As I’ve continued on this new journey I’m on through life, in this world I never made, I’ve learned so many things. And today, I’ve learned something I never understood before. I’ve had panic attacks all my life. And I never knew it. Neither did anyone else.I can remember one day in 1983. I was at work. And nothing was going well that day. My day was awful. I don’t remember all the details of what people had said to me. Of how people had behaved. But I do remember sitting at the desk I was assigned to. Looking into a desk drawer. And I remember shutting that drawer. Hard. So hard that I separated all four of the seams in the corners of the front of that drawer. The entire drawer went a quarter of an inch further into the desk after that. The front of the drawer was visibly bent at the top right corner. And when you pulled the drawer out, you could see where all four pieces of metal that attached the front to the rest of the drawer had straightened out a bit. You could see the gaps in the seams at each of the front’s four corners. And I remember after I closed that drawer, I got up. And I walked away.
I have no idea where I went. I just don’t remember. I know I stayed gone until I was OK to work.
I can remember one day in August of 1976. It was a Wednesday. Every Wednesday night the high school aged youth of the church had a youth group meeting. That Wednesday night was no exception.
I still wonder how the hell a youth group got onto the topic of women serving aboard US Navy vessels. I just knew I got hammered for being rational and pointing out that having women on an US Navy ship that was deployed at sea meant there would have to be changes in the design of the vessel. And I remember how outrageously angry that got people with me.
Too the point I couldn’t take it any more. And I got up, and walked away. I walked from the back yard of a house that day, down streets I’d never set foot on. In neighborhoods I didn’t know were there. I’d walked until I had calmed down. Until I felt like I could behave again.
I have so many tales like this that I remember from my life.
So many days in July, August and September of 2010, when I went to work. And wound up walking on the beach. Because I couldn’t stay in the building any more. In that 12 weeks, I must have consumed 60 sodium naproxen pills fighting off the headaches I endured just by parking my car in the parking lot. Headaches that got worse as I approached the building. I remember the pills didn’t cure the headaches. Instead, changed my pain threshold, so I could cope with the pain I was in.
I can remember 3rd grade. When Dad joined the US Navy. And we moved. From our home in Merrigold, Mississippi. To an apartment in Middletown, Rhode Island. Everyone thought I had a temper, and my temper showed at school. I got put into time out lots. I even broke the bottom of a desk.
No one knew. No one knew at all. How much of the things I went through then were actually caused by panic. But as my understanding of things grows. I know. I can see where panic touched my life. Even then.
Most people think of panic attacks as people trembling with fear. Hiding in their home. Unable to leave. It’s a common assumption people make. That people have to behave as if they were afraid of their own shadows to suffer panic attacks. To have problems with anxieties.
That’s a common myth. Another lie. That society puts in place to make people comfortable with the way things are. I know this because I know what I sometimes do in a panic attack. I know what the law of fight or flight is all about. And I know that in a panic-stricken state, I would do anything to escape. Including fight.
It’s what I did in 3rd grade. When I was so afraid of failure. So afraid of not getting the best grades I could get. That I lashed out every time I failed. That I punished myself, for letting my parents down. That I panicked. Wondering. “What will they think of me! I’ve let them down!”
No one understood at all. I got taught lots of ways to manage my temper. Take a deep breath, hold it, and count to 10. And lots of other things. Like covering up the bad wood used in a building’s frame with drywall. So that no one knows it’s there.
I’ve learned the physical symptoms my body exhibits when my panic sets in. The tension in my chest, shoulders, and neck. The way that my hands shake, and I can’t stop them. My sudden inability to think at all. Other than one word. “Escape!” The way my pulse goes crazy. Rocketing up to near 100 beats per minute. And maybe even more.
And I’ve learned how to cope with those signs. To treat them as the signals they really are. To find my way through the events that triggered my attack. So that more and more, my attacks don’t rule me, and don’t determine how I behave. More and more I make the choice for myself about what to do.
It’s like for the first time in my life, I’m finding the answers I’ve always needed, and always sought. Answers to the problems I’ve always had. Problems I never understood before. Problems that no one around me ever understood. I was never “bad”. I was never “mean”. I was never angry, with a temper.
I was just afraid.
And no one ever understood.