Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Panic! At the CostCo

If there is one thing I have learned in my 41 years stumbling blindly over the third rock from the sun it is that everything is interconnected.  Just like that shitty Ashton Kutcher movie led us to believe, all it takes is one infinitesimal occurrence to directly affect our very existence.  A butterfly madly flaps its wings, which dislodges a particle of dust, which makes a raccoon sneeze, which startles a herd of antelope, which causes a rockslide, which causes a stream to back up, which creates a marsh which evaporates up into the sky, which creates humidity, which makes my hair a hot mess.  Fuck you, butterflies.

But just like physical events have a direct correlation on our everyday lives, so do psychological events.  Few of us escape from the demons in our past without a few battle scars, and try as we might, those evils can only stay buried for so long.

I began having panic attacks shortly after my divorce; I was told that they were common for survivors of domestic abuse and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Apparently my ex-husband was my own personal Vietnam.  The panic attacks would come without warning, like a Jehovah’s Witness banging on the door of my subconscious, and I would inexplicably find myself shaking and sobbing in the middle of Target like a manic-depressive Chihuahua.  For a while I sought out therapy for my PTSD and during that time I saw some amazing therapists who could read me like the top line of an eye chart and saw some that were so fucking clueless they thought “fetish” was a Greek cheese.

In truth I find the whole concept of psychotherapy to be a little surreal.  I mean, if it works for you, that’s great!  I personally never found any great absolution in sitting around spanking my inner child, but different strokes for different folks, y’all.  Interestingly enough, the U.S. of A. is one of the few cultures that embraces the concept of psychotherapy because we're one of the few cultures crazy enough to actually WANT to go spelunking into our subconscious.  Trust me, it's a dark and twisted realm up there, folks, and no one gets out alive.*

*I also find it ironic that we deify Freud as the Father of Modern Psychoanalysis when in truth he was an impotent coke addict with a raging Oedipal Complex. . .but I digress.

So, I abandoned psychotherapy and attempted to stabilize the anxiety by adjusting my chemical imbalance (also known as: years of binge drinking).  When that inevitably led to a desiccated liver and a DUI, I sobered up and tried prescription meds but that was just Ground Xanax for disaster.  None of them did a damned thing for the panic attacks, but the side effects made me loopier than a Six Flags ride.  So, eventually, I just learned coping mechanisms. . .*

*Yoga, running, and a shit ton of chocolate

. . .and the panic attacks abated.  Until last week.

While on the road for work I bolted out of bed one night like a whore on Thorazine and bolted for the bathroom.  I spent the next two hours hunched over the Best Western toilet dry-heaving and shivering while my heart pounded like the bass in a ’76 Chevy Nova.  I tried to figure out the reason, but came up snake eyes. The event repeated itself the following two nights and I have had a lingering sense of “WTF!?!?” ever since.

For the last week I have been wandering blindly through my days like some bizarre Bataan death march, waiting for the attacks that I know will come.  One while on the phone with the Associate Dean.  One in the middle of the movie theater.  One at the CostCo checkout line.  And perhaps my greatest thusfar, the one last night at the grocery store.  The short people and I were blithely perusing magazines when I suddenly felt that slow clench in my chest.  Within seconds I started sweating so profusely that my armpits were darker than a David Lynch filmfest and I couldn’t decide whether to throw up or pass out.*

*In the end I decided throwing up first, THEN passing out was the best bet so as to avoid a possible Jimi-Hendrix-choking-on-your-own-vomit type of death.  I am nothing if not practical.

I stumbled to the restroom and spent the next five minutes shaking and sobbing while the short people waited nervously outside the door.  I told them that Mommy just ate something that made her sick so as not to scare the ever-loving shit out of them, and managed to plaster on a smile and make our way back home; outwardly seeming chipper and care-free, an inwardly feeling about as stable as an IKEA bookshelf.

I haven’t had an attack so far today (knock wood), but I know that one could occur at any time.  I still don’t know what may have triggered them again this week; it could be seasonal, it could be the transition from grad student to full-time employee, it could be my short people turning 10 last weekend, Jesus, it could be because Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced, who the hell knows?*

*Although we totally saw that one coming.  I mean, seriously?  How could Joey Potter pick that Scientology Hobbit over Pacey?

The one thing I have come to understand about my PTSD is that I will probably NEVER understand my PTSD.  A part of me would love to find that magical panacea that will obliterate it and have me running around like Billy the Big Mouth Bass singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, but another part of me thinks the anxiety makes perfect sense.  To me, it is a perfectly rational response to the nightmarish clusterfuck that was my ten-year marriage.  In truth, I’m a more leery of those people that DON’T seem to be affected by their past.*

*Yeah, I’m talking about you, Oprah.

Our society is obsessed with the concept of putting things in our past and working through them so we can move on.  But I don’t necessarily believe you should “heal” yourself entirely and release all of that bullshit out into the universe.  A part of me thinks that you need to keep the horrors from your past simmering on your cerebral back burner as a constant warning of how easily you could return there, and as a blazing reminder of how far you’ve come.  For now, however, I just want the fear to stop.

