Tag Archives: Panic

The 10 Second Smile

It is not that uncommon for New Yorkers to have some sort of summer cottage upstate (Upstate: anything north of the Bronx), and my family was no exception.

The cottage belonged to my father, and we spent many summers there together in the country side, and I was fascinated with it; there were many people from Ireland who lived there, along with authentic Irish pubs complete with live bands that played traditional Irish music.

So, Luna, how did YOU spend your summer?
I spent it watching ‘Sailor Moon’ and learning traditional Irish dances, betches!

Yes, the kids were welcome into the pubs late into the night; it was a family affair, and even though I’d never witnessed it, the waitresses told us that kids would bring their sleeping bags sometimes.

Talent shows were popular, as well, though they called it something else that escapes me, and I loved those.
One night, dad and I were at one of those talent shows, and it was almost painful to watch; that particular night, it was mediocre act to the next and so on.

Let me pause for a moment and tell you something about me:

There are very few things that I love more than singing.
Before my anxiety disorder kicked into full swing, I was so at-home on the stage, it was disgusting…singing, dancing, acting…I loved it all. I was in a few plays during the summers, had countless dance recitals, played in band, etc.
Once my anxiety disorder was decided that it was panic attack time, the only thing I could do without freaking out on a stage was sing solos; it was the only time the world faded away.
When I tried-out for plays or had to be placed into a section for choir, if they wanted me to sing a song, I’d usually do a song from ‘Annie.’ I’ve known the freaking soundtrack from ‘Annie’ ever since I was a young child; hell, I knew the freaking DIALOGUE to that movie…I loved it.

Back to the point.

I looked at Dad, and he looked at me.

‘I could win this show…I just know it,’ I said.
He smiled.
‘I know you could. Get up there.’
I looked back at the stage, then at him again.
‘I don’t know what I would sing. They probably don’t know any of the songs I’m thinking of.’
‘Just ask. All you could do is try.’

So, I did.
I figured…who doesn’t know ‘Tomorrow’ from ‘Annie?’
Irish guys who are playing a talent show in a pub, that’s who.
But they said to sing, and that they’d follow me.
Ok; that doesn’t seem too horrible. I’ve sung this song so many times, I could acapella this shit.

AMATEUR NIGHT! THAT’S what they called it.
…I think.

Anyway…
So, they call my name.
I grab the microphone.

The sun will come out…tomorrow…bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow…there’ll be sun…

…and then, nothing.

I completely blanked out on the lyrics.
They were GONE.
COMPLETELY.

I’d sung that song so many times…in front of people, by myself…I’d never forgotten the lyrics to a song or the lines to play or the routine to a dance (ok, ONE step, ONE time, but in my defense, it was one of the saddest nights of my entire childhood), and here I was, completely silent in front of an entire room of complete strangers, waiting for me to continue.

I do not remember what happened afterward, but I gave up and went back to my table.
And cried.
My only consolation was that I could sit in the dark, away from the eyes of all of the people who’d just watched me embarrass my 12 or 13 year old self.

Little did I know that it wasn’t over.

To my absolute and utter horror, one of the band members looked in my direction and started to talk about me, how brave it was of me to go on stage…
…then asked for a spotlight to be shown on me.

‘Luna, let’s do a 10 second smile! Everybody, count with me! Smile, Luna! Smile!’

Those 10 seconds of absolute hell were spent fake-smiling so wide that my face hurt, despite the tears that ran down my face. But, what else could I do? I felt that it was necessary to go along with what this man was doing because I wanted to regain the smallest ounce of dignity that night…even though I cried even harder afterwards. It was probably the most humiliated I had ever been. And my dad knew it, too.
‘What you sang sounded great,’ he assured me, but it didn’t matter.

As an adult, it is something I haven’t thought of very much; I sang solos all throughout high school, and I know now that it just wasn’t my night. I feel like what he did was kind of…sadistic, though. I mean, not a purposeful sadistic; I do believe that he felt pity toward me and was trying to make me feel better.

Sometimes, the things people do to make others feel better, no matter how good-intentioned, are hurtful. I’m a person who is, more or less, a self-healer…I NEED to be. My anxiety disorder is clinical; when I’m not taking St. John’s Wort and Passionflower, I am in damn-near CONSTANT panic. My organic state is just horror. Imagine that you had to wade through a lake of poisonous snakes every time you emerged from the house…that’s what it feels like. And that’s not mentioning the details of how difficult everything else is, everything that is seemingly so easy for everybody else to do…and everybody’s judgement of you when you are panicking.

