Posts Tagged ‘Food Zoo’

Don’t Panic!

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011
Don't Panic!

From Wikipedia,

Imagine yourself doing something you do pretty much every day. You could be on a trip to the grocery store, or seeing a movie, or eating in a cafeteria. Maybe you’re just walking down the street. Now imagine that you start to feel pressure in your chest, so subtly at first that you don’t notice any onset; after a while it’s just there, and it’s growing. For me, it always starts in the chest. It feels like my lungs are a little bit too small but heavier than normal. “Maybe,” you start to think, “this feeling will go away by itself.” Maybe if you stop thinking about it. But it doesn’t. You can’t stop thinking about it. Quite the opposite in fact — the crushing feeling intensifies and it’s the only thing you can think about. Every breath you take feels shorter than the last, like an invisible boa constrictor is slowly squeezing the normalcy out of you. Breathe out the sanity and mundanity of what you’re doing; breathe in panic, breath by terrifying breath.

Now you start to become acutely aware of how others perceive you. Your breathing becomes shallower and shallower, which must be more and more noticeable to the people around you, which only intensifies your fear and worsens your breathing. It’s a vicious circle that robs you of all clarity. You keep looking from side to side, almost as if you’re expecting to be attacked, as if this horror inside your brain could be made manifest. Your thoughts start bouncing around in your head, all the while orbiting a central nexus of fear and doubt and, well… panic. Each moment brings your thoughts closer and closer to the central black hole about which all your thoughts are swirling. Anything. You’d give anything to escape, to get out, to leave now. By now you’re breathing faster and harder and heavier than you ever do when you’re exercising and exhausted. You feel like shouting, you feel like exploding, you feel like you’re going to die, and being aware of it all makes it so much worse. There is nothing you can do. You feel so stupid and small; you can’t believe you actually thought you had a chance to stop this. So you get out, any way you can. You lie, you run, you flee. And next time you’re facing a similar situation, you might find an excuse to avoid it entirely, because who would want to ever experience that more than once?

This is the best I can do to describe a panic attack. If you’ve never experienced it, you will never be able to understand fully. And you are very, very fortunate.

I remember my first panic attack well. It was in seventh grade, on a field trip, on a bus. It was triggered by my fear of heights. We were coming down from some precipice in Montana (there are a lot of them there), on a trip to Helena or Butte or one of the other major cities. I remember looking out the window and feeling certain that we were going to plunge off the edge. I remember telling myself how stupid that was, and simultaneously not believing a word of it. And I remember my breath starting to get faster and faster, and thinking about how my classmates must be aware of it, and how that made it even worse. And then we were down, and the danger was gone, but the fear wasn’t. I cried into my jacket, and after fifteen minutes or so I could look up. It was horrible, but I had a good friend with me (Josh) who comforted me. That was nice. It’s one of the best things to get you through it. These days, it’s Carrie who gets me through it.

The worst part about panic attacks is that you can never tell they’re going to come until they start. You can’t predict them. You can identify circumstances that increase the chances that one will strike, but there are no guarantees. You could go to the same place at the same time of day with the same circumstances, and one day you’ll be fine and the other day everything will just implode. My attacks hit the hardest during my freshman year of college. I wasn’t really close friends with anybody in my grade who was also attending the University of Montana (most of my friends were in the grade below), and I’m pretty awkward about making friends, so I was very, very alone my first year. Thus, I didn’t have anybody to help me through the attacks, which made them a million times worse.

I also had the cheapest meal plan. So I could only eat once a day, in the cafeteria (called appropriately enough, the Food Zoo), by myself. I always ate dinner there, usually a huge meal because I was so hungry by that time of day. Some days, I was fine. I could go there, eat my fill, and return to my room, to watch Jeopardy and the news. Other days, I could barely make it to my table and eat a few bites before I had to escape. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even finish getting my food because I knew I wouldn’t even be able to start eating. During the mildest of attacks, I could eat enough food to meet my biological needs and could even feel relaxed enough (this is a relative term) to leave my tray in the food disposal area. During the worst attacks, I just left everything where it was. I think this happened at least twice. Sorry, fellow Food Zoo patrons and Food Zoo workers. There really wasn’t anybody sitting there.