Take care of yourselves.



leigh said...

And take care of yourself my dear.

Jennifer Clark said...

Sorry, Jen. That blows, big time. Hope things get better for you soon.

I have some pretty hairy shit in my past, as well. It messed with my head and provoked some pretty poor decision-making on my part for a lot of years. I spent some time thinking about the past, then thinking about what I wanted from life. The past is over, I can't do anything about it, but I can do better in the future. That helped, quite a bit, actually.

Best of luck, m'dear!

Tainted Fibers said...

You are most def a survivor. So am I. I had a pretty tough childhood, not abusive at all, but I was the oldest of 7. Do the math. Times were hard. I feel like hard times made me who and what I am. My siblings and especially my Mom swear they don't remember these things. They live in such denial. I embrace my poor childhood. I am not embarrassed by it. I was at the time, but hell, I was a kid. I don't want to forget. I think it's much better to remember, to learn from it and move on. Remembering you are way better than your circumstance. You are awesome. You take care of you.And I hope the panic attacks subside.

Jen said...

LEIGH - Thank you, Leigh ((hugs)) back atcha. :)

JENN C - I am so proud of you. It is so easy for us to become ashamed of our past, instead of using it as a launching pad into a bright future.

FIBERS - You are such an amazing woman and I hope someday we can meet in person. Thank you for your kindness and your strength.

Leauxra said...

Wait, Tom and Katie split?

OK, I admit it. I have been avoiding the news because it keeps triggering my asthma. What the fuck, mind? What... the... fuck?

Panic attacks are no fun. I had (and have) some post Katrina "did that really fucking happen?" heartrate spikes around the end of August, or any time I'm stuck in stop and go traffic, but at least I know what it is about so I can (mostly) deal. And I agree about not wanting to let shit go into the universe. It's mine, thankyou.

Um. What I am trying to say is you fucking rock for managing to keep your short people in mind what that hit. In my mind, that is like a super power.

Jen said...

LEAUXRA - I will never understand how people emotionally survive something as devastating as Katrina or 9/11; God bless you. The short people are the only thing that have kept me (relatively) sane these last few years -- taking care of them gives me a focus during the melee.

Rachael said...


You are a stronger woman than I. I would curl up in bed and feel sorry for myself for days on end. I hope the attacks subside soon. Hugs.

Mrs Social Assassin said...

You're amazing, and obviously far stronger than you give yourself credit for - even in the middle of a panic attack your first thought is for your short people, and you're brave enough to write about it. I was married before to a total fuckwit, who was verbally abusive from the start and destroyed my self esteem (which is still pretty atrocious on a good day, let alone a bad) and while I don't have panic attacks I still have huge issues - I was 50 shades of fucked up before the book made it famous! Poor Kev has to deal with the fallout, and most days I have no idea why he hasn't run for the hills, whilst being eternally grateful that he hasn't! I really wouldn't want to open the lid on the whole can of worms that is my psyche, I spend most of my time trying to squash it on and push the can to the deepest darkest recesses of my brain, or backburner if you like. I think society has us thinking we have to 'work through' and 'heal', i'm not entirely sure that's possible in some cases, or even right. You dealing with your panic attacks is just another demonstration of how awesome you are. Big love and hugs xxx

Anonymous said...

Well, first off . . . HUGE HUGS.

Next, can't you just think of Jeremy's arms to clam yourself down? No? Ok, then.

I am so sorry you are going through this. I wish there was something I could do. You obviously know I am here for anytime you need me to talk you down from the ledge or whatever. I know you'll get through this, though. You are the strongest woman I know!

Oh, and brilliant title. Bravo!

Jen said...

RACHAEL - No way! You would come out with guns blazing, I know you would! No one messes with a Tasmanian woman! :)

EMILY - You and Kevin are so amazing; I only hope to someday find a partnership like you two have -- it gives me hope. xoxo

MISTY - Thank you for letting me freak out on you this last week; it has been a shitstorm that is hopefully subsiding. In the meantime I have been watching "The Hurt Locker" and "Ghost Protocol" every night for a little Renner therapy. . .it's definitely helping. ;)

Andrea said...

I already knew you were ten people stronger than me, but to be weathering panic attacks with some sort of grace in the face of the shorts. I'd have thought it was a heart attack and asked which of them knew cpr! Hope they leave as mysteriously as they arrive...and soon...like now!

Mrs Social Assassin said...

Kev is amazing, I just got lucky! and you will, one day you will find the man you deserve xxx

Jen said...

ANDREA - I hope they pass too. If for no other reason that if I don'r get some sleep soon I'm going to completely lose my shit. :(

EM - I'd ask if Kev has any nice friends but I'm sure they all live on the opposite side of the earth. ((sigh))

Johi Kokjohn-Wagner said...

I really wish that I could help you through this. Hang in there, friend. Be gentle with yourself.