I find it frustrating that the once-in-blue-moon that I break down and cry, and tell somebody…
‘You know what? My life is hard. I worked so hard at everything and nothing seems to go my way. And I’m upset.’
…that they come back at me with platitudes and antiquated bits of wisdom.

‘You need a new perspective!’
‘You need to empower yourself!’
‘You know you’re a strong person!’
Et cetra.

They want so much for that 10 second smile.

Here’s something interesting that they don’t think about:
I need a new perspective, self-empowerment, and every ounce of strength that I may have to even get out of bed in the morning.
Do I whine about it?
Do I fish for pity?
Do I show these people my tears?
Nope.
But once in a while, I need to talk about it.
I am not trying to gain your wisdom on how to try to make myself better because I do that on my own.
I am not ever going to say, ‘Oh, I’ve never thought of it that way before!’
I don’t want your optimism…I don’t want your advice…I don’t even want your pity.

I want you to say, ‘Luna, you’re right. It is not your imagination…things are hard for you, and you’ve every right to cry. It is not that you aren’t trying hard enough…it is not that you lack perspective…it is not that you don’t know how to empower yourself. You’re doing these things, ALL of these things…I know you are…but for some reason, you haven’t moved forward. You do that stupid fucking 10 second smile everyday, and it’s ok to stop doing it. You’ve earned the right to cry.’

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The Things I’ve Never Done: Part 2

It was late on a weekday night.
I really needed some cartridges for my electronic cigarette, and I know of a place that’s open 24 hours a day that sells them: A gas station.
I trotted into the little store, not really expecting anybody else to be there, but sure enough, a man stood at the counter, talking to the cashier.

Coming up behind the man, I patiently waited for my turn, and as I did, I began to space out and look around.

If you’ve read the majority of my posts, you may already know how I have a deep affection for foreign cashiers who call me ‘honey’ or some other pet name like that. Well, this cashier is one of those. I’ve been there a handful of times, and people tend to remember me. So now, whenever I’m there, his eyes light up in recognition.

I digress.

There are many things to catch a person’s attention in gas stations because they’re almost always bursting at the seams with merchandise, but I just had to pause at a certain wall, which was the right and front of the counter.
It was filled with condoms. ALL different kinds of condoms.

Magnum Thin
Magnum Ecstasy

A strained smile stretched across my face as I choked on a giggle. It’s not that I’m so much of a child that I find large condoms funny, but it was thought of me, (this short, demure, pathologically polite woman) cavalierly plucking a box of Magnums from the wall, and tossing them onto the counter.
‘Hey. How ya doin’?’
I’d stretch my arms out, placing my palms on either side of the counter top, then tap my fingers, looking past the cashier.
‘Phfft…’ I’d make a long, obnoxious sigh while squinting to read the text of the tiny boxes behind him. ‘Gimme a box of V2 Reds, would ya?’

I wonder if he’d still call me ‘honey’ after that.
My smile was almost out of control.
Going to a gas station to get a box of condoms…who DOES that? I have never once done such a thing. I mean, how do you fail to plan for that? And if you did, could you ever show your face in the store again?

My mind went momentarily blank.

Ok, let’s pretend that you NEED those Magnum condoms. Your imaginary boyfriend’s in the car, waiting outside and…and the grocery store was completely out of larger condoms and he simply cannot fit into regular ones. Oh, and he totally decided to come and visit at random (he’s sweet like that) and you just went to dinner, and he was alluding to the fact that he wanted to make love to you as you guys were heading home, and you PROMISED him that you’d get the condoms, but you didn’t. So, it’s up to YOU to get those condoms…RIGHT NOW, do or die! What’re you going to do?

I looked from the cashier to the condoms…then back at the cashier, and the condoms, again. My brow furrowed in desperation.

Hhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeeellllllllllllllllllllooooooooooo…hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhoooooooooonnnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyy…
His voice warbled in bass tones as the scene played out in black and white, slow motion in my imagination; his eyes traveled down to the black box I had laid on the counter. When they came back up, he stared at me in pained disappointment, as if he were silently saying ‘Say it isn’t so…’

White hot embarrassment shot through my body at the thought of it.

You’re 31 years old and you’re seriously too ashamed to buy a fucking box of condoms? REALLY? Just grab them and stop being ridiculous!

Try as I may, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

‘Hello, honey!’
This time, he was actually talking to me. Giving him a very big, but almost culpable smile, I came up to the counter, defeated.

