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.

Anyway.

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.

Panicked Brain: CLOTHES OFF. MUST COOL OFF. CLOTHES OFF. GET THIS PASSPORT THING OFF. OFF. OFF.

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.

Voice: GET THIS THING OFF OF ME. GET ME OUT OF HERE.

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.

 

unicorn

*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. 

It’s OK to Turn Off the Carols


I sat across from Person last night, updating her on ALL THE THINGS that are happening in my life right now (some good, some bad, some heartbreaking) and said, “I would cry, but I have things to do.” It is Christmas time, after all. It’s a time of celebration! Lights & trees & presents & parties & BLAH BLAH BLAH. Her eyes got wide. She pointed at me and said “THAT RIGHT THERE,” & then proceeded to tell me about her mini breakdown the night before & how she said to her husband “I would cry, but I have to go shopping.”

It was in that moment that I found my Christmas peace.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and OH MY GOD how I would love to be jolly right now, but I’m not, and I’m not the only one. Am I at peace now? YES, thanks to that moment, but filled with joy & glee? Not so much. And that’s ok.

BUT IT’S CHRISTMAS! CHRISTMAS IS THE BEST! FOR REASONS! ALL THE REASONS!!

Yeah, yeah it is, which is why I’ve held back tears and trudged forward and checked all the things off my to do list. BECAUSE CHRISTMAS, YOU GUYS.

I get it. I do. However, I can not, and will not, try to be jolly all damn day anymore. It’s exhausting. It’s unrealistic. It’s unhealthy.

And guess what. I can be sad if I want. I can wallow in it if I damn well please, because THAT’S the reason we Christians celebrate Christmas. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, the one born to meet us, exactly where we are, and fill us with hope so we can keep moving forward. Sweet little 8lb 6oz Baby Jesus was born, Son of God, to grow into a man who empathizes with our pain.Sweet baby Jeasus

The Son of God, who, unlike our overly cheerful neighbors, is totally ok with us having a bad day or two during the never-ending party that the holidays seem to be. He’s totally cool with it if your house isn’t decorated as big and bright as your neighbors’. He’s cool with it if you need to turn off the carols for a little while and just enjoy some peace & quiet. He’s cool with it if you say no to a few Christmas parties.

Now, I’m not trying to say ANYTHING bad about the folks out there who are all YAY CHRISTMAS and filled with 24/7 glee. Good for you. Consider yourself blessed this year and count ALL of those blessings many times over. Enjoy your happiness & joy & eggnog. Have the Merriest Christmas ever. Seriously.

But for the rest of us? Hear this:

You have His permission to take a break from all the festivities.  It’s ok. He’d actually prefer it, I bet, if you took a break from ALL THE THINGS and just chatted with Him for a bit. Let Him know how you’re doing. Ask Him for help, for comfort, for peace. That’s why Jesus was born in the first place.

& I get it, you may not be a Christian. You may celebrate Christmas for other reasons, or you may not celebrate it at all and yet are surrounded by ALL THE CHRISTMASING EVERYWHERE. It’s ok. You, too, can take a break.

The pressure is off. You don’t have to be happy during the most wonderful time of the year. You’re not the only one feeling lonely in the middle of the party. You’re not the only one grieving the death of a loved one while others are celebrating life. You’re not the only one who got a pink slip instead of a bonus. You’re not the only one dealing with an anxiety disorder and/or depression while others are fa la la-ing all over the damn place. You are not alone.

I’ma say it again.

You are not alone.

Fear not.

Maybe you can’t feel all the joy this Christmas season, and that’s ok.

But maybe, just maybe, now you can enjoy a little peace.

Cheers.

Cheers, you guys.