Friday, August 06, 2010


There are so many places to have a panic attack on a walk across campus.

Wide open space. Too many people around, too: prospective students trailing a tour guide, grounds workers whacking weeds. And me, teeth clenched, palms clammy, forcing my legs to keep moving forward.

I am trying not to feel ridiculous when I tell you that crossing that wide open space and getting the mail at work every day this week was far and away my greatest accomplishment this month. Maybe this year, even. I'm trying not to feel weird about that. I'm not succeeding.

But when I'm faced with the fear of a panic attack, what I'm really having to take on are my anxieties about what others think of me, my fear of confrontation, my deep-seated but slowly dissolving sense that I'm not worth receiving love, care, or attention from others, and especially not from myself. And when the panic attack comes, it literally feels like I'm dying. If you've never experienced it, undoubtedly you think I'm overreacting or waxing a bit much toward the melodramatic. Not so: my mind convinces me that I'm dying and that I need to get out, get away, get anywhere but there.

In terms of severity, my anxiety in the last two weeks has been the worst I've ever experienced. But! I feel absolutely fantastic. Emotionally exhausted, but so proud of myself for hanging on. And the craziest thing? I feel so very grateful that the universe presented me with this opportunity, this temporary job which forced me very much outside of my comfort zone, reintroduced the panic attack back into my life (instead of just the unending fear of one), and, most important, reminded me that there is life (literally and figuratively) after a panic attack.

I strode across campus today, all symptoms of anxiety intact. And I looked up at the trees, swaying to and fro in the hot wind, and I thanked the universe. I thanked God. To be honest, I wasn't really specific. To no one in particular, I said, simply, "Thank you." The breeze picked up suddenly and -- whish -- brushed against my face, my eyes fluttering from the unexpected force.

And I remembered that God is in the wind.


  1. And He's got your back!

    Love, love, love your wonderfulness

  2. God is in the wind in the tops of the trees, and in the blades of grass so close to the ground. So imagine the campus from God's point of view: up so very high, laughing over everything below--and down low where the earth seems more important than anything else, where the life of a blade of grass is more vitally exciting than any problem I as a human could have. This is what I used to think when I would sit in the park in the middle of campus during undergrad...

    God is also in you, in your love and honesty. Bonne courage, E. Notice I did not say "bonne chance." You've got the courage, and that matters far more than luck.

  3. First, I just want to say that while I have had only one panic attack in my life- I absolutely thought I was having a heart attack and so I am so empathetic to you and just want to send you a big ole' squeeze of love and understanding.
    Next, God is in the wind? How incredibly lovely. What a beautiful, beautiful sentiment. I will hold that sentence close in the days to come because I just love it so much and I wonder, or rather, want you to wonder, if you could have come to that sentiment without the panic attack? And if it wouldn't have come without it, I wonder if next time, you can remember that the panic attack yields all sorts of different gifts-- like the ones you mentioned above, like the ones we notice as we read. Sending you love and light and gentleness for every walk that takes you across open spaces (both literal and figurative).

  4. Without fail, you all -- beautiful readers -- take the post to an entirely different place. I'm in awe.

    Rosie: You know, I never thought that perhaps I wouldn't have come to feel God so keenly without experiencing the panic. It's true that after an attack, there's always a moment of permeating calm. I'm now reminded of is this Psalm that I love: "Be still and know that I am God." Thank you for bringing me to this place, and thank you for your well wishes, too.