I had my first ever panic attack last night. I used to describe an event that happened to me in Calcutta as a panic attack. It involved heat, dust, the overpowering smell of rot, crying children, begging lepers, crowded, narrow alley-ways full of vendors, screaming goats being dragged by ropes to their slaughter, the blood of said goats trickling down the pavement, and 21-year-old me having a full-fledged freak-out and high-tailing it back to the idling bus where I cried and hyperventilated and wished I weren’t in India anymore. I say I used to refer to that as a panic attack, but with the benefit of hindsight I now look upon it as a perfectly normal reaction. Last night, on the other hand, was a textbook panic attack.
It was not a great afternoon to begin with. We had driven by the new house. I said some things about being frustrated that nothing was happening, and that I was anxious about our future housing plans. Brian felt hurt, and there was an afternoon of strained silence followed by an evening of weepy talking-it-out. It ended well enough with us settling on building a replica of Wim Wenders’s place in L.A., or at the very least a decision for me to be less worried about the future and more involved in the process. I went to bed feeling better in general but maybe a bit more unmoored than usual. An hour later I woke up feeling hot and shaky. My heart was pounding in my chest, and my first thought was "I must be sick," followed immediately, and for no logical reason I could think of by, “I am going to die.” I This thought took hold of me by the throat and didn’t let go. I managed to get out of bed and go upstairs; I needed Brian. He followed me back down to the bedroom and held me, trying to calm me down. I couldn’t breathe. I felt suddenly cold. My heart was going thump, thump, thump, and then bangbangbangbangbang, and then thump, thump, thump again. All I could think of was my imminent death, and the fact that Brian would have to raise the girls on his own. I think I fell asleep for a little while, woke up feeling the same way all over again, and then fell asleep for good about an hour after the whole thing started. At 5 a.m. I woke to the sound of Allison whimpering in her crib upstairs and I went up to get her, feeling normal.
I’m surprised, more than anything. I’ve always had tendencies toward depression, that’s been an off-and-on struggle for me since I was a kid, really. But I’ve never had any kind of anxiety issue. In fact, I’ve always thought of myself as the opposite of anxious: I pride myself on my ability to remain calm in the midst of chaos. I think of myself as particularly even-keeled. I just hope it was a one-time event. Even more so, I hope to God that never happens to me in public. I can’t imagine what that must be like.