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.