at a time is the best I can do sometimes.
The first time:
I’m on a bus in NYC, 19 years old, and why can’t I breathe normally all of a sudden? Fuck, is this an asthma attack? I haven’t had one of those in years and I feel so weirdly tingly, like I’m about to throw up. I’m trapped. I have a habit of eyeballing every exit upon entering a room. I have to know where the bathrooms are as well. But I’m on a bus. And it’s crowded; god, there’s no negative space on which to focus. It’s too busy around me; too many faces, limbs, too much air taken up, just too much. I feel like my eyeballs are rolling in the back of my head and I might freak out. I don’t want to freak out. Look out the window, look at the street numbers. Count.
Hold on for five blocks.
I debate running out at every stop but I’m fucking paralyzed. I can’t move. My brain and body won’t fucking connect and I hate it. I wring my hands together until my fingertips are red then white and my nails leave crescent-shaped dents on my hands from gripping tight, tighter and I don’t care if I break the skin. If I can cause and focus on other physical pain, maybe it’ll trump this other shit that has suddenly taken over.
Three more blocks? Eternity. The weird numb feeling won’t go away. I have a block in my throat and I don’t think I’m going to retch anymore because this tingly sensation is different and there’s no pre-puke hyper-salivation. Just let me not lose it.
But I can’t get air.
I can’t swallow. My heart’s in my throat. My organs are choking me and I DON’T KNOW WHY. Why is my body torturing me? And then a memory file superfastforwards; lots of images, like worst thing that ever happened to me images flash by. I tell myself that another part of my brain is trying to help me, like:
you got through those events so this should be ok. you’ve made it so far. no one is hurting you. you’re not locked in and trapped, at someone else’s mercy. you’re just on a bus.
Okay. If I do lose it, what then? If I pass out, medics and a hospital? I’m not so scared of hospitals even though I hate them. As much as I hate attention being called to myself, if that’s what happens I can deal. Except I feel so fucking uncomfortable, I want to scream and if I scream then I’ll be sent to that other hospital, the one with rubbery walls and shifty eyes all around. And then I’m grateful that my heart is in my throat, still choking me because at least it means that I can’t scream.
Sweet fucking relief.
I made it.
This still happens, what I suppose are panic attacks. Almost always in subways and trains these days, which doesn’t diminish my love for public transport. Luckily it’s only occurred on train lines where it’s 2-3 minutes maximum between stations.
So I count 120 seconds.
If I can make it 120 seconds, I can run out.
I’ve made it so far.
The relief is the same as the first time: immense and so, so sweet.