I’ve been debating whether or not to post this for a while now but figured, hey, it’s not like anyone who knows me thought I was a regular normal person anyway.
So here’s a story.
I had an interesting thing happen to me the other day – and by “interesting” I mean “kind of horrible.”
I had a panic attack.
I’ve had anxiety problems ever since I was a kid and had my first panic attack when I was about seven. That’s when my insomnia started, too. So it’s not like such an occurrence is new to me.
Now usually my panic attacks are caused by stress or staying up until 5 AM (things start to make less sense when you’ve been awake for more than 24 hours and the brain starts to do odd things in the wee hours of the morning).
This one, however, was caused by going into a Target.
Why did that trigger such a thing? I have no idea. It could have been that I’m no longer used to going into ziggurat-like megastores anymore or the crowds of yelling teenagers or the fact that I lost reception on my phone about ten minutes into my trip.
All I know is I ended up in the bakeware section, clutching bike shorts and a bunch of bananas to my chest, as I tried to figure out why cupcake pans cost $25 and why that was making me think about my imminent death.
You see, my brain doesn’t work… normally. Anxiety is the constant devil on my back – I see it as a source of inspiration at times but usually it just drives me crazy. I see the problems it causes but I try to find some good in the bad.
Most of the time, it’s just bad.
Sometimes my anxiety can lead to funny thought processes, like my likelihood of surviving the zombie apocalypse (conclusion: nill. Unless I found somewhere awesome to hide, I am zombie food for sure). It’s been fuel for my writing ever since I was a kid.
Other times, it makes me think about the futility of existence and I start obsessing about dark matter in space and whether or not souls exist.
These panic attacks are, again, usually triggered by a recognizable source of stress. Sometimes they’re just my brain cannibalizing information if I haven’t been stimulating it enough. Other times I’m convinced I’m just a loco brain doomed to wander the earth, contemplating how long it would take me to count to a million and being depressed by the fact that I would probably die before ever getting close.
The worst part about it is that it’s not like these attacks excuse me from doing things. It’s not like being sick. I still have to DO stuff. I still have to at least pretend to function like a normal adult human who can make normal adult human decisions and who isn’t constantly terrified by the idea of the dust mites that live on my body.
I still have to work. Feed myself. Write. Make decisions.
But making a decision while having a panic attack is a little bit like trying to force a hat on your head in the middle of getting a haircut – it’s messy, counter-productive, chaotic, and stupid.
Don’t get me wrong, the rational part of my mind is still there in the middle of one of these attacks.
It can still see an issue and the sort of solution that would be necessary in order to resolve said issue, but the irrational part of my brain starts screaming so loudly that it’s hard to really parse out what the rational brain is trying to say. This can make even the most simple task, like going out of my house to get lunch, nearly impossible.
During this inner dialogue, I will usually end up at a grocery store where I will be stuck in the frozen foods aisle just staring blankly at words that might as well be in hieroglyphics for all the good they’re doing me.
On impulse, I’ll buy a whole 32-ounce bag of potato wedges or something called a Hungry Man meal that I don’t believe has ever made any man less hungry and consists of microwavable cornbread and something that is closely related to, but not quite, ribs. I do this because I HAVE to get out of there. I have to leave. Because everyone can see my brain vomiting on itself.
Everyone can see that my brain is broken.
Because normal people don’t freeze up in grocery stores like a deer in the deadlights because there are multiple types of instant pizza and normal people don’t worry about future Frankenstein’ed Rick Santorums and nuclear proliferation and black holes and why did I buy those potatoe wedges, they’re probably full of cholesterol that is going to kill my heart that is already racing a million miles per hour.
At least, I assume they don’t.
But to be honest… I don’t know what normal people do.
I assume it involves things like balancing your checkbook or planning out recipes for the week or doing the sorts of things people do with their lawns or, like, planning for the future. All things that seem to be beyond me.
Because of the panicking.
I’m not saying everything is a constant struggle – it isn’t. I have a basic understanding of how to do my taxes and I know how to cook chicken and I have a rough idea of how much money is in my bank account. I just don’t check it that often because I am deeply afraid of the paralytic effect of my panic. I am constantly terrified of not being able to function because it’s happened before.
I’m even more afraid of people judging me for it more than I already judge myself.
Basically, if you know someone in your life who has trouble with this stuff, just try to not be a jerk about it. Try to be understanding. Try not to ask us why we don’t we chill and stop worrying. Chances are the person is beating themselves up enough without having you come in and tell them that they just need to relax.
Most of us realize that we need to relax. We scream it at ourselves as we’re not able to sleep at night. We scream it at ourselves in a Target. We scream it to ourselves as we lug a 32-ounce bag of potato wedges around the grocery store. We scream it at ourselves as we try to force our hats on our heads in the middle of our haircuts.
There isn’t a perfect way to deal with anxiety. But I think that maybe if we stopped thinking “I NEED TO BE NORMAL” and more “I need to ride this out so I can function as a human being who can do things”, then we’d be a little bit better off.
Besides – normalcy is overrated.
I wouldn’t know.