I have “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” That means, sometimes I have panic attacks. Other times, I just get really really really really anxious and feel like I might throw up. Other times I get anxious and then the depression kicks in and convinces me whatever I’m worrying about really is going to be the end of the world, so I may as well be really really sad about it. Sometimes it’s just a tight feeling in my chest that I can’t shake no matter how much deep breathing I do. Sometimes I fly to London and get a combination of all four.
A couple of weeks ago, I did something brave. I flew to London to visit a friend. I had never been overseas before, but I figured that since I would be going to an English-speaking country and I had a friend there, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It started out with garden variety nervousness the week before the flight. It culminated with me shaking and crying on my friend’s couch, certain that the horrible panic feeling wouldn’t go away unless I found some way to get back home immediately. Which was not likely to happen.
It’s hard to pin down what exactly was so terrifying. I had never been through customs before, but there were big signs everywhere in my native language. I was in a strange city without a phone, but I did have my friend’s number and access to payphones. My debit card wasn’t working, but it was allowing me to withdraw money from the ATM. I’m not used to using public transportation, but my friend had written out a very detailed list for me, and I was pretty confident of my ability to follow it. Really, those were my only concerns, and none of them were remotely insurmountable. And still, I felt like throwing up the moment the plane landed.
I thought it would be better once I met up with my friend. It wasn’t. I thought maybe things would improve once we got to her house. They didn’t. She had to go to work shortly after dropping me off at her place, but frankly, that was good because I was losing it and I wasn’t sure I could hold it together enough to be around people. So I was grateful she had to leave. I felt so awful I wished I could die. Literally. I wished it was over. And I was still certain I would not be ok at all until I got back to the USA. Which was two weeks away. And the temporal concept of two weeks just sat there on my chest crushing the air out. I was afraid I was going to spend two weeks curled up on her couch wishing I were dead. Surviving that long didn’t seem possible.
I tried reading for a while. No better. I tried watching TV. Nada. I tried facebooking. Still nothing. Eventually I was able to take a nap. It was one of those naps where nothing changes at all but when you wake up, you’re at least glad some time has passed. When I woke, I kept breathing in and out. Shallowly. I couldn’t even really cry to release the despair and terror. I was safe as houses, had a good internet connection to contact home, and one of my dearest friends (who understands things like depression and anxiety) was going to be home in just a couple of short hours to help me through. I had even managed to call the bank and sort out my debit card. But nothing can shake panic like that. Nothing.
Somehow (slight overdose on my anxiety meds combined with an over-the-counter sleep aid), I managed to get to sleep that night. And when I woke up in the morning, it was like nothing at all had happened. I was fine. It was gone. And I completely loved my time in London. And when the time came to fly to Germany to visit a couple of other friends, the accompanying panic was milder. I didn’t die. I did make it the two weeks until I got back home, and enjoy them too. When I think back, half of me is proud and convinced I can do hard things. The other half is way too scared to try anything like that ever again. I honestly don’t know which half will win. I don’t know if I’ll ever do anything scary and fun again. But I might.