Acutely Ariane

Anxious girl attempts novel. Results TBD.

Month: September 2017

Chapter 5: Panic

Have you ever felt like you were dying?

And not the “it’s so miserably hot outside,” or “I totally embarrassed myself in front of everyone I know” metaphorical kinds of dying.

Have you ever felt your chest hurting so bad that you think you’re having a heart attack? That no matter what you do you can’t alleviate the pain? That you scour your medicine cabinets for even a single expired painkiller? That when you can’t find any you try to go to sleep, only to realize you can’t sleep because how can you sleep when something is stabbing you repeatedly in the chest?

So when all else fails, you decide that you should go to the emergency room, because maybe you really are having a heart attack and you don’t want to drop dead in front of your confused dog. You drive yourself, even though you’re not really supposed to, because even through the pain and fear you’re thinking about the cost of an ambulance ride.

When you arrive at the ER, there’s conveniently nobody else there. Front of the line! So of course you promptly break down crying in front of the admin trying to take down your information.

Once you’ve sobbed your way through your birthday and medical history, they rush you back because chest pain is no joke. You’re in a room with three nurses, who bustle around you asking questions and prepping equipment and for some reason that really opens the floodgates. You thought you were panicked before. But the joke’s on you, because now there’s snot dripping from your nose as you hyperventilate, all while the nurse is taking your temperature and asking you to change into a hospital gown.

This isn’t your first rodeo. Chest pain means getting an EKG. EKG means a bunch of thingamabobs stuck all over your chest and arms and legs. Now they’ll find the problem, you think to yourself. Once they can actually get the EKG to work. Because you’re shaking too much to get a good reading. The nurses joke with you, smile, encourage you like you’re ten years old again. You start to take deep meditation breaths like your life depends on it. Maybe it does.

Four attempts later, one of the nurses whisks the results off to the doctor. Another sticks you for blood. Normally, you hate needles, but you can barely feel it through the still throbbing pain in your chest, and the panic still teetering on the verge of hyperventilating again. But then your partner walks in and you can see the concern written on his face and you didn’t think you had more tears in you but here they come again and oh, do you think you can give a urine sample?

Finally, after all of these tests, here comes the good part. They give you something to calm you down (probably because they’re sick of seeing you sob), and something for the pain. When the painkiller kicks in, the sudden absence of pain leaves a weird achy hole in your chest. That must mean it’s real. The medicine works. So there’s something there. Something to fix. Slap a band-aid on me and send me home, doc. You giggle at the thought of a giant band-aid over the top of a giant stab wound in your heart and maybe the Ativan is kicking in now, too.

The doctor does, in fact, come in at this point. You’re calm, ready to find out what part of your body is trying to kill you.

He says that all of your tests are normal.

Come again?

Normal. No heart attack. No irregularities. Just…normal.

And you think to yourself, well, that can’t possibly be right because an hour ago I was dying.

And he mentions that “A” word, the one you didn’t want to hear because there is no big band-aid for it and that this was all in your head.

Anxiety.

 

 

 

So you had a panic attack.

A really bad panic attack.

A panic attack with physical pain and palpable fear and red eyes and snot bubbles and partial nakedness.

Maybe it wasn’t in front of everyone you know, but you still feel pretty damn embarrassed.

That’s anxiety. There’s no magic band-aid. No quick fix. You fight it every day. Some days are good. And some days you end up in the ER with sensors hooked up to your underboob.

But you keep fighting in the hopes that, eventually, it will get better.

Chapter 4: The Plasticity of Anxiety

Anxiety is like plastic wrap.

Like when you’re tearing the plastic off of something really awesome and you don’t get it off in one piece and there’s a little piece that sticks to you. By the weird magic of static electricity, the piece sticks to your hand. You try to pull it off and it sticks to your other hand. You can’t get rid of it. You understand why it’s called cling wrap. The fun thing that was inside the plastic is forgotten because there can only be one: you or the piece of plastic. And the plastic is winning.

Every time you try and free yourself, it sticks somewhere else. You get frustrated and resign yourself to having this stupid piece of plastic stuck to you for the rest of your life, clear and invisible to everyone else. But to you, it’s impossible not to think about it. You can’t help but stare at it. Dwell on it. Think about it all day. Dream about that stupid cling wrap.

One day you’ve had enough and shake yourself silly and you look all over and the plastic seems to be gone. You take deep breaths and relief washes over you.

And then you realize that damn piece of plastic is stuck to your back instead.

So now you’ve got this plastic in a place you can’t reach and it’s driving you batty. You stay home, because the thought of going out with that mark of shame is too much. People will see you trying in vain to pick at it. People will judge you. People will stare at you freaking out in public over such a small thing.

