Caroline Humphreys | Monday, September 18, 2017
I can’t catch my breath. I’m drowning in a flood of anxiety and my heart races likes it wants to escape. I sit, staring without seeing, until my mom answers an SOS text, and begins, “What is it now?” She knows I’m having a panic attack because my obsessive personality paired with crippling anxiety has plagued me since childhood. I’d think of anything improbable and suddenly be consumed by fear. I remember trying to stand on the playground with knees buckling under the pressure of everything impossible and horrible I thought could happen.
My mom would say that I’ve never worried about something rational. But even after years of practice, I can’t fight off every nightmare. I’ll still lose touch with reality, and spend days denying what my anxiety tries to convince me of. It’s like playing chess against myself: I cannot win. But now I’ve learned to identify how I feel during an episode, and recognize my fear when it speaks. I try remembering that I’ve been in this place before, will no doubt be here again and focus on my breath until the sensation passes.
But how do I actually overcome these fears? Because, as I’ve discovered, I fear the fear of what I think I fear the most. For example, I thought the world was going to end when I was eleven. I couldn’t stop obsessing and spent weeks and energy arguing with myself over whether or not absolute doom was fast-approaching. Eventually I lost track of which voice was rational and which was irrational, and suddenly realized that the fear I magnified in response to mild anxiety was more crippling than how I actually felt about the world ending. In a cliche way, what I feared was fear itself, or rather the anxiety that exploded in response to fixating on my fear. And this remains true today.
When fear arrives, I feel a familiar sensation in my body, recognize fear behind whatever cloak she’s disguised in, and reveal her for what she is: the irrational thoughts I obsess over when I am bored and lonely. I know this is a mundane answer to the problems I’ve faced my entire life, but I’ve also found that life is rarely as dramatic and scary as our fears lead us to believe. And perhaps fear and I will become better friends. I’m sure we’ll meet in the future, but when I understand fear on an intimate level—and boy are we intimate by now—I have to accept her as merely a reflection of myself.
So I will breathe through each panic attack, and remind myself to if I forget. Inhale. Exhale. I’ve been here before. Inhale. Exhale. I will make it through again.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.