Today I had a panic attack. My lungs were closing in, my mouth was dry, my head spinning. I tried to close off my ears with my pointer fingers and take deep breaths but I couldn’t calm down. I was on the plane, so I couldn’t put my head between my knees, lie down, or walk away.
It’s weird to think about fear. I’m lucky that it isn’t something I usually think about, so when it sneaks up on me, it is particularly jarring.
So what set me off? I think it was a combination of a few things. I’m not afraid of flying. Maybe I should be since I fly so often and something is bound to happen (yes, I know planes are one of the safest modes of transport), but usually flying doesn’t cause me any emotional damage save when there is someone annoying or uncomfortable sitting next to me. (oh also once I was too high and I started to get paranoid, but that was an exception!) But this time there was a girl, maybe 4 years old, who was shrieking (laughing, screaming, simply making high pitched loud noises) the entire 2 hour flight in the row in front of me. It was annoying at first, but I think it became sensory overload (you know how I feel about loud noises!!) because I was stuck in the middle, the sky was completely cloudy outside, and I felt really trapped. And it freaked me out.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how happy I am to be alive. How I don’t want to die yet. It’s not that I’ve had lots of near-death experiences, but recently I feel vulnerable and I gues with all the traumatic things that go on (hurricanes, politics, persecution) I feel like life is fragile. Statistically speaking I guess I’m doing pretty well for having made it this far and for having had such a healthy childhood. I’ve avoided major accidents and I’ve never been truly sick with the exception of the occasional flu or other infections.
I guess as a kid I had lots of stomach aches and headaches, but I think they were the result of anxiety more than anything else. But who knows. Also I had warts on my big toe on my right foot.
But back to today. Max asked the flight attendant to bring some water. That helped. I stared at a picture from the airline magazine and tried to take deep and even breaths. When I started to cry I knew it was going to be okay. And I asked Max to rub my back. That really helped. Slowly I started to calm down. Finally we landed and when I got off the plane I was almost completely relaxed.
More than anything, if I were to self diagnose, I think my pathologies are more psychological than the result of anything really physical. Of course they can be triggered by physical things: cramped spaces, stuffy rooms, loud noises. When I am in that moment of physical reaction to my surroundings, when I feel myself shutting down, I tell myself that it’s all okay, but when you are scared, you can’t always be in control of your body and mind.
But what are you afraid of? I actually have no idea… except for being home alone, but is it more boredom than anything else?
Also as an aside the mother of the child was encouraging her behavior: playing with her to produce the shriek-laughs, ignoring her to produce the shriek-yells— so that’s a whole other conversation that can be had, looping back to our conversation in London about how kids behave in public and parenting. I don’t mean to point fingers and to assume anything, but I’m just commenting that the child’s volume was what set off my reaction and it was almost certainly preventable.
But I’m okay! Finally home in Minsk, listening to the rain outside my window and my bed warmer’s sweet sleep breaths at my side. It’s nice to be alive, even when things are scary.