Friday, July 08, 2005

The Circus In My Mind

Yesterday was a busy, hectic day. At bedtime, I was ready to go to sleep. I felt thoroughly exhausted, and I got into bed with that wonderful feeling of actually deserving my rest.

Somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, I had a massive panic attack. I jumped out of bed with a gasp, a high pitched sound. Almost a scream. I didn't know why I had done that. I didn't know how long I had been laying there, but as I looked at the clock I realized it had only been a few minutes. I thought maybe I was having a heart attack. I felt like I was dying, like I couldn't breathe. I didn't think it was pain that had woken me, but I couldn't be sure.

I landed beside the bed. The gasp woke Jete, who was already asleep and didn't know what was happening. He asked me what was wrong.

"I don't know. I can't breathe. I have to go outside."

He asked if I wanted him to come with me, and of course my answer was yes. If I was going to die out on the porch, who would help me if he didn't come now?

I couldn't wait for him to grab his glasses. I walked quickly through the house and out onto the dark porch. The street was still and quiet. My legs felt funny. Sore? Tingly? Did I have cramping in my legs? Not quite. But maybe? Maybe I had a blood clot and it had traveled back down to my legs? Maybe I was having a stroke? Were my legs numb?

I started to take my pulse, then stopped. It was racing, but I knew trying to read anything from that was futile. When the attacks first started, when I was having them many times every day, I went weekly to a therapist. Once, she asked me if I ever took my pulse during panic attacks. I remember being shocked. How did she know? Somehow I thought I was unique. That no one else had ever gone through this.

Jete arrived on the porch and gave me a hug. I clung to him desparately. Trying to wake myself up, calm myself down. He let me go and asked what was wrong, was I okay. I was starting to come down from the initial surge of fear. I hugged him again, then told him we could go back inside.

He got back into bed and was asleep in less than a minute. I sat up, too afraid to lay down. Every time I put my head on the pillow I thought I couldn't breathe again. I watched Nick at Nite for a while. Finally the exhaustion caught up with me and I lay back down.

My mind was racing. It was all so strange. Why would I have a panic attack like that? Was it really a panic attack? Yes I was stressed at work lately and was rushing around that night, but it was a good day! What would have triggered it? Maybe I really have sleep apnea. Maybe I stopped breathing and that was what woke me up like that. What is wrong with me?

Finally, I fell back asleep.

I slept like a rock all night. If I do have sleep apnea, I didn't notice.

In the early hours, that time when you can't tell the difference between reality and imagination, I had a dream. I woke up with it still hanging in my mind like an actual memory.

Some friends of ours are getting married this month, and I dreamed we went to their wedding. Jete was officiating for some reason, and was wearing a priest's garb. We were in a small chapel, a tiny room. There were only about 15 of us there.

Halfway through the ceremony, the doors to the back of the chapel burst open. Clowns started parading through. Horses. Zebras. A marching band. At the back of the parade was a giant elephant. He seemed as large as a house. He had a red and yellow blanket on his back for riding, and a pointy headpiece, with fringe hanging between his eyes. The elephant reared up on its back legs like a horse would. He raised his trunk and made a loud roar.

Through the whole parade, I kept snapping pictures with my digital camera. Everything seemed to be close to me, but when I looked at the picture on the screen, it seemed a million miles away. Everything looked so tiny. I couldn't understand why.

I looked around at the other guests at the wedding. They were laughing and smiling and pointing. Everyone was having a great time. They didn't care that the ceremony was interupted. They were just so excited to see that elephant.

I woke up at 7 AM with a start. I felt somewhat refreshed. No weird legs, no breathing issues. Just a memory of panic and the lingering dream.

My mind is so powerful. It's amazing to me that it can create things out of nothing. That they can seem so real. Giant elephants. Baseless fear. When you think about it, they really aren't all that different, are they?

1 comment:

Sank said...

I've been having those for a couple years. Stress always brings them on for me. I even spent and afternoon in the ER thinking I was dying after one. Turned out OK and once I knew I was fine they weren't nearly so bad.

By the way I love your blog, been reading about once a week for a while!