panic poetry

Over the weekend, I had my first “real” panic attack. Nothing like the summer shocks I’d felt years before, when mortality would come to me in the night and strike me with a metal bat. No, this was a slow build, weeks of disgust and anger and fear snowballing into a full-body choke, numbness draped over and into me. I felt phantom pains across my hip, ghosts pummeling the soft skin there while the rest of my body buzzed, falling “asleep” even though I was fully awake, eyelids stretched out to their fullest height and fingers and toes curled and clawed. It was the ugliest I have ever felt, and I cried out in pain over and over again as the feeling was ripped out of my body.

Through it all, he held onto me, hands digging into my back as I choked back screams. He kept telling me to breath, and I was, but in short, jagged gasps, some poltergeist collapsing my throat from the inside. My vision blurred, and he carried me until I was upright; we moved deliberately, limbs shadowing limbs in a dark parody of a slow dance. I kept swallowing air in gulps, and he kissed my forehead, cheeks, the back of my head, hands always on me as I unwound, and the voice in my head telling me I was going to die finally shut up.

Every time I feel guilty about what he is in relation to what I am, and the supposed clash between my political leanings and my personal preference, I pinch myself: Who am I to put myself and him and our relationship on this tilted scale? We butt heads over plenty of things, but the arguments have no real end — I always get so upset that I’ll start crying, and then he’ll begin to wipe away my tears and then whatever we’d fought about evaporates, any hard feelings brushed off by human touch. And out of all the senses, it is touch that draws me to him and keeps me with him; I am guilty of wanting him for shallow reasons, and guiltier still for thinking I would ever reject him on any other basis. My fear is two-fold: Do I love him become it comes easily, or is this just the easy conversation to have about love?

I’ve said something to that effect: a whispered “You are the love of my life,” and he bowed, the hills on his back rolling so he could lay a fairytale kiss on my lips. It would’ve been so sweet if it weren’t for the tears in the corners of my eyes; or perhaps, it’s made even sweeter, the guarded girl laying down her shield for the prince with endless promises, all fulfilled, all sworn to the moon and back. It’s still too easy for me to be a cynic, even when he emits nothing but earnestness and honesty in every molecule of his being. His arms reach out for me when we sleep, and I curl into him, and wonder what it would take to cement ourselves together. Not literally, but maybe, and the sick joke of it all is that I probably wouldn’t even mind; if anything, he’d be the one desperate to separate, a man of constant action tirelessly but fruitlessly pushing me up against the same insurmountable fears.

The true enemy, if there really is one, is always yourself. The world is generally indifferent to your wants and needs, and so you scream to be heard and to occupy more sonic space, but it’s easy to feel bitter and disillusioned when every other voice seems to shriek a thousand decibels above yours. Perhaps I’m doing alright, but somebody’s doing better, and while it’s useless to compare and complain, the “correct” solution is to work better, make more, be inescapable and important in a culture devoted to ephemeral obsessions and desires. You’ll be over unless you are crucial to the shifting worlds in which you exist, if you bend like the willow instead of break like the oak. There are almost no ways to create your ideal “work environment,” if your work environment is the constant jittering of your manic brain, thought on top of thought on top of thought stacked like mille-feuille of the mind. I wish I could write every phrase that pops into my head in permanent ink, calligraphy slashes on my skin. Too little, too late, and the panic sets in.

But there’s a difference, between where I’d been and where I am now. In some measures, I have made it — “done the thing,” as it were. People recognize me as something close to who and what I am to myself, and I no longer have to explain every choice I make, or every choice I dodge. I churn out copy and close the day with the feeling of having done something, instead of the cold seep of apathy, and then I go home

and sit on my bedroom floor, pillow propped against my bed frame, indulging in my inertia. Then I begin to remember the way he looked at me as we slow danced clumsily, my limbs still half-asleep and my lungs still squeezed for breath, and the air rushes in; I can’t let myself coast, let alone stop. I want to be the version of me that he sees, the tenderness he seeks, the warmth he craves in the night. I am not, and have never been, as weak and useless as I’ve seen myself. That is the truth I have to hold onto. That is the reality I must accept. In the face of insurmountable fear, I must build my way out; with him as support but without using him as a crutch, there is nowhere to go but up, and love, I will never let you down.

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