That’s probably why I got so thin my first year of school. I wasn’t eating that much to begin with, and every once in a while (probably once a week during the worst stretch) I would just skip a meal. One week, there was a three-day stretch when I didn’t eat anything because I couldn’t force myself to because I was so afraid of another attack. This is a key component of Panic Attacks — avoiding the circumstances that trigger them. The second day of that fun stretch, I just left my tray on the buffet line, and ran out the door, and hid behind the bushes trying to catch my breath and stop crying. Probably looked pretty interesting, this big guy breathing hard and crouching in the bushes planted outside the first floor of a dorm. This was about the time I started taking advantage of the free counseling that they offered at the Curry Health Center. It wasn’t just about the panic attacks, I was also working through my awkwardness and shyness. It helped a lot. I cannot stress that enough. Professionals know how to help. Later, I was helped more by having friends nearby. The attacks diminished my second year, and by my last year of school (year six, for those keeping track), I was free of them as a recurring ordeal.

The strangest thing is that I don’t mind being in a crowd if they’re watching me perform. I was in Speech and Debate in high school, and never had a performance-related attack — even at the state meet. I never felt that way in any of the plays I was in, or before or during any of my bands’ shows. The most terrifying attacks are triggered by crowds, but not by audiences. If they’re watching something, even me, then I have no reason to be afraid. That doesn’t make sense, but neither do panic attacks, really.

Large crowds are the only significant trigger I have now. I still get an attack every now and then. Like I said, I can’t predict it. I’ve been fortunate enough not to have one happen in the cafeteria at work, or on the bus, or at a Mariners game or Rat City Roller Girls game. The last one was at the Pacific Science Center, when Carrie and I and some other friends were seeing the Star Wars exhibit. I hadn’t even gotten through the first floor when I knew it was coming. It came on fast, and I had to leave. I was so upset, I didn’t even look at the gift shop. I spent the next 20 minutes sitting on the cement walkway outside the gift shop, slowing my breathing and wondering what the rest of the exhibit was like. By then I’d calmed down enough that I didn’t even look distraught.

It’s gotten really good. The Star Wars episode was the last significant attack I’ve had (I had a minor one while walking to work a couple Fridays ago, but it wasn’t nearly as major as it might have been). I did worry that something might happen when Carrie and I went up the Space Needle, but that was fine, too. All in all, I’m getting better. This has a redoubling effect, because it means I think about the attacks less, which means I worry less, which means I have them less. I wish I could logic myself into this kind of scenario, but it only happens with time and a little luck.

I don’t really tell many people about my panic attacks, because I guess I’m ashamed of them. I’ve written a song or two about it, but in vague enough terms that it probably wasn’t clear unless you were really paying attention. The only people who know for sure are probably Carrie and my parents. I’m trying to change this because I’m trying to fight off the last lingering traces. It’s absolutely terrifying having a panic attack, but having people who care about you enough to help you through it is as close to a cure as there is for me.

Here’s one of those songs I told you about: The Suckers — “A Normal Life”


Monday, September 1st, 2003

Well, I woke up at 11:00 today. Ate lunch, then John called and we went to Best Buy, and Super Wall-Mart™®©, and Target, and Rockin’ Rudies, and some kitchen sink store. All so he could buy two lousy Ethernet cables. We went shopping around to about fifty billion stores for the cheapest cables. And you know the sad part? The Book Store — which John assumed would have the highest degree of price-gouging — had the cheapest cables! The mind reels.

I managed to get some posters for my walls, though — a Beatles poster and a Van Gogh print of flowers for my bulletin board. My room is looking much homier now.

We ate in the Food Zoo and ran into A.J. from Billings. This is the guy who was kind enough to let John, Shawn and me stay at his house when we went to the Warped Tour last year. And we hadn’t even asked. Shawn got stoned and thought he’d written A.J. an e-mail, which makes no sense, since he would have been sober when the response came!

Later tonight Aaron, John and I went to Drew Wilson’s apartment. We watched I Spy, which was pretty cool. It’s like everybody knows everybody here, though. We keep bumping into people! Finally, we caught up with Brooke, which means she isn’t dead as we had feared.

So I’m gonna do some reading and hit the hay. I’m freakin’ tired. And my roomie’s asleep, so I can’t crank the tunes. Peace.

About Me

Wednesday, January 29th, 2003

I have stepped into the miraculous world of online blogging. Hooray! I have chosen to do this because while I still have a ‘real’ diary/journal/log, I find that typing is much easier on my hands. So everything that isn’t too private will go here, for all eyes (or, to be realistic, no eyes) to see.

