Friday, May 18, 2007

Are You A Writer? or: Vocational Counseling At The ER

I was going through a particularly bad patch.

Unable to sleep because of emotional distress, I would lie in bed with the television tuned to the Fine Arts station, a sort of MTV for the classical set.

Every once in a while I would drift off but wake almost immediately to the sight and sound of a strange orchestra gleaming in the dark. Eventually daylight would creep into the room and I would drag myself to work. I’d get through the day in a weird, zombie haze, barely able to hold my head up, and then go home to lie awake some more.

The difference between day and night had, at this point, effectively disappeared, replaced by a flat panel of cardboard scenery that hummed and buzzed. It all started to get a little hallucinatory, a twilight world broken up by strange clips of classical music.

Eventually it was all going to collapse on me.

My doctor at the time was a young woman who, I found out later, was related by marriage to a rather notorious personality on the American political scene. She didn’t seem to share any of this person’s pronounced conservative viewpoints, but marriage makes for some strange relations.

She herself had suffered from depression, but didn’t seem very familiar with panic attacks. This was all right as it was around this time that, having gone to seek help for my sleepless predicament, I proceeded to have one in her office.

There is a sense during these attacks, difficult to describe, in which one feels the need to escape, almost out of one’s skin. You feel threatened by danger for no apparent reason, as if you were an ant that a shoe was about to come down on, and you look desperately for a way out.

This can be especially dangerous, as the wife will attest, if you’re behind the wheel. She can tell you tales of my suddenly accelerating through red lights as if a landslide were behind us, nearly causing a worse accident than the one I was imagining.

Back at the doctor’s office, I asked if I could leave for a few minutes to get some air. I needed to get out, anywhere, before the shoe came down. This helped enough to allow me to return inside after a while, but I could tell I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

“So that’s what they’re like?” my doctor asked.

I tried to explain exactly what it felt like, not an easy task, especially in my twilight state. I don’t remember what else happened during the visit, only that I got back in the car for the 5-minute ride home hoping that the worst was over but feeling like everything was still incredibly fragile.

It hit as I pulled into the driveway. The rug was pulled out from underneath the world. Everything crashed in, a million dangers out of nowhere. I struggled to get up the front steps, my legs like rubber and my heart beating like mad. I managed to make it to a chair in the kitchen and said to my father, “Call an ambulance.”

I tried to talk just to assure myself I was still conscious. I wanted my father to keep talking so I knew I could still hear. It felt like I was going to die.

The paramedics showed up and asked me some questions and I explained where I’d been and what happened as they took my blood pressure.

The one operating the pressure cuff said, “They let you leave the office like that? You’re practically stroking out.” He told me some numbers that indicated that the pressure was, indeed, through the roof.

They gave me some drugs that seemed to take the edge off and on the way to the hospital, I tried to place my mental ducks in a row: figuring out how to further refine my description of what had happened and how it felt. At the very least, it was an excellent way of taking my mind off of my current difficulties.

The doctor at the ER listened to my story with a strange expression on his face. When I was through, he asked, “Are you a writer?”

Where on earth was this coming from? I wondered.

I said I did a little writing, but never professionally.

“Well, that was a textbook-perfect description of a panic attack,” he explained.

There was a textbook? I figured I’d better get my doctor a copy of that thing.


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