Everyone has their own kind of panic. There is the gasping kind, the stop in the middle of the street and think kind, the disco kind, and countless more varieties. Until a few years ago I probably would not have realized my panic attacks were actually panic attacks. It’s only now that they have escalated from annoying moments of “extreme anxiety” to embarrassing moments of “I need to run from this moment IMMEDIATELY”.
This isn’t where I try to figure out the why of things. I usually fail miserably at that exercise. But being in the middle of a panic attack is a horrible place to be. Since I can’t imagine writing while I am in the middle of one I thought writing about it after the fact might be helpful. Probably only helpful to me, but if you deal with this too, you know the dread.
My most recent panic attack happened over the weekend. It was a beautiful Saturday, hot as hell, but beautiful. I do not do well with heat, but I mostly know how to manage it. Summer happens every year so it isn’t as if I can stick my fingers in my ear, close my eyes, and the perspiration will go away.
On this particular Saturday my family and I had traveled into the city. That always cracks me up to say. We live in the ‘burbs of Philly so it is a smidge of effort to go into ACTUAL Philadelphia, but saying, “traveled into the city” is a phrase that implies something beyond a super quick car ride.
There we were, in the city…My mom needed to take something into a shop for a repair so W and I hung around inside the store for a while. We didn’t think it would take that long, but it seemed to drag on for eons. And the store started to become quite warm to me. And W could not stop touching or wanting to touch all of the things. The solution was for W and I to go to a restaurant across the street, get a table for lupper (lunch + supper, obviously), and Lolly would join us.
I felt relief at the plan immediately.
I did not calculate into the equation that there would be a 30 minute wait to be seated. In the middle of the afternoon. And there was no waiting area inside the restaurant. And I could feel the panic start. But I pushed it down.
There were lots of stores around but I realized I didn’t bring money with me on this outing, a poor choice, and the idea of popping in and our of stores seemed awful. W and I decided to walk a few blocks over to see a beautiful rainbow cross walk. A half a block into this decision and we were both full of regret.
IT WAS HOT. No escape from the sun, HOT.
We decided to go back to the store where my mom was. At least there was some air there. We arrived at the store JUST as my mom was walking out. So back to the restaurant we went to see if there had been any miraculous progress on the estimated time for a table.
As soon as we walked into the restaurant I felt ill. It felt like there were hundreds of people inside and that they were all looking at me, talking about me, pointing at me. No idea why I had so much concern over other people, but it was instant and HUGE. The panic level began to rise. I started to feel myself shake. My legs, then my hands. My mom asked a waiter who was walking by if he could bring me a glass of water and I was mortified. I wanted to be invisible. Completely vanish.
But there was nowhere to go, or wait, or be. I knew I couldn’t go outside because the heat had started to clearly get to me. Waiting inside had activated a panic of being overwhelmed. I was certain I was upsetting everyone, that everyone was pointing at me, that I was a problem. I wanted to leave IMMEDIATELY. The shaking was becoming really bad.
And all of this is going on with W next to me so I was trying (SO MUCH TRYING) to look like everything was ok. Ha! I was not doing a very good job at that. Keeping the lid on the panic made the tears start. Once I started crying I couldn’t stop. Nothing like a six-foot woman lurking by the hostess podium sobbing and shaking…I was like Shelby in need of juice at the hair salon.
I could not get it together, I didn’t know how at all. I knew I was in a panic, but I did not know why. Just that I wanted to be invisible.
Finally that’s when I realized my panic attack was coming from mortification. Not that it was rational, but the root of it was I felt like I shouldn’t be taking up space in the restaurant. I suppose a typical reaction would be for someone to decide to wait inside because it was too hot outside and just be FINE with standing and waiting. For whatever reason my reaction was to turn everything inward and explode it.
I eventually did bust through my panic, in large part to my mom being there and helping me through. I WANTED to stay and eat lunch with my family, but if mom wasn’t there I never would have stayed. I would have bolted and still had some sort of panic or anxiety moment. (and possibly one I couldn’t understand)
Once I was able to talk I apologized to every person I saw who worked at the restaurant. I felt embarrassed and awful and ashamed. I have no idea if they cared one bit about me standing there, but in my head they did and then my panic reaction certainly made things “worse”.
It’s awful to be in the panic space. It doesn’t make sense in the moment, and even writing about it doesn’t feel better. I don’t suddenly feel like I have tidied up what happened and sorted things out. It may take a while for me to get a grip on this kind of stuff.
Exhale, exhale, exhale. There is no snapping out of it. There is only riding it out.