I’m playing hot potato with oxygen recalling Newton’s third law that explains why every inhale is met with an equal and opposite exhale feeling the weight of the Divisadero road that moves like wet concrete below my feet just waiting for a long enough pause to swallow me whole.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, let’s say 1:30 PM, and I’m roughly 25% into what would become the most severe panic attack I’ve ever experienced. I feel like I’ve overdosed on caffeine and while I’ve never felt dubstep before, if I could translate what I’ve heard into a visceral feeling, my heartbeat resembles Dubstep almost perfectly… I wait anxiously for the drop only to signal yet another dramatic, anticipatory uptick in rhythm that captures you in its finitude — my body has become a legendary, immutable musical experience in a matter of minutes.
This isn’t the first time I’m experiencing the tumultuous paralysis that is a panic attack and at 1:45 pm on this beautiful Tuesday, I decide to run it off, to slow my breath by way of physical exhaustion and peak at my cracked iPhone screen only to keep track of how far into this I really was — 25,640 steps to be exact.
You’ll notice a lack of periods here — a lack of pause — and that is intentional because I want to emulate as closely as possible the experience of being trapped inside your fighting head and fleeting body without the “light at the end of the tunnel” that is a pause — that is a period — period — because when it comes to panic attacks, pause means surrender and breathlessness and choking and the reality of whatever it is that you’re trying to escape to run from and oh shit — I’m at 29,000 steps … it’s 3:36 pm on a Tuesday and wow this is —
“Honey, honey! Is she okay?”
My vision blurred, which is not expected for someone my age with twenty-twenty vision but understandable for someone my age with twenty-twenty vision who’s cheated on her eye exams for the past 12 years out of a competitiveness that names her the winner and loser of this odd health game she’s decided to play.
She came into focus — an older woman, gentle-faced, in her 60’s, complemented by the feeling of a small tongue licking my cheek which, luckily, I was able to discern as that of a cockapoo and not of an older woman in her 60’s with a gentle face.
I’d fainted in the middle of concrete in the Panhandle after 32,000 steps, no water, no food, a phone on airplane mode that still maintained a step count, and a heart beating to the drum of dubstep — at this moment, I was roughly 50% into what would become the most severe panic attack I’ve ever experienced.
I told everyone that I fainted in my psychiatrist’s office and it had been serendipitous enough that I’d been there right at the time of this lapse of unconsciousness — that, at around 3:15 pm, I’d fainted in his office and been driven to the hospital in his Tesla which, of course, was not true but no one was the wiser because why on earth would someone make up a story about fainting in their psychiatrist’s chair and getting driven to the hospital in a Tesla?
Because that someone was 82% into what would become the most severe panic attack she’s ever experienced and felt great shame in the fact that she’d run 32,000 steps only to be woken in the middle of the concrete by the tongue of a small dog — and she fucking HATES small dogs.
Now she’s 85% through this panic attack sitting in the backseat of a pale green Prius next to a cockapoo with an unnervingly powerful side eye with only the hum of the quiet car and soft voice of Terry Gross to block out her dubstep-induced heartbeat and now she’s at the hospital, sitting alone in the chaotic waiting room and telling all of her friends and family that it’s an anxiety attack and they shouldn’t worry because she’s out of the hospital and resting now but she’s really only 90% through what would become the most severe panic attack she’s ever experienced and, for some reason, the soft, unharmed “lol, that’s crazy!” texts justify the horrendous lie about fainting in her psychiatrist’s office who gave her a ride to the hospital in his — fuck — does Dr. Johnson even own a Tesla?
She should’ve done her due diligence from the urine-stained concrete in the middle of the panhandle, worrying not about the state of her scraped knee or cockapoo-kissed cheek or limp body or gentle-faced, later-discovered-Republican savior holding her head in her lap, but the holes in the ridiculous story she told the world in an effort to soften and conceal the truth of the matter which is that she failed to understand what her body needed and was feeling and her body told her she was running from a lion, or whatever it is that feels like sure death by way of pause because that’s truly what it feels like — a body on autopilot running from some life-threatening thing that her brain can only succumb to out of confusion and, more importantly, she failed to handle what would become the most severe panic attack she’s ever experienced.
This is the reality of mental health. It’s not pretty — and the “stigma” attached to it goes far deeper than public perception and advice from self-help books and friends and family to “relax” … as if you haven’t
The reality of mental health is that it’s extremely shameful. It feels like something you should be able to swallow or run off or worse, lie about, from the seat of your psychiatrist’s nonexistent Tesla because most of your friends have “omg the most anxiety today at work” as they sip their wine and order a salad with grilled chicken and dressing on the side as calmly as any normal human would not laying on the urine-stained concrete of the Panhandle.
The reality of mental health is invisible — it lacks a vernacular of truth that conveys the burden of the dubstep-induced heartbeats that show no sign of forfeit and the inevitable failure to do the most human, “easy” things such as “resting” and “breathing” and
shit — “relaxing.”
The best she can do, the best choice on her menu, is to soften the way she shares the experience so that The Panhandle is stained only with the smell of urine and not with the evidence of her failure to take care of herself because at the end of the day, this wouldn’t have happened if she just relaxed more frequently, or agreed to take the antidepressants that mute her sharp edges that make her so “her” because mental health feels like failure.
At 3:36 pm, I, a healthy, successful-by-some-measures human was saved by the textured tongue of a cockapoo. And I used to fucking hate small dogs.