I know I’ve written about panic attacks. In real terms, that was a bit like theologians debating angel-dancing. I didn’t quite know what the hell I was talking about. The memories of panic attacks fade. Last night I got them all back. Aren’t I glad for me?
It turns out I was the one dancing on the head of a pin, and yes, it hurt to have all those pins up my ass.
This isn’t quite “recovered memory.” It’s not that gently encountered. Not really.
Late afternoon yesterday, I phoned North Adams EMS and said “I’m in trouble. I’m shaking, I’m trembling all over. I can’t eat. I can’t breathe. I think I’m getting sick to my stomach.” Pause. “I’m scared. I think I’m losing my mind.” The EMS ambulance drivers really are the health care professionals in this area of Western Massachusetts. They kept me on the phone. “Do you want to hurt yourself?” “Not lately. But make me an offer.” Silence is not always golden. Sometimes it can be lethal. Toughing it out can get you killed. The ambulance got to me in under 15 minutes. I could not sit still. Vital signs–blood pressure was racing and way too high. Hyperventilating. Walk round in circles, shake, shake, walk around. I was just frightened. And there’s always the nasty little voice in the back of my head. “This is the one you may not come back from.” That really is the pervasive fear. The ground bass. At least I had enough sense to unlock the apartment door. I could not find my breath. I felt like I was praying. Please, God. let it stop. Please.
Peace, Lord…please. Peace. I felt like I’d been punched in the throat. I was hearing Leontyne Price’s exquisite prayer from La Forza del Destino. But even Leontyne wasn’t doing much for me.
The doctor gave me some sublingual medication: I think it was Ativan. A nice, juicy sedative. I began to calm down. At worst, I began to feel marginally human again. The hospital sent me home. I had some hunger at last, but knew better than to stuff my face. I was good to myself (that alone is unheard of). I ate what my stomach could handle and fell asleep in my office chair. I came to around two AM. I stayed up for awhile, drank coffee, wrote here, and went back to bed.
The day, overall, had become so bad that I even yelled at my cat. That’s how bad. Cat forgiveness is instantaneous. The last thing I remember was Misha walking on me, kneading his paws into my stomach. “All is forgiven and I love you, pet human.”
I’m actually a good person to have as a patient. I am reasonably articulate, so I can map my symptoms and what might be happening. I could recall Lord Byron, one of history’s great self-destructive self-describers, standing outside himself and looking at his symptoms: overeating, following his wandering johnson, his fondness for laudanum, and the fear, the fear, the fear. After I saw the doctor, in came the clinic shrink. “What’s different?” And I could describe it. “After seventeen years of being trapped paying permanent alimony since 1998, I don’t have to pay it anymore. The Court freed me of the burden just a week ago. I’m off the alimony hook. But then explain the outsized panic and overreaction to everything.”
I was experiencing the infamous “unbearable lightness of being,” and I had no idea of how the fuck I could deal with it. I was experiencing imperfect freedom. Because freedom is always imperfect.”Here’s your train ticket, twenty bucks, and new suit.” No way to blame the monolith of the Bergen County Superior Court. I could only thank–actually thank out loud–the bloviating Gov. Chris Christie. Hereafter, I had to deal with my own symptoms and keep a can tied to myself.
Even the on-duty psychiatric social worker said, “Christie? He’s awful.” Well, yes. but he helped me get my life back.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
So now I have freedom. Whenever Social Security and the State align. But what’s that mean, anyway? It means I can’t blame anyone else. Maybe not ever myself. It’s still scary out here. But for all the terror that walks by night and the arrow that flies by day, it’s still better than where I’ve been.
Maybe freedom itself is a chronic condition, too. Maybe we all need to learn how to live with it.
In one of the Gospels, Jesus gives sight to a man born blind. The blind man has his mat and his corner in the marketplace. Once the man gains his sight, he can’t beg anymore. He is out of a non-job. He has to find a new path to follow, a new way of relating to the world and making a living. What’s he going to do?
Anyhow, the shrink gave me an exercise: You’re still here for starts. You did not die, you did not off yourself. You must find something worth preserving and working toward. An ideal. You’re free, Ken. Now what are you going to do with your freedom?
I expect I’m going to spend a fair amount of time looking for the answer to her question, and mine.