Saturday, September 29, 2007

Awareness is panic

If you know me in person, you know that I am not known for my fear of social situations. I find awkward situations exhilerating and strangers have never scared or intimidated me. I can normally handle crowds or being alone with easy and poise and roll with the punches without missing a beat.

Sometimes I can't.

Perhaps being too telling (but isn't that the point of having a blog?), in college I was wracked with pretty severe panic attacks. I was diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive (I refuse to tack the clinical "disorder" on the end) and told I was suffering from fairly severe anxiety and depression. I briefly tried the medicinal route with adderol and quickly decided it wasn't for me as it seemed to do nothing but obliterate my memory (I have had trouble remembering names ever since) and keep me awake and sort of numb. I saved the left-over pills for when I had to drive long distances as this was the only time that its affects seemed remotely helpful.

Therapy and supportive friends and changing attitude and world view ended up let me get a successful grip on it all and not drop out of school as I had almost done, and these days I sail on a pretty even keel. I have the occasional waves of anxiety, but I've learned to let them rush over me without hijacking my mind and the compulsions I can play with now instead of them being a terror or slowing me down.

But not last night.

I don't know what set it off, but I was having one of those nights where I felt like I couldn't find anywhere that I was supposed to be. I went to the Phoenix to meet some friends, but I was getting there late and they were on their way out as I got there. This is not a thing which bothers me: I know plenty of people in that bar and even if I didn't I don't mind meeting new people or just having a beer by myself and taking it all in. Normally this it true at least. The bar was packed and cute and had a fun vibe, but all of a sudden I felt like I was a thousand miles away and would never get back any closer to anything. At least when I'm on a boat a million mile away I can tell myself that when I get back to land my friends and familiar places will be there and it is just the solitude and distance getting me down, but when you feel this way with your friends around and in one of the most familiar comfortable places you know, there is nothing left to reassure you. Where do you go? Who can pull you back? There is no shore to shoot for or at least you end up filled with terror that upon heading for a different one that you would just find the crowded solitude there.

Of course panic attacks aren't so lucid. You are somewhere, the crowd is suddenly separated from you and any attempts to interact leave you feeling further separated and at the same time unable to escape as it smothers you and you feel like it has alway been smothering you and always will.

Which isn't true.

I haven't always been smothered. And I won't always be. I love and embrace the world and all the insanity within it.

Catcher In the Rye and Sartre's Nausea give perhaps the most vivid descriptions of panic attacks that I have read. Catcher's protagonist is unaware of what is happening to him other than the world around him being overwhelming while Nausea's is painfully lucid as he stares straight at the unravelling he is experiences. Both are finding themselves forced to deal with overwhelming awaress of being both intimately and inextricably interconnected to everything around them while at the same time feeling entirely disconnected as everything becomes pixelated and atomized. Finding the poles and opposites that let us navigate through the world and believe in direction suddenly smeared into one another and rendered useless for orientation leaves one feeling vertiginous but without even that reassuring knowledge that at least if you go over a ledge you will fall down. This is the attraction of heights and plunges, both literal and figurative: when you can't find any other direction, you can usually still find 'down' and if you hit bottom you know that the other way is up.

Sarte's titular nausea was that step beyond, where even falling loses its direction and it is all swirl and blur and tramatic lucidity at the same time. Such was my blur last night. All the directions disappeared and I had to follow exit signs out into the street and try to pull my mind back together so I could maintain some semblence of togetherness.

Partially because I lacked the coordination to follow through with it but mostly because of a fear that I might spread my void, I didn't let myself call Canada but called Mason, who has seen me at my worst and would know not to really worry if I call freaked out of my mind. So he was my sounding board as I learned to speak again, finding voice and reminding myself how to divide sounds out of the omnipresent roar and believe again that words can carry meaning. And I slowly regained my grip and was fine. And the night continued and friends showed up and I was festive again.

This all sounds more dramatic than it is and if you have never had panic attacks will likely make no sense at all, but this is what I have for therapy now and a desire to remember and record as I go. The upside of panic attacks is that they free you from some bonds and leave you feeling released and unassailable for a while.

And it is a beautiful day so I'll extract myself from this beastial computer and go enjoy the sun for a while.

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