What You Know

Fear grabbed her heart as tightly and quickly as the paws of a bear when it has finally caught its prey. Her chest hurt while her pulse raced and she struggled to catch her breath, knowing each one might be the last she took in this world. A cold sweat claimed her skin as its own and she struggled against the urge to scream. Thoughts of regret raced through her mind as she wished she had more time to make things right.
Sounds like the middle of a B-rated horror movie, but no. This was the trip to the grocery store yesterday. Instead of occurring in some dark wooded area with the audible heavy footsteps of a rapidly approaching, crazed, one-eyed killer with a chainsaw, this little pathetic scene took place in the produce section on an ordinary Tuesday. Like mushrooms in a garden after heavy rains, my ugly anxiety appears suddenly, without warning, and in the oddest and most mundane places.
As I forced myself to continue the shopping (mainly since I’d run out of cat food and my cat, who is temperamental under the best circumstances, gets really aggressive when he even thinks he is hungry), the anxiety continued. I kept trying to talk myself down- not aloud, just in my head, since I already felt crazy enough at the time- saying “Don’t be stupid, get a grip, you’re ridiculous,” and whatever other ‘soothing’ bits of wisdom I could drum up. Yes, simultaneously I could hear Dr. Phil in my head too, asking, “How’s that working for ya?” Obviously, not too freakin’ well, Dr. Phil, but in the midst of a full-blown panic attack, it’s a bit difficult to change strategies! It didn’t help that there were only two checkout lanes open after I’d somehow managed to get everything on my list (thank goodness for lists!)… or that the two lanes open were both for 20 items or less… or that there was an obnoxious woman with a cell phone glued to her ear, loudly arguing over each item the cashier scanned and demanding to see the manager once every minute when the item didn’t ring up ‘on sale’ despite the fact she had last week’s circular in her hand. I made it home, finally, without the world ending, where the panic attack at last stopped, the chest pain subsided, and my breathing returned to normal.
Tips for writers often including writing about what you know. Anxiety is what I know. It’s not pretty, it’s not fun, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a real phenomenon that affects some of us. There are well-intentioned people who try to help by saying, “Calm down. Don’t be anxious.” We would if we were able. It’s more helpful just to be with the person. Sometimes these crazy attacks just need to run their course.

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