Fruition Update: Part Six
Welcome to Part Six. If you missed the intro to my Fruition Update Week, you can get caught up here.
My first panic attack, just before my 19th birthday, caught me in bed nearly asleep, jolted me into excruciatingly awake, ran me into the bathroom and convinced me that I was going to throw up.
I sat there with heart palpitations and cold sweats and my head over the toilet wondering what the hell was going on. Eventually I fell asleep there against the cold porcelain, woke up a bit later feeling totally normal, then went back to bed and forgot about it.
The panic did not, however, forget about me.
The list of places I’ve had panic attacks and/or severe anxiety include, but are not limited to: while standing in long lines, while standing in short lines, in crowded restaurants, in not-crowded restaurants, in counseling sessions, in libraries, in bookstores, during classes, while trying to fall asleep, in movie theatres, during plays, at airports, while introducing myself, in malls, on public transportation, while attending school functions, at the dentist, during work, while driving, during sex, while sitting at home watching TV, in the middle of a very normal and chatty conversation with my neighbors, in grocery stores, during job interviews, at swimming pools, while walking dogs, during yoga class, while on the phone, in the middle of my own wedding ceremony, while eating, and when stuck at a red light, especially if waiting to turn left.
These things are not scary to most people, but are seething and snarling and fierce to the 18.1 percent of Americans with an anxiety disorder. That’s close to one out of every five, folks. Sometimes if I’m in a crowded room, I look around and try to pick out the other broken humans.
It isn’t that I don’t know the panic is irrational. I know it. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be so exasperating.
Anxiety so limiting, so angering and awful and humiliating, you become willing to do anything to get rid of it, no matter how silly.
The list of things I’ve tried to reduce or eliminate my panic attacks and/or severe anxiety include, but are not limited to: dropping out of college, getting out of relationships, going on Paxil, going off hormonal birth control, going back to college, changing schools, starting new relationships, switching jobs, acupuncture, living in denial, moving, counseling, yoga, Xanax, avoidance, CBT, subliminal affirmations, giving up caffeine, increasing my protein and decreasing my carbs, taking five deep breaths, ACT, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, isolating myself, passionflower extract, curling up in a ball and crying at the futility of it all, having my chakras read, exposure therapy, positive self-talk, and drinking a cup of salt water first thing every morning to cure my probable adrenal fatigue.
With varying success.
Three years ago, I was close to housebound. That lasted around a year and a half. Maybe longer. I dragged myself back to some semblance of functionality through equal parts willpower and stubbornness, determined to regain my sanity without drugs. By the time I’d arrived in CO, I could leave the house again.
Of course, when your comfort zone is about the size of a walnut, you’re still really nowhere good.
I was running out of options. My next strategy leaned toward accepting that life was just going to be smaller than I ever wanted it to be. Permanently. I’d pretty well exhausted the list of things I could try to beat this monster after all, with only hypnosis remaining. And believe me when I tell you, hypnosis no longer sounded as ridiculous to me as it would have a few years ago; desperation makes practically anything seem sensible.
Then I read about this type of therapy called EMDR that’s intended primarily for PSTD, but has been helpful for anxiety also. Supposedly. When nothing else has helped. So I think, hey. What’s a few hundred more dollars thrown at this thing and one more disappointment, right? And I call an EMDR counselor and tell her my problem.
“I do everything I’m supposed to. I do the self talk. I do the deep breathing. I don’t feel panicky, then all of a sudden I am. I feel totally normal, and then it’s a diaster with no warning. It’s like I just can’t conquer that knee-jerk anxiety reaction.”
She says “That’s exactly what EMDR is perfect for. I tell my patients that it’s like losing that last five pounds after your diet has plateaued.”
So we do a session. It’s kinda weird, but what the hell. Better than losing any more irreplaceable life to this bullshit phantom.
And there’s this… shift.
I’ve had this funny problem the last couple years where every time I sit down to write my own stuff, I end up in tears, like writer’s block combined with fear of failure. Or fear of success maybe? I don’t know. I do know it’s crippled my attempts at self-publishing.
That disappears after the second session.
After the third session, I’m walking through the back of Target with Miss G and can’t put my finger on something that’s off somehow, something that’s missing… and I realize it’s the panic. There isn’t any. I’m far, far away from any exit and I’m okay. Not “I’ll just grit my teeth and get through this” okay, but legitimately, actually okay.
After the sixth session, she tells me I’m cured. I really want to believe her. But then, maybe I should believe her; I have made more progress in 4 months than in the last 18 years put together.
Then my boss, who is based out of Las Vegas, calls me. He wants me to attend a business dinner there. Part of my new job description will be having me work directly with clients; the primary client I’m taking over is coming through town in March. He wants to meet us. But really, he wants to meet me.
I am dry-mouthed and shaking on the other end of the phone, but I know it is time.
This is my final exam. Going through the airport security line. Taking the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the terminal. Riding in an airplane. Attending a business dinner. Oh, and eating at a restaurant. At a restaurant that I’ve never been to in the far back of a casino. If you add Pennywise the Clown to that list, you’ve pretty much got every one of the most unnerving, anxiety-triggering things lurking in my head. [Warning: If you don’t know who Pennywise is, do NOT google him. There’s a reason I didn’t include a picture here.]
But you know what? I’m feeling good and confident. I haven’t had a major attack in months, and my last session was just after New Year’s. Then the week before the dinner date, I go to a school function of Miss G’s and suddenly I’m blacking out around the corners of my vision and hyperventilating.
Totally freaked, I call my counselor the next day for an emergency session or something.
“No. Uh uh. You are NOT coming in here for this.”
“Nope! You got this. If you want, you can call me before the dinner but you won’t need to. You got this.”
Feeling abandoned, I call Dan for moral support. He’s no help; he says pretty much the same thing as the counselor did. I feel all naked on top of the high jump.
And then, I decide to believe them. Because sometimes you have to have faith. And because I know that continual pushing of my comfort zone is the only way out of this mess. And because I want to see if I am, indeed, actually cured.
Because someday, I will have my last panic attack. And maybe I’ll be able to say it was this year.
I make Dan fly with me. I survive, although I did have to do a little tree pose– well, balance subtly on one leg– while waiting in the security line to find my balance.
I attend the dinner, and I am charming. I tell delightful stories like a normal human who doesn’t want to claw her hair out and run screaming from the table. I give heartfelt silent thanks to my mother’s rigorous training in social graces, because those deep-seated instincts save me now.
And then dinner is over. And I’m walking back to the car in the parking garage, where Dan waited for me the entire time because he is amazing. He climbs out of the car to pick me up in a giant Dan hug.
“I did it,” I tell him, laughing and crying at the same time.
“Of course you did, Wife! I knew it’d be no problem. Fruition, honey. Fruition.”
Ready for an intermission? Me too. After that, here’s Part Seven.
Oh hey there, struggling stepparent!
Listen, I put together a new website just for high-conflict blended families: Blended Family Frappé. Come on over and join the hundreds of other stepparents who are reclaiming their sanity one Sunday newsletter at a time.