As some faithful readers of my blog know, I suffer from panic disorder and generalized anxiety. If that sounds a bit passive (for shame!), there is a reason: That's what it feels like. It's pretty horrible and debilitating, to the extent that driving a car much past the grocery store can result in palpitations, dizziness, feelings of unreality, and rabid wildcats loosed in the passenger seat. I will win, however.
The more attention you give the thing, the more it grows. Feed it and it lives. Starve it and it dies. If you distract yourself effectively, or forget that you are driving a large piece of machinery, you can trick the anxiety down into normal levels. The anxiety and panic and fear are entirely created by you, and no one and nothing else. Medication won't cure it. Rather, replacing the bad habit of anxiety with other, better habits—including robust, intellectual diversions—is the cure.
So here's the weird conundrum. One of my "robust, intellectual diversions" happens to be writing. What should I write about? S'pose I wrote a really strange and funny memoir about battling years of panic disorder? (Oh, I have plenty of fodder. I had my first panic attack at the age of three. I decided the toilet was coming to eat me.) Or should I divert myself with the silly YA novel that I enjoy writing? But if I don't write the book about the panic disorder, will I eventually heal myself and then forget what it feels like to have panic disorder and then lose all the horrible details to unreliable memory?
I think I will call my book PURSUED BY BEARS.
Anyway, my 7-year-old let loose with a good old-fashioned panic attack himself tonight. He started out tired and hungry, which is a recipe for disaster. He was taking a shower and he suddenly started screaming like big, black bees were pouring up out of the drain. I ran in and found him covered in suds, with shampoo draining down into his eyes, his elbows at his side in a fixed, bent manner.
"Gemme out of here!" he screamed, hysterical. "I can't breathe! I can't see! My elbows hurt!"
The kid doesn't do well when he doesn't eat right, or exercises too much, or decides that he's had a funny/weird day. Today was a vicious combination of all three—trampoline jumping, garden work, soccer—and he went quite bonkers. I hugged him tight in a towel and thought how alike we are, and about the strange sway of genetics. I heard him say: "This week has been all bad!"
I said, "No, you had a great deal of fun this week. You did so many fun things."
"The week has just started!" he corrected me. "It is Sunday, and the beginning of the week. And the week so far has been all bad. It will not get better. It will go downhill from here."
I dressed him like he was a baby, his white skinny legs goose-pimpled with cold and his hair in stiff wet spikes. It was startling how he reminded me of myself, and the untethered and fine imagination running wild, fast, and reckless to the borders of the garden, pursued by something he has dreamed and divined. Pursued by bears.