I sat my three kids down to give them the news. I was losing control, overwhelmed by the divorce. I felt my brain on overload and I was inches away from a breakdown. I needed their help. I needed them to take care of me while I rode out this storm.
All three sat there stunned. In their early twenties, they were barely adult enough to care for themselves, and I was “the strong one,” the one parent they relied on, their tether while they tested their wings on their own. I had always warned them not to put me on a pedestal. My feet were made of clay. I was mortal and finite. And just as human as they.
Right now, I was moments from slipping into a serious anxiety attack. I knew this because it wasn’t the first time I’d had one. Twenty years prior I froze in front of an auditorium full of educators who had come to hear me speak about the use of a computerized reading program. I was legally separated (from the same man) back then, so my mind was on more important things than selling an expensive product to school administrators. The sales person who had invited me to testify took over, but I doubt many sales were made that day.
When none of my kids stepped forward, I didn’t blame them. They too were traumatized by their father’s abandonment, so losing me scared them beyond words. We were all a mess, so I called my mother and told her I was packed and on my way to her house. I gave her the route I would take and ETA, then I drove to her house on autopilot. She took care of me for four days, the time it took for me to come out of my dreamlike state of detachment, and I found my purpose and determination again.
I always wonder why people do not die from a broken heart. I guess some do; those who do not have healthy bodies. The rest of us keep on living and the closest we come to dying is through anxiety attacks.
I had another one a few months later. I was still feeling a little wobbly when my brother-in-law passed away suddenly and my sister and niece asked for my help with the arrangements. I was supposed to read Scripture at his funeral mass but when it came time, I froze. I grew roots to the floor and panicked. At the same time, I wanted to run out of the church but I could not move. I could not do anything, so I looked at my sister and niece and choked out something. They calmed me down and covered for me. The grief for my brother-in-law plus my own personal tragedy was more than my brain and my heart could handle. It only lasted for a few hours, but it proved I was a fraud. I wasn’t as strong as EVERYONE thought I was. I was human and I hurt just like everyone else.
I hadn’t had a panic attack in sixteen years, so I do not understand what triggered the one that visited me last week in the middle of the night while I slept. I was dreaming nonsense, some humdrum, boring conversation between me and some faceless person about some nothing subject, when – bam! – I woke up with a jolt, a whiplash like one experiences when a roller coaster makes a sudden stop. All my muscles were immobile, frozen, mummified. My heart was racing and I felt an overwhelming fear as if Satan himself was in the room. I looked over in the dark at HoneyBunch, but I could not move nor talk. It would take an effort I did not possess to tell him what was happening, so it was up to me to help myself.
I assessed the damage. I was not having a heart attack or stroke. I recognized it as a panic attack. I searched my brain for the cause of anxiety but found nothing that would cause a reaction this extreme. I took three deep, slow breaths. I grounded myself, noting three things to identify my surroundings. I forced myself to relax using the yoga technique where you start with your toes and work your way up the body. I kept taking deep breaths and felt myself regaining calm. As I thought of three, good things in my life that make me smile, I got into a comfortable sleeping position, and I prayed myself to sleep.
I shared this with HoneyBunch the next day and he and I have discussed it several times since. Our best guess is this time of year. Many sad things have happened to us in the month of July over the years, so that might have triggered the panic attack. All I know is I am alive. I am human and my feet are on the ground and not on a pedestal.