I’d officially let my imaginary boyfriend down. I was ashamed of myself, and I just knew we were going to fight about it the entire way home.

When I got back into the car, the situation haunted me. I’d wussed out, much like the way I had with so many other things due to fear. Even though it’s very foreign to me, buying a pack of condoms at a gas station is something that’s relatively normal, yet when I pressed myself to do so, I prevented myself from doing it.

How many things are there that you’ve missed out on…how many ‘normal’ things have you missed out on because of your fear?

Well, I’ve decided that I should try to do some of these things. Like I said, they’re normal things, so no bungee jumping or anything like that, just, things that my panic or fear has prevented me from doing. And I’m setting a time limit for myself: August.

Here is my list:

1. Get a pedicure.
I’ve never had one…EVER. I wasn’t interested as a kid, I couldn’t afford it in college, and I was too scared to do it with my panic because I felt like I’d be unable to ‘escape’ if I needed to.

2. Do a home improvement project completely on my own.
I have not dared to even attempt this, as I’m terrified of screwing something up in my home. This is the first house I’ve ever bought, I’m not really very handy, so I’m scared that I can’t do it.

3. Go to a bar alone.
That’s right…alone. I’ve met up with people at bars who I’ve arranged to meet with before hand, but I’ve never just gone by myself. Besides, being in a crowded place and with loud people and no support is horrifying.

4. Make a souffle.
The souffle is supposed to be one of the most difficult dishes to make, and to be honest, I’m proud of my cooking skills…so proud that I’m scared of finding out that I’m not able to do this. I know…you’re probably thinking that this one is lame, but it’s scary to me, and that’s why I haven’t done it, so it’s on the list.

5. Buy condoms.
If you thought that I would let that one go, you were mistaken. It’s personal now, so there.

Five goals. Five months.
Hold me accountable.

3, 2, 1…BEGIN

The Things I’ve Never Done: Part 1

There’s something I haven’t revealed about myself on this blog before. I really want to come out with it now, but I’m not quite sure how to word it…

I guess I could say that I’ve suffered from severe agoraphobia.

Let me set the record straight on what agoraphobia actually is, because it’s a very misunderstood mental illness. Most of the time, people believe agoraphobia is a condition where a person cannot exit their house. Even I, before I had it, always thought of the heroine of the movie ‘Copy Cat’ whenever I thought of agoraphobia, but it really isn’t like that all of the time.

The literal meaning of the word is ‘fear of open spaces,’ but it translates into the actual mental illness a bit differently. It’s like this: People who are agoraphobic TYPICALLY (and I say that quite generously because there are some people who ARE literally just scared of open spaces) have a ‘safe spot,’ which is very often their home. If the person should attempt to vacate their safe spot, there is generally a radius outside of it in which they are free to travel without panic, and that’s IT. The safety radius could be up to the threshold of their front door, or it could be 30 miles from their house. Go past the oh-so-holy safe spot, and it’s pure panic, unending.

When I first became agoraphobic, I didn’t HAVE a safe spot. I had a SEMI-safe spot, but I didn’t have a true safe spot.
I panicked in my living room, bedroom, kitchen…and I had to take baths because I panicked in the shower. Hell, I panicked in my sleep; I woke up night after night, gasping for air. I almost did a sleep study to find out why I would stop breathing while I was sleeping, but soon realized that it wasn’t the case. This was in the Spring of 2008, and it all started with a stupid fucking vaccine.

Don’t freak out: I had had a panic disorder long before I got the vaccine, so I was predisposed to panic…it had just morphed into OCD while I was in college, which made it tolerable.

What had happened was I got a letter from my insurance company saying that all women who were younger than 26 were eligible for a free HPV vaccination. I remembered this one very tragic story I had heard about a woman my ex-roommate had known. If I remember correctly, the woman had just gone shopping at the grocery store in the middle of the day, and as she was walking to her car, she got pulled into the back of a van and got raped…and sadly, this horrible story doesn’t end there: It turns out that the rapist was infected with HPV, and passed it on to this woman. Well, it was one of the strains of HPV which causes cervical cancer, and she ended up dying from the cancer.

That put the fear of God into me, and I decided that I should probably take this free vaccine.

So, I went to the doctor’s office after making an appointment. You only visit a nurse or MA when you JUST need a vaccine (most of the time), and that’s what happened: I got my shot, and they sent me on my way.

