I can take the physical symptoms of panic. It’s the emotional side that makes the event almost unbearable.
Physically, our bodies go into ‘save yourself’ mode. More commonly termed the fight or flight response. While the physical symptoms are uncomfortable, I feel confident in my ability to cope.
Emotionally, we feel a deep fear. It feels wrong. It feels urgent. Like being locked in a space in which you can’t escape. You just want the experience to end and now.
I was on a slow moving train yesterday. It was an express train in NYC from 34th street to 14th street that was anything but express. As we crawled along I looked out of the windows in an effort to gauge our progress. I have to do this. My disease is all about control and my ability to escape. The slower the train goes, the more out of control I feel. I want to scream at the conductor “GO FASTER!!!”. I want to pry open the doors to jump out and sprint down the tracks to an exit. I began to panic.
Physically, my body tensed. I squeezed my shoulders and my hands. My feet, previously being flat on the ground, were now resting on my toes at a 45 degree angle, with my calves almost fully flexed. But I don’t think about any of these things. This is just my reaction. My mind is fully focused on escape. I just wanted it to end. I wanted it to be over, and now. But I was locked in a cold steel subway train. I couldn’t go anywhere even if I wanted.
And this fact made the feeling worse. The panic didn’t last though. The train began to speed up. I then got out.
I don’t recall the specifics of the physical feeling I had. But I do remember the doors, the emergency intercom to the conductor, the other people in my subway car, the size and thickness of the windows, the brightness of the lights that illuminate the advertisements along the ceiling. That’s the emotional side of panic. That’s the stuff that makes it so hard — at least for me.
So I went back today and did the same route. Hell, I went even longer. I had to. I had to keep working my courage muscle and prove to myself that I’m not actually in danger and am perfectly safe just sitting there. It’s tough. Man, is it tough.
It might be uncomfortable, but I will cope.