Of course, the obvious answer is to ask for help. But that’s too embarrassing. Who could you possibly trust to let in on your dirty plastic secret?

No, you are resigned to this being your new normal forever. There is no getting rid of the cling wrap.

Deep breaths. Maybe some sobs. More breaths, because breathing is good.

Eventually, you realize that maybe such a small piece of plastic isn’t as consequential as you think it is. You think that maybe people were only noticing it because you were bringing attention to it. You shove it to the back of your mind as far as it will go, and you can still feel it there, nagging you, but it’s no longer quite as awful as it was before.

The plastic slips, just far enough that you can grab it. You throw the thing in the garbage, and by some miracle it no longer sticks to your fingers. You stare at the pathetic thing lying on top of the banana peels and granola bar wrappers, tiny now that you have some distance. And then the triumph bubbles up in your chest.

You’ve won! You beat that asshole plastic wrap! You never have to deal with it again!

But you just got a new fun thing in the mail, and it’s sitting there, ready for you to enjoy.

Once you get through the plastic.

Side Note: A Blog About a Dog

Last year, I acquired a dog.

I’d never had a pet before, beyond the occasional beta fish. In fact, as a kid, I was pretty scared of dogs. I mean, I was scared of a lot of things. I was scared that if I didn’t have an equal number of hair ties on each wrist my arms would grow lopsided. I was also scared that if I didn’t have hair ties the zombie apocalypse would break out and my free-flowing hair would get me killed somehow and my last thought would be “Damn, I wish I had had a hair tie.”

So about this dog. I got it into my head that I wanted one, and once the idea took hold it was all I could think about. My boyfriend and I searched for months for the perfect poof.  And then one day he sent me a Craigslist ad, of all things. Until this point, I’d had good luck with Craigslist. I’d found an apartment, a table, and zero psycho killers. The lucky streak continued, as the ad contained a picture of three puppies.

The finest in Craigslist quality photos. If you can’t tell which one is the best puppy, she’s the one on the right.

And that’s how, a few days later, we found ourselves on a drive to a stranger’s house three hours away in search of a dog.

From the minute she climbed in my lap, I knew we were taking her home. She was perfect, and I was already in love. I couldn’t shove money at them fast enough.

Within a few minutes of driving home with my newly acquired puppy sleeping in my lap, I wanted to turn around and bring her back.

It hit me all of a sudden that I was now responsible for this little life. How was that possible? I assume that’s how new parents feel on the way home from the hospital, only parents have nine months to come to grips with the idea, and I had had three days.

Yes, I’m comparing getting a dog to having a baby. Don’t be weird about it.

That first night, she whined. She whined and cried all night. I was a horrible person. She didn’t love me. She didn’t even want to be here. And from there the fears started to build up.

I was afraid of accidentally stepping on her and breaking her foot or her tail or her back. I was afraid I would feed her too much, or too little. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to potty train her and she’d always pee upstairs on the carpet. I was afraid that I’d take her to the vet, and be told what an awful job I was doing and should never be allowed a dog again.

And then, as I started to get used to caring for her, new fears cropped up.  I was afraid of leaving her alone when I went to work, because she’d somehow end up dead by the time I came home (anxiety is morbid sometimes). I was afraid that I wasn’t socializing her enough, or maybe too much. I was afraid of feeling jealous when it came to Panda and other people. At worst, I feared I’d become resentful if she didn’t like me as much as other people.

Except, that’s not how it went. None of my fears came to pass. She eats fine. She’s perfectly potty trained. If the vet thinks bad things about me, she’s never said so. And the joy my pup exudes upon meeting new people, or seeing family after a long time, makes me happy, too. The amount of happiness one wriggly little body can contain is surprisingly infectious. The next time an apocalypse breaks out, hair ties will be a distant second to making sure I have my dog, zombies be damned.

And I’ve never come home to find her dead. Or undead. So that’s good.

People tell me I spoil her. Which is probably true, but I feel like I’m the spoiled one. I’m spoiled with her dragging toys over to me when she wants to play. I’m spoiled with her joy every time I pull out her leash and she knows we’re going on another adventure together. I’m spoiled with her sitting under the table while I write, tail tickling against my feet. I’m spoiled with her coming to check on me when I’m crying and licking up the tears. I’m spoiled with her running to me when she’s scared or hurt and demanding to sit in my lap like it’s the last safe place on Earth. I’m spoiled with the feeling of her curling into my hipbone while I sleep, in constant contact through the night. I’m spoiled with her unconditional love.

I’m not sure what I did to deserve this face, but spoiling it is the least I can do.

 

(In a shameless plug, you can follow my pup on Instagram @panda.pom. Seeing her little face every day brings me joy. Maybe it’ll do something for you, too.)

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