Friday, October 23, 2009

Panic Attacks From the Sufferer's (Not the Therapist's) Perspective

A painting of God watching as an angel and a d...

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If I could speak I could tell Mary Patricia why I’ve been so weepy for the last few days, but since I can’t I’ll go on as usual. I suffer from an illness I barely understand; I’ve heard people say it is autism. Since I can’t talk I like to listen and I learn many things, and I love to master new things that require putting two and two together; God has a way of making up for my muteness with good understanding.

Maybe one day I’ll grow out of this speechless stage since I’m only three and a half (not quite four yet) years old. I can tell you all this because I can count to five. About a month ago I had a frightful experience that left me ill for a few days.

All of a sudden and for no reason at all I felt a temporary disconnection from reality made worse by a bout of claustrophobia. The walls in our apartment seemed to close in on me, trapping me with no exit anywhere. So vivid and irrational was the sense of doom that I burst into loud and inconsolable cries. My tongue felt large and engorged and I couldn’t control it, causing me to leave it out, as I panted like a runner out of shape.

Was I going over the edge?

When I first came to live with Mary Patricia and Marc I let them know right away that I disliked games and even worse, that I loathe watching television. They thought it strange, but they got the point. I love Mary Patricia. Marc? Well, I can’t say I dislike him—I tolerate him; it’s just that he’s rough. And I wish he’d stop calling me, “My boy,” or “Son,” for I am not really his son—my pedigree is that of royalty.

Again, out of the blue, and just when I had almost gotten over that ghastly experience, it hit me again. This time it was rather severe, at night time. I was seized by a lack of identity: I had no idea who I was or what I was doing in this world. Within seconds my breathing became shallow, a huge weight seemed to have set on my chest, my heart-rate accelerated, and I broke out in a heavy sweat, and I felt clammy. An irrational frenzy to run away overcame my good sense. I wanted to jump out the window, and I managed to communicate to Mary Patricia that I needed cool air, that she should open the window or I would suffocate. She did open the window and I felt instant relief. Within seconds the room became a safe haven for me. Mary Patricia held me and talked to me for a while, and in a little while I regained my soul which seemed to have been severed from me.

“You poor baby—something scared you. Why you’re shivering out of your skin,” Mary Patricia kept saying. “What is it, my angel?”

Not knowing how to explain my feelings I started crying hysterically. Soothing, gentle, and most comforting is Mary Patricia’s voice. She sat on the recliner and held me for several hours after the attack. Faced with the same problem, I often wonder how others cope with it since not everyone has someone who can “bring you down.”

Having had several of these panic attacks, I am more or less resigned to the idea that they won’t stop and perhaps they may get worse. They just happen. I have no idea what causes them; all I know is that they come and go. Perhaps this is a good thing to know: that the attacks don’t linger forever—they get dispelled; they burn off like the morning fog when the sun comes out.

To suffer a malady one doesn’t understand can take its toll. That is why I’ve been so weepy lately. When in the throes of a full-blown attack I don’t recognize people; I flail about and I’m afraid I could hurt someone. And I can’t bear the thought of hurting Mary Patricia; even thinking about it I become scared to the point of hysteria. I will babble and moan not because I am just panicky, but because I am scared to death. These attacks have the snowballing effect of cornering me and reducing my space so that I feel there’s no safe haven left for me.

Living with the fear that one good day a tsunami-sized panic attack might hit me, I’ve been trying to get close to Marc, hoping that perhaps he can help me, too. And lo-and-behold, just as I had anticipated, the attack came. And came it did just when Mary Patricia was out to get her nails done. Impatient, short-tempered, and profane, Marc didn’t know what to do with me other than curse:

“Now, wassamadda with ya— boy?” the insufferable man yelled. “Settle down …[expletive deleted.]”

For a moment my whole world came crashing down on me: out of the debris came pain, of the pain came hurt, of the hurt came paralysis, of the paralysis came numbness, of the numbness came total eclipse of the soul. “This is the end,” I mumbled. But my wails must have touched the hard man’s heart that he picked me up and held me and whispered in my ear that there was nothing in the world that could hurt me; that no evil force in this world could ever take me away from him.

“Don’t you know that I love you more than I love Mary Patricia?”

That floored me. And the god-Lord smiled on me for Marc’s gesture of love loosened the panic attack’s grip and I felt whole again. What a few words of love can do for me!

“Let’s go for a quick walk,” Marc said. And out we went to the local deli —Tal Bagels— where he bought a roast beef sandwich with mustard and French dressing. “And put a little extra beef,” he told the attendant. “And charge me for it.”

A man who can share half of his roast beef sandwich with me can’t be that bad.
“Come here, Pucci,” he called me as he pointed to my bowl. “Knock yourself out, boy—hmm, that roast beef smells good, doesn’t it, my boy? For a tea-cup shih tzu you can surely eat a lot.”
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

Sentence Openers


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