My heart is pounding against my chest, so hard it feels like it might break through at any moment, pounding so strongly I can feel it beat in other areas of my body. It is racing so fast, like it wants to escape the prison it finds itself in. My heart is beating so loudly I can hear it in my ears and I’m sure that others around me can hear it pounding.
I start to sweat, not the sweat of a good workout but a clammy feeling. I become hot with a heat I can’t escape.
I feel weak and my legs start to feel shaky. My mouth has dried up and my hair feels like it is standing on end.
My toes curl trying to dig into the earth as if I am trying to anchor myself against the slippery slope I suddenly find myself on. I have a distinct feeling of being off-balance and I am about to fall over.
I am vaguely aware that I am going blind. My vision is dim and objects seem far away.
My back is against the car and I press myself into to it as if the car and me are one. It has become my safe place.
I look at the road before me.
I unglue myself from the car and I try to walk as fast as possible without seeming like a crazed woman running across the street. I am sure that I am walking tilted because I feel that I’m about to tip over.
I finally cross and catch a glimpse of myself in the storefront window. I look perfectly normal. I’m not sure how this can be with all the chaos I feel inside.
A panic attack.
Just the simple act of trying to cross the road to reach the store on the other side can be an ordeal of tremendous proportions. And then there is the store itself.
I often wonder if they are a legacy of my traumatic history or if I would have developed this disorder even if I had a stable life. I will never know the answer to that question. And it probably doesn’t even matter. I do know I had them as a child.
I credit therapy for the lessening of my panic attacks. But more than that I credit myself for the work I put into not letting the panic have complete rule over what I do. I can be very stubborn and persistent about going into stores and places when I need to. But it can cost me a great deal to do so. Fatigue, discouragement, frustration and even sickness are the the battle wounds I will suffer fighting this war.
But I can not let myself became housebound.
So I’ve had to develop certain behaviours to help me cope. And it helps that the panic has lessened considerably in the last few years.
I can only go into a store if it has shopping carts. They are my lifelines against my feeling unbalanced in the wide-open spaces. I always research what I’m going to buy beforehand so I don’t have to do any reading. If I can I will pay in cash because cards can take too long. I look for the shortest line-ups.
I will socialize knowing the work it will take to stay present and to stay in the room. I stay close to walls and doors. I always sit on the outside never in the middle of things. I need to be able to escape if I can’t fight the urge to do so.
It can get tedious doing these types of behaviours but at least it gives me a life.
Some days it’s hard to believe I used to socialize, travel and shop without giving it a second thought.
Someday it will be that way again.