Well, apparently, the protocol for administering vaccinations wasn’t being followed at my doctor’s office that day. I try my best not to be bitter about things I cannot change, but it’s exceedingly difficult in this situation, because if that mother fucking bitch had JUST FOLLOWED PROTOCOL, my life may’ve been COMPLETELY different.

The protocol for any kind of shot (for those of you who aren’t familiar with it) is to make a person wait 15-30 minutes after it is administered, because the person MIGHT BE ALLERGIC to what has been injected.

And SUPRISE! I fucking was.

The allergic reaction happened about three minutes after I went through the office door. I was driving home, when suddenly, it felt as if the world was closing in on me. It’s very difficult to explain the sensation, but it’s like you’re in an invisible box that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller…and I HAD to get out. Panicking, which I hadn’t done in YEARS, I called my mother, who is a nurse, and told her what had happened between the desperate gasps for air I was swallowing and saying ‘I have to get out of here! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!’

Calmly, she explained that this was an allergic reaction, and that I needed to get Benedryl immediately. As we were speaking, I pulled into a left turn lane, which was packed with people in front of and behind me, with the lane to my right completely filled, and cars whizzing by in the left lane. If the previous sentence doesn’t sound like a reason to panic to you, imagine feeling like you are in an invisible box you need to get out of WHILE being in that situation. It was one of the single most terrifying experiences of my life.

I eventually made it to a store, and, paranoid as FUCK, found the Benedryl, ripped the package open, popped a pill or two, then paid for it. After making my way to the car, I sat there and smoked a cigarette (ahh, back when I used to smoke), and waited for this horrible feeling to subside.

And wa-la…it did. I drove back to my house and fell asleep on the couch with the cat, and when I woke up, I felt almost completely back to normal.

…So I thought.

Suddenly, I was panicking in stores, panicking while driving…panicking in my sleep, in my house…and the panic feeling was so scary, I would panic when I believed that there may be a situation I was entering that could cause me to panic. I became agoraphobic, and had to move in with somebody else because I couldn’t be alone…I was too scared.

…Hmm. I wonder if I could sue that doctor’s office.
But, then again, what’s the point? Even if I were to win, no amount of money could compensate for how much time I’ve lost.

Anyway…

I think the worst of it came in the summer of 2009, when I completely avoided anything that could trigger panic attacks, yet I still had them. 2010 was in no way fun, either.

I’m vehemently against being on anti-anxiety medication, as I am a staunch believer in cognitive behavioral therapy (I do have a degree in psychology), so I did try to get some help in 2010, but the therapist began to waste my time. He actually yelled at my once when he revisited the idea of medication, and I said something along the lines of feeling like he was violating my wishes in regards to that issue. I’m from New York; I’m used to people yelling, but it was relatively scary to get yelled at in the way he did it. It drove a rift between us on my end, and I no longer felt like I could maintain a good rapport with him, which was actually a very good thing. Having a rift allowed me to be more critical of his technique, and I soon realized that he had no idea how to implement CBT, and he was too lazy to actually go to the store or drive with me to teach me coping skills. The two last sessions I attended, he played movie trailers on Youtube and talked about nonsense for a half an hour before we discussed anything related to panic. I was officially done after that.

In the beginning of 2011, I moved to the town in which I currently reside, and I did a lot of research and found an anxiety specialist. This woman allowed me to do Skype sessions with her at first because I couldn’t drive to where she was; once she taught me the coping skills I needed to do so, she made me drive to her house, and stayed on the phone with me the whole time. She’s even driven with me. I also researched the herbs that are effective in treating anxiety, and I wound up on St. John’s Wort and Passion Flower, which are amazing. Should I find myself having depersonalization (which is FUUUCKING scary), I take two Passion Flower on the spot and I’m typically good within five minutes. There have been no side effects, and I’ve been on St. John’s Wort for about three years, Passion Flower for around two.

[By the way… Depersonalization: Feeling as if one is having an out-of-body experience or in a dream-like state. It can be a form of panic, and it feels like nothing is real or makes sense.]

Like I said, I do try not to be bitter. This whole ordeal has afforded me the opportunity to work out a lot of the issues I should have worked out in my early 20s, but I was so focused on school that I never made time for myself. Plus, being able to find the strength to complete my master’s while having severe panic is something I wasn’t sure I could do…but I did it. I had a lot of my freedom ripped away from me, and I’ve been trying to reclaim it. I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences because of my own fear, experiences that I feel like I really should have.

To be continued.