Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pursued by Bears

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?

Aw, hell.

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.


Anita said...

Oh, Jenny! This was BEAUTIFUL! My favorite post so far. I never realized that about you. And isn't scary how we can see so much of ourselves in our kiddos? I hope you do write this book one day VERY soon!

Your little guy is so blessed to have you in his corner. You can understand him and help him through it because you've already been there and lived it yourself.

Rock on mommy. Now go chase away those bears.

Angela said...

We are kindred spirits, Jenny ;o) I'm so glad I'm not the only one in this world who gets anxious over EVERYTHING! I get sweaty palms when I have to drive on the freeway, I 'rehearse' what I'm going to say before I make an important phone call, and I can't handle being around crowds! I could go on and on. The worst part? I've passed these 'lovely' genes down to my son.

Thanks for posting this, Jenny :o)

Jenny Phresh said...

No, Angela, you are not alone! Thousands upon thousands of people have troubles with anxiety. Sometimes I wish I were one of those who did what my son did yesterday--just scream hysterically--instead of suffering silently. It might be more fun!

sarah said...

Another amazing post. I'm so glad I found your bog, and when you get published I'll definitely buy your book!

Your son is lucky to have such an understanding mommy.

Sam Southworth said...

But in a strange twist, you actually HAVE been pursued by bears, if memory serves...something along the lines of "even paranoids have enemies." Time for the blog about L'il Roont??
Great post, good writing, and great outreach to everyone who feels anxious...which is evidently almost all of us.
Poor little fellow! The shower is usually such a warm and safe horrid to be beset in such a place. Rock on, Mommy!

annainmaine said...

As my good friend who just completed his book told me, "it's kind of boring when people are overly well."

Anxiety is a close friend of mine - it's a balancing act, going into it without getting hijacked by it. Once when I was teaching at the community college, I had to leave my class and sit on a bench in the hall because my throat was closing. I knew it was an anxiety attack but didn't know how to stop it and reasoned, "better to pass out on a bench, less distance to floor, less likely to get a concussion."

Holly VanDyne said...

Wow - your post was oh, so familiar! My mom has had panic attacks since she was a baby (loud thunder would make her crawl under the table where she would pass out).

How fantastic that your son has such a great mom to help him through this. I've always told myself that if either of my girls inherit my neuromuscular disease - its OK. They have the best teacher to help them with it all -- me, who has been there and done it all.

Anonymous said...

LOVE reading this. LOVE your blog, love your imagination, love your reality-love it all! We will catch up soon. Anxiety sucks-I should know, I struggle with it, too. (My son doesn't, but he sure is expert at triggering it ;oP ) xo Liz

chris said...

Heart crack.