By Kelene Blake
I stared at the cell phone lighting up next to my bed with the usual suspicion. It was 8:23 a.m. A lump the size of a grapefruit rose in my throat; it’s going to be bad news! I always have this thought when my phone rings, but today I was certain… and today I was right. The voice on the other end belonged to Miss Gracie, one of my mother’s neighbors. It trembled as she told me that Mama had a heart attack during the night. Miss Gracie rang Mama’s doorbell that morning to return a borrowed skillet “early, just in case she wanted to make pancakes.” Mama and Miss Gracie had been close friends since I was a child, and at some point they had exchanged house keys “in case of emergency.” So when Miss Gracie got no answer to the third ring she let herself in and found my two-year-old daughter Mariana trying to wake Mama.
That was as far as the story got before a strange sound, a cross between wheezing and moaning, distracted and frightened me. What’s that noise? It’s freaking me out... Oh my God I’m making that sound! Am I dying?! I was hyperventilating and crying at the same time. It sounded like I was dying, and it felt that way too. Tired of asking if I was okay and not getting a response, Miss Gracie said “Mari will stay with me until you can pick her up. You can take your time…” I dropped the phone to deal with the impending panic attack.
You see, I have a panic disorder, and when I was not having a panic attack, I suffered what the doctors call generalized anxiety disorder, which is really just a constant low-level state of panic. I am persistently edgy and my muscles always seem tensed. I am as jumpy and easily startled as a squirrel on caffeine. If I move too quickly I get nauseous and I always hold my hands tightly clenched. I worry relentlessly about everything, from seeing floating things in my eyes to why there’s so much hair in my hairbrush (is it falling out?). Imagine constantly feeling a sense of imminent doom and all you can do is watch, wait, and be afraid, and you’ll know how I feel every minute of my life.
But right now, I was struggling for air, and my chest ached as though my heart would burst through at any moment. I could almost feel the adrenaline pumping into my bloodstream as the first wave of sheer terror pounded my entire being – mind, body and soul. I was drowning in it. I couldn’t breathe. I was gripped by a fear so strong I wanted to die, yet death was the thing I feared. It was horrible…panic attacks always are. Wave upon wave of terror, this attack lasted about an hour. My panic regressed into a helpless state of grief. I’m not sure which was worse, the hour of panic or the hour of crying.