Waking up in my bed. Dead of night. Trapped somewhere. Or maybe nowhere. No fear, but every cell in my body needs to escape. No reason. Just escape. Or what? I could burst.
I am consumed. Frozen. There is no thinking. Only feeling. Terrible, horrible flight-not-fight.
Then the thinking comes.
Where can I go? To the living room? Turn all the lights on? Will it go away then? I don’t think so. Maybe the guest bedroom. Curl up in the recliner with a blanket? Nothing feels right. Two or three seconds have passed since it started. My brain moves at lightning speed.
And now the fear. Escape seems impossible. Stuck in this. Never been this scared of anything in my life. Ever.
It happens at night. Waking from a dead sleep to this. So many distractions during the day, no space for this.
I get it now. Why people kill themselves. To escape. It’s so simple.
I am safe. I am safe. I am safe. No. Not helping.
Pulse is fine. Breathing is fine. No cold sweats. No spinning head. Still nothing reassures me.
Oh, what to do! What to do! He sleeps. Oblivious. Not even snoring. Should I wake him? Can he help me? No. This is mine.
I’d take a pill if I had one. Right now. Me! I avoid pills. Walk my path. Accept responsibility. Don’t just reach for the quick band-aid that fixes nothing. Work it out. Even when it takes years.
Right now. Right here. I might take whatever I could to escape. I’d stop short of death. That terrifies me even more and makes no sense.
I open my eyes, move around in bed, make sure I’m completely awake. The wall is close. I reach out. Run my fingers over its textured finish. Red numbers stare back at me from the clock. Moonlight streams in, so this isn’t like total darkness that’s freaked me out before. That wasn’t as bad as this though.
Maybe if I get up to pee. Move around. Can’t hurt. Might help. I tried that once. The terror eased off slightly. Then the revelation that I either had to get back in my body or get out of it. Had I been astral travelling and wasn’t back yet? The possibility had reassured me then. An explanation that made some sense. I had gone back to bed and managed to sleep. This time, that explanation isn’t helping.
I reach for the hematite crystal always by my bed. It’s supposed to help ground me. I cling tightly to it and wait. Nothing changes. I’m too far down some endless, gaping hole. I have to get out, get away, escape. Anything! Please! Get me out of here!
I move the duvet off and sit up. Legs over the side. My feet touch the cold floor. Even a sip of water doesn’t help much. What else was on that list? Things to do to ground yourself when anxiety is all there is?
It’s happened like this before. Oh crap. Will it keep happening? Is this my life now? Afraid to go to bed, to fall asleep. Afraid I’ll wake up like this again.
I can’t stay awake for the rest of my life. Somehow I’ve got to figure this out. Make it go away. Find a better way to cope. I hate it.
I came close once, on the operating table waiting for the epidural to take effect as two anaesthetists discussed my off-the-charts blood pressure like I wasn’t there. The surgeon, scalpel in the air ready to cut me open and remove the baby now in distress, asked if I could feel the ice on my side. ‘YES!!’ I hollered, afraid they’d cut before I was frozen. ‘We’ll have to give you a general,’ he said. ‘YES!’ I screamed inside my head, ‘GET ME OUT OF HERE!’ And I escaped. But if that fear was a ten, this is a thousand. A million.
Claustrophobia has grabbed me at times. Daytimes. Breathing, distractions, ginger, sometimes escaping – those things helped. This is that on steroids.
Am I losing my mind? What’s wrong with me?
My dreams are weirder lately, too. Last time I was in Mumbai on a conference. So much pollution, an inescapable thick never-ending fog. Outside. But its presence invaded my tiny hotel room. Terrified me. I couldn’t leave. Even the TV couldn’t distract me. Two days. Waiting in my hotel room for the conference to be over. Awful. Mostly I forget dreams. I remembered this one.
I should go talk to someone. Maybe telling someone will help.
I could help myself. Be more consistent. Meditate. Walk. Dance. Visualize. Affirm. Pray.
So get busy! Do all those things. They’re free. They might help. Figure this out! Like you’ve worked through other stuff in your life.
Yeah, well, this time it’s different. I’ve never been this terrified before. Never. Not ever.
Once the sun is up, I’m fine. I forget about it. Or life distracts me.
Some days I do feel lost, moving from one To Do list item to the next. Avoiding the things that might lead me back to myself or out of this.
I know it’s part of my journey. The one my soul chose and the one I repeatedly affirm to manifest my purpose this lifetime. I don’t like this part of my journey.
I’ve done a lot – family, careers, volunteering. So much of it felt like me. In the zone. Using the gifts I was born with to make a difference. A good one.
But have I been a lot?
Was it too much doing not enough being. Not enough facing me. The little girl who always seemed to have it all together. Alone but managing. Engaged everywhere except home. Her narcissist, forever angry mother too useless to rely on or run to for comfort.
Eventually I saw the numbness of my youth. Protecting me. I recognized the instinct that fuelled my choices and successes. The ancestors guiding me. But is the little girl waking up? Screaming finally at her fears and loneliness?
Here now, near my ocean again, drawn to the trees anchoring this new home, I am happy at times for no reason. And content. It feels unfamiliar and wonderful. But I’m very tired, and torn and anxious to get on with my purpose, get on with doing. So I can feel in the zone again. I loved that feeling.
And now this. Getting in my way. Is this the flip side of joy and contentment? Nothing I’ve ever feared was as horrific as this. Not even when I was getting sicker and doctors were useless and I’d go to bed at night wondering if I’d wake up in the morning. Not even then.
But I followed my gut. Sought non-traditional healing. Fixed things.
Can I do that again?
I’m scared to let hidden feelings leak out. What if they all come out. All at once! Will I fall apart? And not be there for the ones I love? For myself? Could I put myself back together? Who would help me?
When I’m asleep things happen without warning. I wake up in the middle of something and there I am.
I understand why alcohol. Why drugs. They deaden feelings.
And I understand why food and eating and weighing more than is good for me. Protection. Avoidance.
These thoughts whirl around at warp speed as I cling to my hematite.
I don’t need to pee. It’s really cold out here. I drop calming lavender oil on my hands. I climb back into bed and curl up in a fetal position, inhaling the oil and hanging on to my hematite.
I focus on steady, slow rhythmic breathing. Inhale through the nose one-two-three-four. Exhale through the mouth one-two-three-four. I invoke my usual mantra when I’m a little anxious: I am perfectly fine, I am perfectly fine, as slowly as possible, over and over and over. It usually helps when I’m nauseous or anxious or can’t fall asleep quickly.
But twenty minutes later I’m still in the fetal position, still clinging to my hematite, still repeating my mantra and pacing my breath. What? How come it’s not working? I almost slip further into some unknown abyss every time my brain remembers those first few moments awake.
I refocus on my breath. Counting. Twenty-five minutes later I feel my body relax just a tiny little bit, feel my mind fogging up just a little. Good. Something is working. I put my hematite back on the night stand.
Soon I’ve actually fallen back to sleep.
In the morning I am tired. I get on with my day, my life, the motions.
Later I sneak a peek back, relive those first moments. I could so easily slip back into it all. Right here in broad daylight. Then I remind myself ‘You got through it. You coped.’
Whatever was trying to tell me something, no matter how desperate I was to escape, I did get through it.
Maybe it will happen again. Or not. What if it’s worse next time?