The last few weeks I’ve been doing a pretty decent job of pretending my world isn’t about to become unglued. I’ve been patient and loving with the kids, focused on getting work done, trying really hard not to snap at my husband, to stay upbeat and positive and encouraging to those around me (and let’s face it, this seems to be a bad month for just about everyone).
I haven’t been thinking about the fact that we’re fairly certain my husband will be laid off soon, or that neither he nor I are getting any traction in our job searches. I haven’t been thinking about all the things falling apart in and on our house we can’t afford to fix, or the insurance payments we’re late on or the tuition bills we’re committed to or the fact that I can’t buy the kids a simple ice cream even when I really want to and they really deserve one. I matter-of-factly found out what we could expect in terms of unemployment benefits, and calmly noted that it wouldn’t even cover our mortgage payments let alone other expenses.
But yesterday it all came crashing down. The worry, the wondering, the work . . . it all caught up with me and I had an Oh Fuck attack of epic proportions. I stood looking out the kitchen window, watching the clouds billow with pent-up rain, and suddenly these words appeared unbidden in my mind: “At least there is beauty.” And I thought of everything we stood to lose: our house, our community, our self-sufficiency. And then I was sobbing, and gasping, and my heart began to race and I shook and shivered and looked at the phone, wondering if I should dial 911.
So this is what v-fib feels like, I thought stupidly, as my heart fluttered away like a 20-foot prank balloon, out of the reach of various agencies of reason and rescue. I sat down hard on the kitchen floor, my feet juddering out from under me and my hands clenching and curling back on my wrists in some kind of sickening flipper-baby gesture. A high-pitched whistling filled my ears and I wondered, dully, if it was the carbon monoxide alarm.
And then I realized it was me. I was hyperventilating, or wheezing, or performing some other kind of problematic air-sucking attempt, and that whistling sound was me not getting enough oxygen. Everything turned sort of white and foggy around the edges. I rolled over onto my side, pressing my cheek against the cool floor, feeling both ridiculous and overwhelmingly, terrifyingly alone.
I forced myself to try and regulate my breathing. It’s all in my mind, I told myself, hoping I’d be comforted by the realization it wasn’t, in fact, my body having a Spontaneous Death Event. I crawled to the computer, and twittered that I was having a panic attack.
I don’t know why I didn’t call my husband, or my mom, or my best friend. But I do know, that in less than 140 characters, one woman I’ve never actually met was able to tell me that she understood, and she cared, and she wanted to help:
I don’t know if it was ultimately her suggestion (a good one) that helped, or just that simple act of connection, but within minutes I was able to breathe again without whistling, and drink some water, and back away from the bizarre psycho-somatic ledge I had gotten myself stuck on.
The day continued, balloon boy news unfolding as a convenient distraction, demands of children focusing my attention on the basic rituals: food, bath, books, bed. I cleaned up. I talked calmly with my husband about work, money, options. I read, played solitaire, went to bed. I watched, from my pillow, the stars moving on their unseen paths. I slept.
And then, today, I see a baby blown off the platform directly in front of an oncoming train (hat tip to Sundry for tweeting the coronary-inducing link this morning), see the mother wildly flailing to catch it, nearly hit by the train herself, and I feel it, that heart-slam, that silence as the world stops, the bottom falling out. I wonder if this is my new normal, walking that edge between fineness and catastrophic fear, at any moment blown by the winds of chance into paralyzing panic.
But, like that baby, everything I love is still here. I need to remember this. Even if we lose the job, the house, whatever: everything I love is with me, now. Security is imagined. At any moment it could float away or be flattened by a train or bombed into oblivion. And for many people, it has. For many people, that crushing, unspeakable loss is lived with every day. I ache for them, because it is a horror they can’t fight their way out of, a loneliness that will never end.
I breathe, and watch the clouds, and think, At least there is beauty. I cry because we can’t all see it. And I cry because I can.
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