Letting Go of the Wall

I had a crazy moment the other day.
Well, it’s been a seemingly endless string of crazy moments, building up on one another to create this precarious tower that shook and rattled until it came crashing down – that’s what anxiety attacks feel like.

You know exactly what’s happening, when it springs up on you. As it begins, you know logically you shouldn’t be afraid or in this panicked state that only escalates as you pay attention to it, but – well, you know those Bosu balls at the gym? The ones that look like a ball was cut in half and you can use it to balance on (or do some fun squats)? Sometimes your knees start to bounce and then you know it’s all over because your momentum builds up until eventually you have to step off or you’ll crash to the floor.
When you let yourself shake, though. That moment when you allow yourself to be overcome with the see-saw effect and you laugh as you jump off the Bosu, that’s when you’ve regained control. And sometimes, you don’t even fall off.

Laughing at myself has been an integral part of my recovery process. “Recovery” seems like a strange word to use – I’m not recovering from a traumatic event, per se. Simply starting off on my own in this world and balancing work and personal life, trying to remain active and creative while crunching numbers and writing lengthy professional emails can be tiring for even the strongest person. “Simply,” right. And I’m not, by any means, the strongest… so I laugh. As I lay in bed and start to doze off, my mind suddenly thinks, “What if? What if this chest pain is really a heart pain, what if I have cancer, what if I never hear music ever again, what if I go blind and can never read on my own, what if what if…” Do I sound mental? But it happens, let’s be honest, so my heart rate escalates and I go into full panic mode, my breathing cannot keep up, I feel the beating in my ears and deep within chest (shaking my entire body) and I think, “If I have a heart attack now, no one will know, no one will wake up or help me until it’s too late.”

And then I laugh.

Because honestly, what? Heart attack? What are you even saying?
So I smile at myself and my breathing slows. I talk out loud (no one around to judge me in the wee hours) and say, “Stop being an idiot. It’s okay to be stressed. You’re not dying” and my heart rate goes back to normal.
The chain of crazy moments is broken, briefly. But it always starts up again because I can’t talk to myself all night, and my mind betrays me. It knows all of my fears, my weaknesses, my doubts – not matter how insignificant they may seem when the sun is out, when I’m busy and filling my mind with spreadsheets or party planning. It’s too hot, I’ll dehydrate and pass out. It’s too cold, I’ll get sick and have to take care of myself while I nurse a fever. It’s too stuffy, I’ll suffocate. It’s too breezy, I can’t breathe because the wind is too strong (this is an actual thought I’ve had before). What if I’m allergic to this new food that I’m trying for the first time and I won’t know until it’s too late and then I die? Sometimes I sound like the crazy aunt in the movies, the one who everyone humors but avoids because she lives under her couch with five cats.

I wasn’t always like this, afraid of every little thing, not allowing myself to be spontaneous and experience new things. About four years ago, I was intimately acquainted with my own mortality – hit by a car that ignored a stop sign. I saw that he was slowing down as he approached, so I assumed that it was safe to start crossing. I was with two of my friends as we took a Friday night stroll to another pal’s house, we were chatting and dreaming of warm challah and the fragrant, delicious food that he always makes. It was dark, the end of winter (though it was a mild one), and it was slightly drizzling so we walked with a purpose; it helped that he only lived a block away. The car approached the stop sign and slowed down, so we began to cross. And then suddenly I was on the ground, and I heard girls screaming, I looked around frantically to see if I could help and then felt a sharp pain in my head… I realized that the screaming was me, and stopped abruptly. My friend had noticed last minute that the car wasn’t stopping and she pulled me back slightly, so the man’s side mirror was the only thing that hit me – not the front of his car. Apparently I flew about 10 feet. I remember being confused as to why I was on the ground, in the rain. It was cold, it made me grumpy, but everyone told me not to move. I tried to recall if we had gone to our friend’s house, was I dreaming all of this? Why couldn’t I remember the evening? Well… the evening hadn’t happened, and the ambulance took me to the hospital. I became increasingly frustrated, why was this man asking me the same questions over and over? Later, my friend (the one who makes the delicious food) told me that I was the one repeating myself and asking the same things, He almost cried but held it back. He didn’t want to scare me.

WELL that story got dark fast, didn’t it? I wasn’t hurt besides for a mild concussion, which I consider a miracle. Not a single broken bone. But it left me with a heavy sense of mortality that I hadn’t had before. I thought I would live forever. I drove recklessly, I laughed in the face of danger (not unlike Simba). When my friends and I spend our gap year (between high school and college) in Israel, we took numerous hikes, one of which was along the edge of a cliff. My best friend harbors a strong fear of heights, so this hike was particularly monstrous for her. Of course I had to tease her, so, walking in front of her, I started to go backwards and didn’t hold on to the cliff wall. She almost peed her pants, it was hilarious.
I wouldn’t do that now. Partly because I’m not a suicidal idiot, but also because of those lingering “what ifs.” I was a more adventurous person before February 2011, with an easy laugh.

Now, I’m trying to find that easy laugh again, which is especially important in moments of increased mortality awareness.

Last night, I was thinking of panicking (which should give the reader some idea of what my mind has been like these past few months. I sit there and debate with myself if I should be afraid of something. The night has been relatively quiet, my heart muses. Let’s think of something to jump-start the panic, shall we?), when I remembered how I used to rely on God in times of distress.

I spent most of my life as a religious person, trusting that God would take care of everything for me as long as I had faith and did my best to be a good person. My perception of God has changed and warped and morphed over the years, embodying a fatherly role, a dictator, a mentor, or simply a being that observes or that maybe doesn’t even exist. I certainly haven’t been thinking of God recently – I haven’t prayed in the traditional sense in years! But, last night, as I was thinking of something to be anxious about, I felt this profound sense of calm and the thought that immediately came into my mind was, “God is with me. He won’t let me hurt.”

I slept like a baby.

I’m not sure what this all means – I don’t even know what “God is with me” meant. Why did it calm me, this string of words? I don’t think I’m going to start zooming back to religion, and definitely not the religious world that suppressed my creativity. But perhaps this combination of laughing at myself and trusting in a higher power can give me the sense of peace that I’ve been craving, that I’ve been missing. Maybe I can walk backwards on cliffs again. Or maybe just on plain dirt roads, but it’s a step in the right direction (though facing the wrong way). Hey, maybe it’s the right way! If I don’t see what’s looming dangerously in front of me, I can just turn my back and laugh, ignoring the sheer drop to my left. Letting go of the wall.

Image is not mine.

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