It has been more than 20 years since I had a full-on panic attack — airline travel notwithstanding. Of course, flying is a phobia and the anxiety has an obvious immediate reason — HOLY SHIT I’M ABOUT TO GET ON AN AIRPLANE — but a panic attack is a different animal. It comes on for no exact, obvious reason. You can feel it building, and building, and building…. and then there’s a tipping point. And then — it’s on: heart pounding, shortness of breath, a dizzy, whirling feeling in your brain, and difficulty speaking because your mind is absorbed with escape.
I need to FLEE and I need to flee right NOW.
Yesterday evening, I wasn’t in an airport, or thinking about airplanes. It had been a fairly typical day, however, with the country poised to fall into the hands of a sociopathic, narcissistic megalomaniac with the maturity and self-control of an overtired toddler, the definition of “typical” has been thrown out the window. This is the new typical, the new “normal”: Every single day… possibly every single hour… we are going to be bombarded with Donald Trump’s latest outrageous word or action. Every time we think he can’t possibly do something more alarming and terrifying, he does. And it appears that with a Republican Congressional majority, he will have free rein to do whatever his greedy heart desires, because historically, Republicans have never, ever disagreed with a Republican president and have worked vigorously to oppose anything a Democratic president attempts to do. That’s how they roll. Will they roll differently with Trump? Well, that depends. Will their agreement or disagreement have an effect on their chances of re-election? Because that’s all they really care about, the self-serving fucks.
So, this is our set point. Our lives are about to fall into a tiny-minded tyrant’s hands, and I don’t believe the Congressional Republicans will do anything to stop him. Say hello to our next Supreme Court Justice, David Duke.
My worries about the exponential horrors that may transpire under the Trump Administration have my anxiety level at an all-time high set point. I have actually had nightmares about it, and here’s the thing — so have so very many others, because when I raised the topic, responses came flooding in that others are having nightmares too. Something is simmering in our collective unconscious, and it’s not good.
Yesterday, I started the day by writing a #NotMyPresident column, and all these thoughts and fears were swirling in my mind. By the time I was done, I had a mild headache and my heart was beating harder than it should. I attempted to walk it off, because physical activity in the past has calmed my heart when it races. I walked my horse (who is also a very grounding energy) round and round the barn, chatting, breathing deeply, trying to bring my energy level down a notch. It worked. While I was walking the horse. Unfortunately, I can’t walk Pendragon to work and round and round my desk while typing on my keyboard. I’m good, but I’m not that good.
The time had come to put Penn away and get back to the office. As soon as I got in the car, I could feel my tension rising again. I got to the office and decided to distract myself and think about this story I’m working on — mountain lions leaving tracks and killing animals in rural Winters (right next to where my horse lives!). I call one of the ladies who had a run-in with a mountain lion. A calf was killed. Bummer. I suppose nature happens, and I know meat doesn’t come from little styrofoam trays at the market, but still, the efforts of carnivores to stay alive do give me the willies, particularly when as far as a predator is concerned, I am food.
So, the woman begins to tell the tale of what happened: She had a young cow, giving birth her first time, and she wandered too far from the herd. She began giving birth in the middle of the night. She didn’t make it until morning. When the woman found her, the newborn calf had been stripped of every morsel of flesh on its tiny body… nothing left but bones. But the cow… that poor, poor cow… she’d had her body cavity eaten, beginning from the udders.
While giving birth.
The gush of empathy for this poor creature enduring such horrendous torture WHILE giving birth was my tipping point. Don’t ask me to make sense of this, because panic attacks don’t make sense. The image of that cow being in the throes of labor while being torn apart by a mountain lion swirled in my head, and swirled and swirled and swirled. My heart started pounding harder and faster, and none of my breathing techniques were working. My thoughts were spinning out of control, but not to anyplace in particular, just spinning in circles with random images of that poor cow.
I went to see my massage therapist, and after a bit, I felt calm. While I was on the table. And maybe for about 30 minutes afterwards. But, while pushing an ordinary shopping cart through an ordinary market buying ordinary things like I do on every other ordinary Friday… the panic attack switch flipped. By the time I got to the checkout line, my mind was almost whirling with incoherence and all I really wanted to do was leave the full cart there and run for my life. To where? I don’t know. As long as it was anywhere but here. Run, run, run until my lungs and legs collapse.
But of course, I couldn’t. I was in a public place, I had to keep it together, function as best as I could, be courteous, get my stuff in the car and go home. I did breathing exercises the whole way. Nothing. I unloaded the groceries and by the time I was done, I was so wound up, it was difficult to carry on a conversation with my husband, and even more so when I tried to explain that I got really upset by what happened to a cow.
It might sound comical to you, a dead cow triggering a panic attack after not having one for about two decades. But if it does — you’ve never had a panic attack. They aren’t pretty or fun, and when nothing else has worked to get control, I finally, reluctantly decided to take a Xanax, which I save for when I have to fly. Xanax is a funny drug. If you take it when you aren’t having anxiety, it might make you a little drowsy, but it doesn’t really do much. But when you are in the midst of full-blown anxiety, you can actually feel your brain begin to calm down to a normal place where you can control your thoughts and speak coherently again, and exhale.
After I’d gotten through this flood of panic, I spent the rest of the evening sitting with my cats and husband, with massage-y ambient music, a vanilla-scented candle and a cup of chamomile/lavender tea. He finally went to bed, and I sat there even longer, and eventually picked up my iPad and played Candy Crush for about two hours. Funny thing about Candy Crush — your right brain takes over and your anxiety-ridden left brain, with all its swirling words and fears, shuts off. It’s like taking a vacation from your own head.
Even so, several times during the night, the image of the cow being eaten alive by the mountain lion popped into my head and woke me up, because Xanax wears off after about five hours. I didn’t want to take more, and so every time the image appeared, I’d command myself, “Don’t think about the cow! Don’t think about the cow!”
And, of course… I still thought about the cow.
I don’t know where this story goes, exactly, which is why it’s a blog and not a column. But what I do know is that my set-point for anxiety is very high right now and upon Inauguration Day, will likely get even higher, and I have to wonder what will trigger then next panic attack. I guess I’d better keep my Xanax prescription filled.