So last night I was supposed to be moderating an event for Christopher Moore, who is one of my favorite authors and I was very excited about it but on the way there I started to feel sick and it was the kind of sick that precedes an anxiety attack (racing heart, dread) but it wasn’t incredibly surprising since I’d been reading about the horrific events in Uvalde and I thought I could just push through it or at least make it to the church where we were having the event so that I could have the anxiety attack in the parking lot and that was a terrible idea but turns out I wasn’t having an anxiety attack. I was having a panic attack.
These seem the same and can be interchangeable in language but for me an anxiety attack is horribly shitty but lasts about 20 minutes and with deep breathing and xanax it’ll pass. A panic attack is something so violently awful that you literally are not sure if you’re going to live. Chest pains so bad it mimics a heart attack, stomach pains like you have food poisoning, and sometimes passing out entirely. They’re very rare for me (thank God) and this was the second worse one I’ve ever had in my life.
Here’s what should have happened: I should have pulled over immediately even when I thought it was just a regular anxiety attack. I should have waited until it passed and if it didn’t I should have called someone for a ride to the event or gone back home. But instead I kept driving and so I was stuck in traffic as it got worse, which of course made the panic worse and pushed me into a nightmare. I managed to pull over at a gas station/Church’s chicken and facetimed Elizabeth who was already at the event to 1) tell her I couldn’t make it and 2) have someone on the phone in case I was actually dying. And she was very kind and sweet and told me not to drive and offered to come get me and take me home but I felt like a total burden and so I was like, “I’m okay. I promise not to drive anywhere. I’ll go inside so people are around me in case I need help” and I went into the chicken place and laid down on the table because it was cold and I felt like I was burning up and the chicken people were like, “Huh?” and I was all “I’M FINE” although clearly I wasn’t but I also didn’t have the strength to explain so I said, “No chicken needed. I just need a second” with my face on the table and I started to feel better until 3 minutes later when my lizard brain sent a message to my stomach saying, “FIGHT OR FLIGHT, MOTHERFUCKER! RELEASE ALL YOUR FLUIDS SO YOU CAN RUN FROM WHATEVER IS TRYING TO KILL YOU” and I was like, “YOU’RE THE ONLY THING TRYING TO KILL ME, YOU DICKHOLE” but my brain totally wasn’t having it so I went to the bathroom and was violently sick, but afterward I washed my face and took a xanax and felt like it was starting to pass, so I walked back out to my car and pulled out my phone to call Elizabeth and tell her I was still alive and that’s when I realized I’d never hung up and had my phone on FaceTime the entire time all of that was happening.
And a part of me was like, “Maybe I could still make it to the event?” but then that incredible weakness hit, as if I’d run a marathon (I assume, because I would never purposely do that) and instead I just laid down in my car and did that kind of crying where your body just leaks tears but you’re too tired to do the ugly noises associated with it. And I tweeted out my apologies to Christopher and the people at the event and called my friend Maile who drove over to bring me home and also brought her daughters so they could drive my car home since Victor was on a flight to Japan.
And I felt both incredibly lucky to have so many understanding and caring people in my life and also incredibly mortified that I’d managed to fuck up such a simple thing and also so incredibly exhausted that I was sort of too tired to continue to apologizing to people who kept telling me to stop apologizing for something that was not my fault.
Today I feel like a wrung-out hand towel. Still soaked in mortification and failure, but also sort of clean and empty…in the same way you feel when you have a cathartic breakdown. If I was less tired I’d write this better and have a better resolution but honestly I think it’s important to write this now…while I’m still in the midst of all of this. To remind myself that it’s okay to be human. To remember that people want to help. To remind you – if you need it – that people understand more than you give them credit for and the capacity for compassion is so great. And now I’m going to try to use the same compassion given to me by friends and family and strangers to use on myself…to try to forgive myself for the strange weaknesses that come with being me. Why is it so much harder to be kind to ourselves than it is to be kind to everyone else?
So strange. Our brains are such wonderful and terrible creatures. Treat yours kindly. And I’ll try to do the same.