Yesterday, driving home from dinner I had a panic attack. They are boatloads of fun, let me tell you. Imagine sitting in a car and for no apparent reason you start to feel lightheaded, your palms get sweaty, your heart races, eyes dilate and the worst symptom of all, this overwhelming, without a shadow of a doubt certainty you are going to die, not at some point in the future, but right fucking now.
Once it hits you have to ride it out or do what I do, drive ridiculously crazy, obey zero traffic laws so the person next to you becomes totally convinced that they too are facing eminent death.
Picture that scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles where John Candy is driving the wrong direction (clip here) down the highway and ends up right between two tractor trailers coming straight at him.
It was not clear then but it is clear to me now. My panic attacks were just another form of resistance, a very heavy handed form. I guess my ego felt pretty strongly that the closer I came to getting what I wanted the more protection I needed. I now know I was being protected more from the shame of failing then the joy of success. Panic attacks took my out of the game, fuck; I was not even in the gym.
Panic knew the surest way to not fail is to not try. Panic was like having two 300lb balls chained to your ankles. I was not going anywhere.
Failure is a reoccurring theme for me and for a good reason. My aversion to failure has been so pervasive in my life you would have thought I’d picked up on the clues a little sooner. Apparently I’m a slow learner. As strong as my desire to succeed was the desire to not fail was even stronger.
Panic attacks were the final line of defense. When success would creep up on the horizon, the fixer was called in and he looked a little bit like Ray Donovan. My panic attacks would beat me to a bloody pulp, wait just long enough for me to get some footing back, then pow, right back down again. Panic attacks are relentless. They have no feelings no emotions; they don’t care your age, marital status or abilities. All they know is they have a job to do and they are really good at their job.
My first panic attack was Christmas break freshmen year of college. I was sitting in the back of silver, 4 door Volvo that had seen better days, smoking a joint. I had just got done my shift at Candy Express, which happens to be the place I met my wife, but that is a story for another time and my co-worker convinced me I need to experience the magic of weed.
I turned on some Phish, adjusted my seat back and placed my thumb and index finger gently on the end of joint and took my first puff. Before I knew it my heart was racing. I swear to God I thought it was going to burst right out of my chest. I turned to my co-worker and asked if what was happening was normal. He said, “Todd dude it is all normal, just relax and listen closely, Trey is talking to us.” Trey Anastasio is the lead singer of Phish. I swear I could not hear a fucking thing besides my heart slamming against my chest. Fuck Trey; just get me the fuck out of here. I made him drive me home, where I went straight to my room and passed out.
It was two years later that panic reared its ugly head again and this time it meant business. It was the second semester of my junior year at a new college; I’d switched majors from history to finance and was actually doing pretty good in school for the first time ever. Cue the panic attack. I can’t do good school that’s not part of the plan.
For the next 6 months I was barely able to make it out of my apartment, let alone to class. Somehow I managed to finish the semester out and not fuck up my GPA to bad.
Over and over again panic attacks would interrupt at the first whiff of potential success. The closer I got to success the more scared I became of failing, because I actually had something to lose.
My first job after graduating, panic attacks. Second semester of grad school, panic attacks. Starting my business, panic attacks. You get the idea.
The actual panic attacks are not the most crippling part of the disorder. The most crippling part is you now live or at least I did in fear of when the next one might strike. Like avoiding failure, I was going to make certain I’d do everything possible to steer clear of having another panic attack.
I became trapped. Not wanting to leave the house or travel too far unless it was absolutely critical. Just going out the front door took every ounce of courage I had. It felt like I was going off to war.
I was able to remain employed or enrolled in school, depending on my circumstances at the time, mostly because I was very skilled at hiding my disorder. Most people except those who knew me very well were unaware of the torture I was feeling inside.
Panic is probably looking to take me out again. It has thrown a few jabs that have landed, but I’m still standing. If I fail, I fail, but if I succeed, well then that is the ultimate fuck you to my panic attacks.
I’ve been rerouted on my path to success over and over again. No more detours.
Resistance can throw Ray Donovan, Christopher Moltisanti or Mike Ehrmantraut(from Breaking Bad) it won’t matter. Not this time. It’s only effect besides making my wife nauseous, is to reinforce my commitment to moving forward and not letting this potent form of resistance win.
When success happens, I will have gotten there by taking the scenic route, but that will make it all the more worth it.