportive family, friends and significant others. I really doubt I’d be alive right now if it weren’t for my parents. Anything they could have done for me, they did. And then some. My friends have almost always said and done the most perfect things at the most perfect times. My husband is literally THE BEST example of what someone with anxiety and depression needs in their life.
Despite all of that, I’ve felt so alone through the years. So very, very often. So helpless and worse than that, so ultimately worthless. In my head, I’ve been weak, pathetic, a burden, a mistake. Friends would tell me that they WANTED to be there, even when “being there” meant trying to make out my tear choked words while I cried into their shoulder, their belly, their hair.
I knew, rationally, that I have many positive things to contribute. I’m a great mom, a decent wife, a good friend, a hard worker, and a bevy of other little descriptors that are just me tooting my own horn. I know that. Somewhere, even in my darkest moments, I think I knew that. At least a little. Because no matter how frustrated or embarrassed or useless I felt, I never completely gave up all hope. I am very grateful for that.
For the longest time, I kept my mental illness a secret from as many people as possible. I knew what they would think, how they would look at me from then on. Seriously, who can’t handle an hour long drive on a well known road without completely freaking out, having a panic attack, pulling into some random person’s driveway and sobbing until someone could get there? That’s not normal. That’s not acceptable. That’s not the way you’re supposed to be! Turns out that you can either tell people yourself, or you can let your disease speak for you. It’s not always an easy choice.
So, you want in on a funny story? I’ve definitely put myself into dangerous situations by trying to escape a panic attack. About 10 years ago, I rode to upstate New York with a friend of mine. The deal was that I’d ride up with her, sharing the cost of gas and helping entertain her 2 year old on an 8 hour road trip, my boyfriend would take the train to meet me upstate, then we’d take the train back into NYC to visit for a few days. He would then take the train back to Poughkeepsie with me, and my friend, her kid and I would head home. Sounds good, right? Maybe not SIMPLE, per se, but everyone involved knew I was a loon and they loved me anyway.
Everything started off great. I wasn’t driving, so I didn’t have that to worry about. I was with a trusted friend. We had a happy baby with us. All was well. Then we got to Poughkeepsie and I called my boyfriend to learn that he wouldn’t be able to come upstate to meet me and ride into the city with me. He hadn’t been in New York very long and had been at his job for even less time and they needed him to set up an art display. So instead of hanging out in Poughkeepsie for a night and meeting him in the morning, I decided that I could totally do this. It’s a train, right? Trains are cool, kids love trains, they go wooo woooo! Absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I mean, unless you’re claustrophobic and have panic attacks and haven’t yet gotten a grip on it but whatever. Let’s roll.
So my friend’s mom drove me to the train station, which was perfectly respectable and clean, and told me she’d wait with me for the train to see me off. “No way!” I was under the impression that I had it under control. I was wrong.
The train was late, which is a normal thing that would only mildly inconvenience most people, but I learned a LONG time ago that I am not like most people. By the time the train DID pull in, I was a bit of a mess. I boarded, sweating profusely, heart pounding, and took a seat way away from everyone else and directly under an air vent. I started doing my breathing exercises, focusing on my body and the things I could control. I talked myself through what my body was doing; that I had been triggered to respond with an adrenaline dump, but it wasn’t necessary for fight OR flight. Logic. It’s just my biology, there isn’t an actual threat here. All I needed to do was sit still and calm down. Ok, just callllm dowwwwn…ok, take a deeeeep br-ok, that wasn’t a deep breath at all, that was a-c’mon are you seriously going to- oh God, I’m getting ready to pass out or vomit- ok, I’ll just dump EVERYTHING out of my backpack in case I need to puke in it-it’s ok, nobody is even paying atten-oh Jesus, that lady just looked at me- she thinks I’m insane- she’s got her phone out oh shitshitshit she’s calling the cops-wait, what? Why is the train slowing down. Oh Jesus, it’s a train heist. Shit, what have I done, how am I going to get out of this?
So that’s exactly what I did. I got out. I crammed my stuff back into my bag and got the hell off the train. I mean, I bolted out those doors. I immediately felt better, more calm, peaceful, and started taking deep breaths all the way up from my belly and MAN that was a close one! And then I looked around. At a place that was a far cry from the train station in Poughkeepsie. That’s when I realized that I was somewhere between my starting point and my destination with a dead cell phone and about $30. But even then, I was STILL happy to be off the train, that moving tunnel of death. So off I go, in search of a place to charge my phone to TRY to get in touch with someone. Otherwise, I would just have to live there. Wherever there was. It didn’t look like fun but what can you do?
After a while, I saw a small restaurant that looked like it was pretty much in the middle of lunch and dinner so I went in and asked for a bottle of water. Cool. Found a seat near a wall outlet. Cool. Turned my phone on annnnnd…no signal. SUNUVA! Ok, no biggie, I’ll just let this charge a bit and I’ll go outside where I’m sure the signal will be stronger and- what’s that? Oh, the place is closing and I have to leave and cripes, why did I get off the train? I would have BEEN there by now!
So anyway, long story short, (HAHAHAHA) the guy was nice enough to let me use a phone book and his phone before giving me the boot. I called my friend’s mom’s house and luckily caught them just as they were leaving to go to the zoo or shopping or something. Instead, they got to come pick me up. Sigh. Boyfriend came in the next day, rode with me back to the city, we had a reasonably good visit, and then he rode back upstate with me. Funnily enough, we didn’t stay together much longer after that and I still don’t know why to this day. It’s a mystery.