Jen said...

JOHI - Thank you, my Sister Wife. Love, ponies, and unicorns to you. xoxo

Kianwi said...

Oh, that is awful. I have my issues, but thank God I've never had a panic attack. The sense of not being in control must be terrible. I hope and pray you find some relief from it soon!

Valerie said...

I think that part of the healing is not forgetting the past and what you learned from it. I suffer from PTSD too and I will be fine for months, then out of no where the panic attacks come back. Then the stress causes breakouts like I'm some kind of teenager. Double whammy... Eff Yea. :o/

You will get through this. You are going through a heck of a change in your life. Sure, it's for the better, but the uncertainty could have a lot to do with it.

Once things settle down, I'm sure you will be just as awesome as ever!

Hugs to the infinity power!!


Jen said...

KIANWI- Thank you, K. Just when you think you're in the clear, "BAM!" the past comes back to smack you. Just want to feel 'normal' again.

VALERIE- Hugs right back atcha, Val. We survivors need to stick together. :)

SquirrelNuts said...

Jen, you are an amazing woman. I have panic attacks all the time, but nothing as intense as yours. To be able to keep cool enough in public for your kids is amazing. I think there are many of us women that are "feeling" a change coming and it's affecting us deeply. I read it in everyone's blog. We all just need to hang in there. I hope you get some rest, I find when I'm sleep deprived mine get much worse. Go easy, try to relax, play with your guys tomorrow and take one day at a time. Hugs, prayers and love!


Tiffany said...

I wish I had words to give you that could help. I don't.

But I can pray for you. Those words can help.

So, know that some chick in Alabama is praying for you.

TheOtherLisa said...

I don't have any words of wisdom but if it helps at all, I think you're an amazing and strong woman.

Hope this shit stops.

Jen said...

CINDY- Thank you, thank you, thank you. I actually got about 5 hours of sleep last night, which is really good for me.

TIFFANY- Prayers are always welcome. ((hugs)) from P-Town to 'Bama. :)

Maggi Shelbourn said...

I have to tell you just how much I admire your courage, your fortitude and your spirit. You are truly an awesome woman and I know that you shall rise above this too. "Normal" is just around the bend. *Hugs* to you Jen.

Anonymous said...

I feel you, Portland doll. I am going through the same thing. Over the years, I found a way to manage my panic disorder, but sometimes, for a few days, it comes back to say hello. I wish it would stop. Thankfully, it only happens about once every couple of years.

I am hoping your panic attacks find something better to do than bother you.

Mythiene said...

Well, it won’t cure you of the craziness, but I can't let you suffer like this without knowing what I think of you. I will keep it short and simple.

I like to read aloud to my mother during long drives, and on a few occasions I’ve dug out my favorite posts from your blog to show her. It wasn’t just because they’re breathtakingly hilarious in the most bizarre fashion, although I have to admit that’s a big plus. I also did it because I wanted her to know who you were, what you were like.

I read her one of your Red Dress challenges. I then told her, truthfully, that you are my greatest hero. Some days I’m so worn out from all my problems, both physical and psychological, that I feel an overpowering desire to just... give up. To go rummage through the medicine cabinet and take an entire bottle of sleeping pills and just sleep forever, never be tired again. I don’t do it, and often I’m never quite certain what stops me, except that I have to keep going. I have to. I can’t just throw in the towel.

The fact of it is, when I think of the person I want to be, you’re what comes to mind first. You’re my role model, my golden ideal that I hold up in front of me to renew my resolve. It doesn’t matter how fucked-up I am now; if I can hang on a little longer, try a little harder, I can be everything I always wanted and more. After all, look at Jen: she’s smart and witty and the strongest, bravest woman I’ve ever known. Life has chewed her up and spit her back out a thousand times before, but her willpower and her drive to keep going are seemingly endless, because she always just dusts herself off and gets up, lands a snappy comeback and then jumps back into the fight. You may not feel like it most of the time, Jen, but you’re the meanest, toughest bitch out there, and you’re an inspiration to all the little bitches who may not be feeling very tough either.

And one final note before I wrap this up: my mother approves.

Jen said...

MYTHIENE - And that? Right there? . . .oh God DAMN!!! I've been there, my friend. I have held that razor blade next to my artery; I have held my medication, stockpiled and at the ready, determined to give me the "Final Exit", and at the penultimate moment. . .I knew that life was the ultimate victory. Please stay strong. YOU are worth it!!!! YOU are worth living for and please know that I and a million other women are there for you and we believe in you.

Jen said...

MYTHIENE - And if you want to contact me any time then DO IT!!! I am totally serious. Either you, or your mom. Please...

chemgirljaime said...

BIG hugs!

yougotsars said...

Maybe I'm glad I didn't see this pre-trip. I may have spent hours worrying and trying to talk about it instead of giving you lessons in porn.

I think we both know the best way to conquer this shit is never wallow in it. Post it and release it. Holding on to it doesn't help you at all.

I too am here for you and will listen anytime.