Reclaiming my memories

Annie Altman
Nov 9, 2018 · 5 min read

Two months ago I met with Joe K, the owner of Urban Exhale Hot Yoga, to discuss the podcast episode we were going to record together. (I have since recorded podcasts with four other teachers at the studio and am completely unsure how to express my gratitude to Joe — honestly perhaps less words about it?) While I would be the one asking Joe questions on the podcast, he had an important question for me. With all the casual profundity of a yoga teacher, Joe asked, “what is your earliest memory?”

Without pause for an inhale I responded, “probably a panic attack.” I feel like Joe did his best asana poker face, based on projecting my own insecurities and/or the hyper-vigilant observance that comes with anxiety.

I began having panic attacks at a young age. I felt the impending doom of death before I had any concept of death. (Do I really have any concept of death now, though? Does anyone??) I define panic attacks as feeling “too alive,” like diving off the deep end into awareness of existence without any proper scuba gear or knowledge of free diving. Panic attacks, I’ve learned, come like an ambulance flashing lights and blaring a siren indicating that my mind and my body are… experiencing a missed connection in terms of communication — they’re refusing to listen to each other. More accurately: my mind is disregarding the messages from my body, convinced she can think her way through feelings, and so my body goes into panic mode like she’s on strike.

Learning about awareness of breath has been the single most useful tool on my emotional processing belt. How amazingly ridiculous and ridiculously amazing is it that we both do and do not have conscious control over our breath and our thoughts?! Many spiritual and religious practices view the breath as the soul. Given the connection breath helps me feel between my body and my mind, I’m beginning to understand why.

As a proud science nerd, I’m a believer that most all of life can be represented graphically by the bell-curve. Viewing awareness as a bell-curve means that there is a point of being “so aware” that one is no longer aware, in fact one has the same level of (un)awareness as one would on the opposite side of the curve. On both ends of the bell-curve, there is little to no awareness of breath, of thought, of the choice of conscious control including the choice to let go of all else. (Oh, letting go practice.)

I went to a sound bath at the yoga studio about a month ago, the second sound bath I’ve ever attended. (I cried at both and if you know me you know that I am happy about things that help me cry.) Sound baths are a guided meditation where you lay in corpse pose and receive sounds of specific frequencies, allowing vibrations to “wash” over and through you. Some shit is bound to surface in the tides.

My dad died five months ago now, and to say I’ve learned a lot is an enormous understatement. I was and am a “daddy’s girl.” The most recent panic attack, and perhaps darkest one I’ve experienced, happened the week he died. My dad was one of the most genuinely positive people I’ve ever come across. He had an incredible capacity to continually focus on the light, the good, what was “right” in any situation. I felt his presence during parts of the sound bath — a concept past me would have rolled her eyes about.

Laying in bed later that night, Joe’s question popped back into my consciousness with a kind “please make your way into child’s pose.” I realized I had deceived myself (classic humaning) with my response to his question, “what is your earliest memory?”

Joe, and whoever is reading, I would like to formally change my answer. I am also without an exact answer. I am non-sarcastically “trusting the process” to potentially receive one. I know that a panic attack is not my answer, and my ego likes to remind itself that knowing what is not my truth leads me at least somewhat closer to said truth.

I also know that I choose my memories — I decide which ones I focus on, which ones to carry with me, and when to let go of that “which no longer serves me.” So I choose to remember riding most everywhere sitting on my dad’s shoulders, to feel the feeling of my dad brushing my hair and styling it into half-ponytails before elementary school, to picture the view as my dad drove me to soccer practice.

I am reclaiming my memories by utilizing the tool to write (very literally here) my own history. Yes panic attacks are a part of my memories, they are a part of my experiences and so they are a part of me. Panic attacks have taught me indescribable things about myself. I’m grateful (again, non-sarcastically) for the momentary eternities of feeling viscerally aware of death as the outcome of all lives. Statistically speaking — as I lean back towards logicizing my emotions — panic attacks are a very small percentage of my existence. Why would I focus on them when there is numerically so much more I can choose to focus on?

I can reflect on and connect with feelings of panic and still have space to choose a positive perspective. Searching for ways to cope with existence has lead me to yoga, dance, singing, ukulele, cooking, baking, writing… to asking all the questions I know to ask so that I can open myself up to knowing just how many more questions life has to offer. Without panic attacks, I may have lived my whole life without starting a YouTube channel, a podcast, or this blog. Without panic attacks, I may have continued to subscribe to the illusion that I am separate from everyone else and that things happen “to” rather than “for” me. Without panic attacks, I may have learned far less capacity to empathize with the varying challenges everyone faces that I only know I cannot fully know.

Emotions come and go, so it keeps seeming. Emotions and memory are directly linked, re: the amygdala. I have little to no control over my emotional response; I do have control over my reaction and subsequent actions. I am fortunate to have the privilege to be here writing and editing and sharing this and so here I am.

I write my own history. Though TBD on the first memory of that history. Here’s to exploring.

Annie Altman

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One human’s thoughts and (mostly) feelings on humaning. For the podcast and other expressions head to theanniealtmanshow.com @theanniealtmanshow