I don’t live on the edge anymore.
I am not referring to the edge as that place one goes to engage in risky behavior, such as skydiving or climbing Mt. Everest. No, far from it.
I am talking about that jaw clenching, heart pounding, mind racing paralysis that comes with an anxiety attack. Living on the edge didn’t require me to use bungee cords, parachutes or even to scale tall mountains to feel the edge. I just had to put myself into normal, every day situations and wait for the ride of a lifetime. For free.
Unfortunately, instead of thrill and excitement, I felt terror and panic.
I still remember my first panic attack like it was yesterday.
That warm summer night, sitting on the couch with my then fiance, watching “Final Analysis”. Just as Kim Bassinger began having her seizure-like attack, I began to have an episode of my own. It began as a claustrophobic feeling, like a veil had been placed over my face. Then, my mind began to spin and race. Suddenly, I bolted off the couch as if I was on fire. I ran to the porch, flung open the door and began gulping in large amounts of air, just trying to gain some relief. Being on the second story is the only thing that stopped me from fleeing. Running away from the feelings, running away from this life. Anything to ease the intensity of that moment.
I thought I was going crazy.
My teeth were chattering, limbs shaking; my entire body was freezing and sweating at the same time.
This might have been the first full blown panic attack, however, there were so many signs that my body gave me previously that I didn’t fully understand at the time. After ignoring the subtle messages to become more aware, to just sit and listen, my body resorted to drastic measures.It was begging me to slow down and analyze the path I was taking, the person I was becoming. My body was urging me to connect with the shadow parts of myself that I didn’t like, the imperfections, the fear, the doubt.
At 19, I was overprotected, sheltered and not particularly prepared to face the world mentally or financially, I was bogged down with inner trust issues and insecurities. I was not in tune with my body or mind. I thought it came about of the blue. It just all seemed so unfair.
I still weep for that 19 year old sometimes.
That one panic attack became several panic attacks. I tried psychologists, psychiatrists, Xanax. I worked on behavioral therapy techniques, listened to CDs and read books. You name it, I tried it. All the while trying to hide it from the world, and more importantly, from myself.
I did have a few years of success while seeing a psychologist for behavioral therapy, however, the edge never went away. Life was better, but not great. It was exhausting, really. So many what-ifs, so much worry and shame.
White knuckling it through life isn’t living a life.
Eventually, slowly, I began to not have as much anxiety because I had created a world for myself that was predictable, manageable and extremely lonely. I couldn’t get too close to anyone because then there would be excuses to be made, explanations to give. In a sense, I would be vulnerable.
People would know my shame; I’d be seen as weak. My ego couldn’t handle and wouldn’t allow that. I lost friendships, relationships, my self-worth—my world became smaller and smaller until I felt in control. It is amazing how out of control being in control really is, not to mention exhausting.
I set up my life so that I lived close to work, shopping, food, anything needed for my day to day life. Not out of convenience, but out of survival.
Over the years, I missed weddings, funerals, parties, meeting new friends, keeping in touch with old ones. I missed opportunities, chances. I missed out on love. I spun myself into a cocoon wound so tight, avoiding the fear and as a result, avoiding life.
There are spans in my life that seem dark, memories buried in cracks of my mind by clouds of insecurity and resentment. It was during those times that I was constantly looking for a safe place. My safe place was any place or person that made me feel like I did when I was a kid playing tag and landing on Base.
Never realizing then that I am my only true safe place. I was then, I am today. I was relying on the external to feel safe much like Dumbo relied on the feather to fly. Dumbo and I had the same problem; we didn’t trust ourselves. Dumbo flying on his own and me taking the wheel to drive are merely symbolic of the bigger issue, taking charge of my own life, making my own choices, being responsible for every decision I make.
Fearing fear has caused me to waste decades living in self-doubt, trying to buck up, do it alone and only end up buckling under the pressure and shame. I knew it was time to acknowledge and accept my pain, my struggle. I had to learn to forgive myself for everything, as well as others for walking away. I had to learn to breathe. To be strong. To live life.
I had waited so long to write this, to be able to write this, that I didn’t even know if I could accurately put this part of me into words. Even now, I worry about what people will think and feel after reading this piece. Will I be finally be understood? But, I also realize that keeping your emotions locked away only allows the beast to get bigger, uglier, a force that seems impossible and impassable. By acknowledging the raw pain, I allow myself to open the door to my fears and worries, letting the light in, chasing out the darkness.
After years of struggling and resisting, I have finally made peace with the fact that I need medication to relax the part of my brain that sends me into fight or flight mode over tedious events, such as sitting in traffic or driving distances. Maybe I won’t always need it, maybe I will. All I know right now is that I can go about my day like those whom take that simple pleasure for granted.
Forgiveness is a tough one; it comes plagued with questions which I don’t yet have all the answers.
Will old friends forgive my actions, or in actions, at the time when I didn’t fully understand why my body was attacking me from the inside out? Would I be able to finally forgive those whom didn’t understand the immense emotional trauma I was under, so they walked out of my life.
Will I ever forgive myself completely for all those lost years?
Practicing yoga through asanas, meditation and pranayama breath work are ways I have learned to stay in the present, to stay grounded. Anything that gets me out of my head and into my body.
There are still days I slip back into old habits of limiting myself, doubting my abilities. It is what it is, something that will always be a part of me. I thank the Universe on those challenging days for giving me that subtle reminder because now I listen. I acknowledge and accept those feelings. I no longer try to sweep them under the rug or fight them.
I stay away from the edge.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Courtesy of Mario on Pixoto