Sometimes I have panic attacks. Not small ones either (though do those really exist or are they just anxiety attacks?) but full blown terrified, sobbing, not sure how to take a step or move my hand or do anything level panic attacks.
*By the way, this post is going to be fairly personal so if you’re used to the light hearted stuff, sorry.*
Anyway, so yeah I get these panic attacks. They started just over 8 years ago, during a really dark period in my life. I don’t really talk about what happened then, fuck I never talk about it, but it sort of changed things. Because whereas I used to actually be a take no prisoners kind of girl in any situation, it pretty much got ripped away from me. If you ever wonder why people get so up in arms over supposed jokes or casual comments, I can tell you right now it’s for two reasons: either you’re a noble person or you’ve been through the reality and the jokes have long stopped being funny. While I still have a beat the shit out of you attitude if you mess with my friends; I tend to panic when I’m alone.
I cover this stuff up pretty well to be honest. Not just the panic part but a lot of life. I can talk for days about all sorts of things I like and dislike but unless you’re the type of person who thinks like I do, you’re unlikely to learn much that’s real. Real changes things. Real is…well honestly it’s real and that’s not the easiest thing to deal with.
I think that’s why I’ve kind latched onto the characters of Stiles & Derek from Teen Wolf recently. Because the people around them may know that Derek likes leather and sports cars and scowls a lot, or that Stiles is clumsy and talks a mile a minute and wants to be good at lacrosse, but no one really sees how much brokenness is screaming under the surface.
I’m not trying to be super depressing, there’s actually a happy point to this post, but I need you to understand how I get there. I think most of you who read this are fellow TV lovers so you probably get what I’m going to say next. But if anyone is reading this who often questions why I get so invested in fictional characters, here’s a really big part of it:
Fictional people allow me to express real emotions without repercussion or judgment, while allowing others to empathize with my feelings.
It’s not so hard to express real emotion. The tough part is getting people to respond. Because if I start crying over a friend’s betrayal, yeah it’s a real problem but it’s not YOUR problem. You don’t have a way to empathize with me and so I personally find it hard to find any comfort. Or very much. But if I start talking about how Bonnie’s treatment of Caroline is wrong and cruel and I rage for a while, there are people who get that. We all might apply our own perspectives to the storyline, but we still get the emotion behind it. So I invest in TV. It’s not as scary.
That was kind of a tangent but I needed to say it. Anyway, I have a lot of brokenness hiding out in almost plain view. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it but it’s there. I do feel like I’m finally moving forward and a big (huge) part of that is through my faith. But you know how sometimes we need those big steps or tangential moments, not just little victories?
Today was a big step. See when I have panic attacks, they’re usually after I’ve gotten lost in the dark. I should probably explain a little more. I’m terrified of the dark. I’m scared of water too but I can be vocal about that one. People get it. Scared of the dark is a child’s fear. But whereas a kid is afraid of the things that might go bump in the night, I’m afraid of the people that I know go bump in the night. It’s not a little fear either, like oh I don’t take walks at night. It’s a I won’t leave my apartment at night, so I’ll get somewhere 2 hours early if I have to. It’s a carry the mace, open, and run to the apartment door when I get home. I don’t park more than 10 spots away in a lot if I’m by myself. It’s not just the actions though.
I’m literally terrified. If you’re hanging out with me and walking ahead, I’m probably hyperventilating a little bit. If you look in my purse and see about 6 different weapons, there’s probably more than that. And while I’ll joke about being paranoid, the truth is I am. Because the last time I wasn’t, my life got destroyed.
AND IT SUCKS. Not just a little bit. I hate being so afraid. Growing up the night time, especially dusk, was my favorite time of day. The magic and mystery of it was perfect. I don’t get that anymore.
However, I’ve tried over the years to conquer some of these fears. In fact moving to Seattle a few years ago was one of the ways I did it. Or at least tried. I wanted to see if I could get out of Boise, be somewhere else. And at first I could. But I also didn’t have a car and while Seattle has great public transit, it’s also confusing. Especially in the fall when it gets dark around 2pm and that’s if it’s a rare day without rain. (Not that it rains all the time in Seattle –it doesn’t-but in the fall is a different story). I had been having minor panic attacks for a while but I kept telling myself I’d get past it. Then I took the wrong bus. I knew I was lost when I got off several stops too late so I hopped on the next bus rather than wait alone in the dark. Through a series of events (and little help from the drivers), I ended up at a station that was closed down. The driver left, saying I had to get off. I remember looking at the postings to see if another bus came by only to discover that there was only one and it wouldn’t be there until 4am. (It was about midnight).
I panicked. Full blown. I don’t really know how much time passed but I got shaken out of it by a police officer who stopped to see what homeless person was camped out on the bench. He drove me home once I managed to recover and calm down enough to tell me where to go. But I called my mom the next day and told her I was coming home. I don’t really remember what excuses I made. The point was that my fear got the last word yet again.
It’s happened a few other times. I’ll be driving and end up lost and try to circle back to the road I need but get more lost and end up freaking out in a McDonald’s parking lot. It only happens at night though. During the daytime I’m great at recognizing landmarks and figuring out where to go.
So today I went to Barnes & Noble over by Northeast Mall in Fort Worth, TX. I mapped out how to get there but for some reason I forgot to figure out getting home. So I pulled out of the parking lot, turned onto what I remembered as the right road and started going. Well I figured out after about 2 minutes that it was the wrong way. Long story short, I ended up lost. Really lost. In the dark, in an area of Texas that I’m not very familiar with.
I could feel myself on the verge of panicking when I saw the freeway entrance going the opposite way that I’d come to the store. So I got on, figuring eventually I’d get back. And obviously I did since I’m typing this. But if you know anything about Dallas freeways, it’s that there’s no such thing as a rational system. They weave and twist and turn like a bowl of spaghetti and every single one is under heavy construction. To figure out a freeway that I’ve never driven on and in the dark and in a city of 10 million is no easy feat.
But I did it. I followed it until I recognized street names and I got off on the exit that I needed and I got back to my apartment. And I didn’t panic. I wasn’t completely calm but still. There was no panic attack.
You know what that tells me? It tells me I can do this. It tells me there was a reason Invictus has always been my favorite poem. I can conquer this stupid ass fear. I can make it in Texas, away from home and on my own. And maybe someday, I won’t be afraid of the dark.