A little about myself? I’m 19 and a freshman at the University of Montana in Missoula. I graduated from Corvallis High School, which actually furnished a decent education for being in the middle of nowhere. My biggest accomplishment there was probably winning fourth place in the state at the ABC speech meet for Serious Duo. I don’t fancy myself talent as an actor at all, so it was quite surprising. Just a few days ago I learned that my partner from last year and the singer from my band got first place in the state for Humorous Duo, so I’m psyched for them. I’m majoring in English Teaching, with a minor in Paying Off Debts For Life. I mean drama. A minor in drama. I’m going into teaching because I love being around kids. They seem so free, so full of life, and so innocent that it seems nuts not to do something to try and light a fire within their minds. I’ve always liked kids (not in a Pete Townsend type way), and seeing a group of them at play (on a playground somewhere) always brings a smile to my face. Being a teacher will mean that I will never be able to buy the finer things in life, but that doesn’t bother me.

I was born and raised in Walla Walla, Washington, a city infamous as the ‘Warner Brothers Funny-Name City.’ What I remember most about Walla Walla was the heat: clinging to your very skin, cloying, overwhelming. My childhood was very much one of the late eighties/early nineties: moonwalks, and M.C. Hammer, and Nintendo. In 1993, shortly after the birth of my sister, we moved to Billings. Billings was large, stinky, and somewhat unfriendly. Two years later we moved to Corvallis, where I finished middle school and high school. Corvallis is small, friendly, a tad boring at times, and beautiful. I met many interesting people there, including all of my bandmates, my closest adult friend (who also happened to be my Speech teacher), and other people who I will carry with me for life. Missoula (my current hometown) shares some of that beauty, glimpsed above the buildings in the mountains, so I really don’t feel out of place here. The only thing to miss about my hometown (which is only an hour away) is the people.

They say I’m pretty smart, and I will admit that I tend to agree with them. I was singled out in elementary school as ‘gifted and talented’, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not going to engage in anything as masturbatory as posting my IQ or SAT scores, and I promise that this will be the extent of my ‘bragging.’

I play guitar in a band, Nerds With Instruments, which is unknown even in the rather thightly-knit Montana punk rock scene. I fancy myself a decent writer. I dabble in a lot of other hobbies, including programming, photography (usually when I can get my hands on my Dad’s digital camera, which is a lot cheaper than film), and recording music. My favorite hobby, I must confess, is to frequently split infintives.

Now that exposition is out of the way, I will get into my day. I woke up at 9:00, an hour before my History of Rock ‘n Roll class. This class is interesting. Unfortunately, its format (three exams make up the total grade) is the easiest one for me to skip, but I won’t want to skip it. Bottom line? I will not be skipping ten class periods like I did in Native American studies last semester. Today, we went over the defining characteristics of Rock ‘n Roll. I still need to get a copy of the book; tomorrow I’ll check the UC Bookstore.

An hour after that class ended I have American Lit. This class reminds me of my high school Senior English class, mostly because of the similarities between the instructors. I was startled today when everyone started packing up to leave, because I hadn’t looked at my watch once while sitting through that class. The same thing happened in my Senior English class. I’ll have to either ask Professor Brenner if he remembers a student from Butte or ask Mr. Kane if he was a student of Brenner’s.

Then I had a rather boring British Lit class. Almost the polar opposite of American Lit. It’s startling to see the dichotomy between these two courses. One is dynamic, and chatty, and interesting; the other, static, silent, and boring.

After classes I fiddled around with my guitar. I finished reading Insomnia by Stephen King, and started in on my Psych asssignment. I still need to finish that before the end of the night. Then I went to dinner. Thank God Missoula is such a liberal city. The Food Zoo (the place in which I’m forced to eat) has a nice selection of vegetarian foods, so I don’t have to fill up on French Fries and salad. A nice piece of cake rounded out my one meal of the day. Although my parents are concerned because I only have one repast a day, I am not. I eat a big meal, and I’m kind of big anyway.

After dinner I settled down to watch Jeopardy on the TV I brought up from home, but the TV (an old Sony which has seen bitter days) blitzed out on me. This means that I have to hook my rather crude antenna up to my VCR (which will not release its vicelike grip on my Star Wars: A New Hope tape) to get any TV. Not that I watch much television. Jeopardy, Seinfeld, and the News: these are the only shows I watch up here. Back home, I can see M.A.S.H. and Spin City on my parents’ fancy satellite dish, but here I only get broadcast shows. With no TV, I took a four-hour nap, and woke up to start this blog.

I have a personal homepage, where you can sample my writing and other things about me. I hope to get some of my photography up there someday. It is, I confess, an exercise in vanity, but it’s probably the only vain thing I do. Click Here.