‘Hello, Panic, My Old Friend’
Dean had a party one night and invited Stan and me along. It sounded like just what I needed – a day out to have a good time, not have to worry about anything. But I didn’t feel right from the moment I went – hot, stuffy, my head clogged. I thought once I got there, I could relax, get into things.
Instead, I became increasingly uncomfortable. The room swayed and now it was stifling. It was summer and warm outside, but not like this. My clothes smothered me. Dean and Stan started to drink. I decided to hold off until my head settled. But it was so damn hot. My breath caught in my throat.
I asked Dean if I could lay down for a bit and he showed me to his bedroom. I lay on the bed and let my thoughts drift as they had at the clinic. This would work, just like it had the last time. But the room was so still and quiet it only pronounced everything wrong. I was miles from home. The heat pressed down on me. There was a surge in my head, like a spike of energy. I sat up. This didn’t feel like years ago, like the panic attacks I’d had when I was younger. I tried to shake it off. It punched again. I got up and asked Dean if he could call me a taxi, as I was sick. Dean instead drove me home. I felt guilty and terrible. When I got home, I lay down and began to feel better. I took some of the pills I’d been prescribed for Meniere’s and was asleep not long after. I woke late in the evening and now there was nothing. Whatever it had been was gone.
But a message was clearly developing: leave home and be at risk. It happened when I’d gone to indoor cricket, although that was almost understandable. Indoor cricket required exertion – heart pumping, breath panting, sweat running. That’s when that episode which had started this all had hit. This was just a social situation – sitting around with friends, having a drink or two. And yet it had come again. The moment I left home, whatever was going on was likely to emerge – this was when I was at my most vulnerable. At home, I could lie down, relax; it didn’t matter. Once I was out in the world, it was open slather.
I was open slather.
Not long after I had a cousin’s wedding. The prospect began with a niggle, just a sliver of unease. I told my mum I was ill and really didn’t want to go, but she demanded. She asked me what people would think if I wasn’t there. This was our culture: it wasn’t about wellness or how you felt or what you were going through, but what people would think.
The moment I got in the car I was agitated and kept telling myself that if I could last until the reception, I could have a few drinks and that would relax me. But the reception was hours away – Greek wedding ceremonies are interminable. Then there’d be pictures. It was midday. I wouldn’t be seeing alcohol until it six-thirty, or later.
At the church, I fidgeted while I spoke with my cousins, although I felt those mini-punches in my head again. I tried to engage in conversations, tried to distract myself. It was a delicate balance. Punch! Punch! Conversation. Punch! More conversation. I wasn’t losing, but neither was I winning. Finally, we filed into the church and sat down on the pews. Now the impossible part.
The priest began the vows – in Greek. I didn’t know what he was saying. How many of these things had I been to and stood here, clueless? Usually, it was a case of just counting down the time. Now, my mind opened up, became hypersensitive. It was hot again. Clothes scratched me. Shirt collar was too tight. Sweat trickled from my temples. I was suffocating.
Not a punch, but an explosion of agitation. It wasn’t like the one in the PANCH waiting room that day I saw Dr Victor; this was pure restlessness that pulsed through my arms and legs and chest, an electric energy that made it impossible to be still. I got up, sidled over to my mum, and told her I didn’t feel well and was going outside. She asked me what was wrong. I didn’t know how to tell her, so I just said I was sick. Sick covered a lot of things.
Outside, I decided to walk around the block, hoping that would help. I took out a cigarette and lit it up. Stupid idea. I was short of breath; smoking didn’t help. My lungs contracted; my chest tightened. I fought off the urge to panic and butted out the cigarette. It was too hot. The sun beat down on me. My hands couldn’t settle. I fidgeted, closed my fists, crossed my arms, dropped them by my sides.
I had to get out of here. I was out. In public. What would people think if I collapsed? I needed to get home, where it was safe. This didn’t happen at home. I was no longer built to be ambulatory for any length of time outside of home.
When I got back to the church, people were just coming out. I found my mum and told her I had to go home. I must’ve looked and sounded bad, because she agreed. John asked me what was wrong. I told him it was Meniere’s Disease. Meniere’s Disease covered it. That’s what Doctor Warren had been thinking. And this wasn’t at all like the previous time. This was all new. It had to be something different.
At home, I got dressed in some shorts and a T-shirt, lay on the couch and watched some TV. Agitation ran through me. Once night came, I popped a Mogadon – the first I’d taken in a long while – but it didn’t work. It had a similar effect to the last days of the Ativan: drowsiness sedated my mind, but the panic was still alive, pulsing, spawning, tingling all over my skin. In fact, with my mind asleep, there was no way to combat the panic.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Anxiety exploded in my limbs. Seethed. Whatever resistance I had to it was gone, shut up by the Mogadon. Now there was nothing to take to make the anxiety better. Nothing to shut it up. If the Mogadon hadn’t done the trick – like it used to – what would?
I went to bed and lay there, worried, thinking that the Mogadon had made me vulnerable – or vulnerabler – to what had happened, and that I could never take one again. As a resource, it was dead.
Again, I was alone.