Panic at the Elephant House

Panic attacks are a glorious part of my life. I have generalized anxiety disorder, and the super fun bit is that I never know when the attacks are going to happen.  Anxiety is all “Oh, you’re having an awesome day? The sun is shining and the birds are singing and unicorns are vomiting glittery rainbows all over your life? Awesome.  I’MA RUIN THAT RIGHT NOW,” and suddenly I can’t breathe, turn into a raging hulk monkey and have to find the nearest exit.

If my anxiety disorder had a face.

If my disorder had a face.

The last time I had a full on panic attack was this past August in Edinburgh at The Elephant House, a lovely little cafe spawned by Satan himself*.

Elephant House

Photo credit: Myself, mid panic attack.

It was mid-afternoon on a glorious mostly sunny 67° day, and Tanya and I’d been traipsing around town, seeing all the things. August is festival season in Edinburgh (yay Fringe) and I was starting to get a wee bit twitchy (cuz humans, so many humans) so we popped into the Elephant House to get a refreshing drink and do the whole “JK ROWLING WROTE HARRY POTTER HERE, YOU GUYS” thing.

And then it happened.

The restaurant was crowded and a stagnant 237°. Not good things for this girl. Too much heat & too little air movement will trigger a migraine in a heartbeat. My system immediately went into fight or flight mode, my throat started closing up, and I got ragey, as I do during panic attacks. Some people cry hysterically, I turn into the Hulk. A tear or two may form in the corner of my eye, but I’m more likely to try to find something to demolish in an effort to escape my uncontrollable fever rage.


Since it’s, ya know, Edinburgh, layers are key.  Shirt, jacket, purse slung across body. I also had on one of those evil, clunky passport pouches under my shirt. Sweat started pouring out everywhere, my breathing became shallow, and I got tunnel vision.


I ripped off the jacket and began trying to do the bra-removal-through-sleeve maneuver with the passport pouch (rational part of brain did manage to somehow comprehend that we were still in a public place) when ALL THE THINGS got tangled. Purse strap + pouch cord + sleeve = constricting, tangled mess. Poor Tanya, having never seen me in true panic mode, desperately tried to assist in the maneuver, at first to no avail. I may have slapped her hand away at one point, but I can’t really remember. All I knew was I was stuck. I could see out of the window, stood right beside the exit, but could.not.move and was now tangled in clothing and cords and straps.

Panicked portion of Brain: BREAK THE EFFING WINDOW AND ESCAPE.

Rational portion of Brain: um, please don’t get arrested in Scotland.


Somehow, miraculously, I stopped fighting Tanya’s efforts and she got that effing passport heat pouch of death from around my neck and away from my body and ushered me out of the building into fresh air. She’s wee but mighty, that one.

Artist's rendering.

Artist’s Rendering.

We quickly hustled down the street, away from the cute little inferno from hell, towards some little venue that hosted one of the Fringe acts. She helped me order a beer and we sat there in the cool breeze while I self medicated, trying to casually calm the F down while listening to Scottish chefs chat about how they’d visited Kissimmee, Florida.

And that’s the story behind #panicattheelephanthouse, my “Me too” to those of you who have panic attacks. You’re not alone. They suck, I know. I also know that you have the strength to get through them. Keep fighting for the days filled with rainbow vomiting unicorns.



*I’ve had many folks try to defend the Elephant House to me since the panic attack, and I have this to say: Just stop.  Shush.  In real life The Elephant House is probably really great, but my experience is not your experience. The folks that work there were lovely, this I can confirm. I’m sure the refreshments would have been delightful. And, yes, the HVAC was probably just on the fritz & blah blah blah. Shut it. You’re missing the point. This isn’t about the location. It’s about my panic attack that just happened to occur at that location. I will probably visit The Elephant House again if I go back to Edinburgh because anxiety can suck it. 


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