My heartbeat is so strong my scalp tingles. Breathing accelerates. A deep breath does not settle, it just catches in my throat. My mind scatters like a scared cat on a waxed floor. I try to sit still but my hand opens and closes in spasms. All this results from words. Even when they are fiction. Even when the words are removed, sitting on a page; even when there is no volume of voice to scream them. Even when they are not curses or condemnations. Even when I know my answer to the questions, my logical response. I may be just watching the news, but panic is always there. The force of opposition, a snide disparagement, or the implication that I am less than the other, these small aggressions force my anxiety to the surface. A deer in the forest, ready to run. "Attack" is the main word.
I used to think that other people had panic attacks. I tried to forget when I was triggered. I tried to ignore the unfortunate desperate decisions I made in that state. I tried to just move on. Smile and nod.
Only lately, during our season of Pandemic isolation, I was able to see that my reaction to a phone call, a text, an email, or just an image on television was overboard. Watching a fictional show in my own safe home, in my comfortable chair, with my blanket and a cat, still, my panic could rise. An email could bring my blood pressure close to 200/90 in a flash. For comparison, 140/90 is high; a hypertensive crisis is a severe increase in blood pressure that can lead to a stroke. At 200/110, I should go to the ER. It was 176/90 for over an hour yesterday. The last time my blood pressure was over 200, I did go to the hospital. There I was attached to a metal box for 24 hours. I slept with the nodes stuck to my chest and back cradling the box as I slept on my side. Diagnosis - idiopathic vertigo and erratic heartbeat. Treatment - antinausea pills, physical therapy, and time.
When my condition became so frequent that I consulted a therapist as well as an acupuncturist, I finally had some relief. Acupuncture reduced my vertigo. The therapeutic training gave me techniques to calm my panic, but there is nothing I have found to stop them. Even when I understand the history and the physiology of the attack, I can only manage them. Even when the lack of threat is known, oblivious, they come. I have lived with some version of this condition for as long as I remember. Now I have a name. I can say, “Oh, excuse me, I’m having a little panic attack,” and disappear into the toilet for half an hour. To those I leave at the table, I will return. Some of you will understand.