I woke up feeling strange that day.
I want to say that as I roused from my sleep I felt dizzy, but that’s not the proper word. It was something of a hollowness in my head. It was a feeling of being adrift, of being lost on a strange sea. It felt as if I was at the mercy of unseen forces entirely different from those I come to expect. Perhaps it was the sort of thing at inspired some people to believe in demons in Hell. But for some reason, I was indolent. If there was diabolical weather in my brain that morning, I was numb to it. I lay there in bed for a few minutes before, against my better judgment, I decided to get up and start my day.
It was 10AM. I went about making breakfast. Though I usually take some pleasure in preparing and eating this most important meal, that day the experience was uninspiring. There was a clear difference of perception, of the way the objects I saw registered in my brain. There was some sort of emotional disconnect between me and the way I was operating. I didn’t throw the egg away when I saw the redness of its being fertilized. I fished most of the shell fragments from the pan and went about scrambling. I burnt the toast. I didn’t throw my usual slice of cheese into the scrambling eggs. I went about my breakfast apathetically. Despite the lightness in my head, there was some sort of heaviness in my heart, or an unnatural deposit of lead in my stomach. The food didn’t taste any different than it had the previous day, but I took no pleasure from it. I might as well have eaten cardboard.
After I had eaten all I could (there was still more than half my plate left), I pushed the plate away. I hung my forehead in the palm of my hand with my elbow upon the table. I sat there for some time rubbing my brow, but that seemed to do nothing for me. Then I let the arm supporting my head fall limp upon the tabletop. My head fell onto the pillow of the fold of my other arm. I sat in such a position for several or maybe fifteen minutes, doing nothing, thinking nothing, feeling nothing.
I walked to my friends’ apartment. The feeling of dizziness had not left me. I walked at a leisurely pace, slower than usual, but the trek was still grueling. Sarah and Jane lived maybe three fourths of a mile away, but the time between my front door and theirs didn’t seem to register properly. As I crossed into their den, I collapsed into the couch. The couch seemed to welcome my body into its own, and I melted into some sort of numb lethargy. The punk rock playing on the stereo across the room seemed a mile away. My friend’s chatter seemed meaningless, irrelevant. I couldn’t make myself care.
We all sat around the TV. Sarah and Jane went on about something or other and I struggled to deliver anything more than a monosyllabic answer every five minutes. After an hour or so of this, my friends seemed worried about me. They convinced me to go to the gym with them. I agreed, thinking that exercise would work this out of my system.
The gym was useless. I felt too weak to get any meaningful exertion out of my routine. My limbs put forth utterly anemic efforts. I couldn’t get half a mile into my running.
I found myself at home. I lay on my back in my bed, but the dizziness had not left me. Without the aid of alcohol or carousel, I somehow felt like the room was spinning. I had work later that afternoon. Considering how the day had really done nothing for up to that point, I let myself drift off to sleep.
I woke up fifty minutes before work. I had forgotten to set my phone for the time, but the feeling like a machine gun’s pulse in my chest served as a fine alarm clock. My heart pounded in my ribcage like a jackhammer on a brick wall. The sound of my most vital organ drumming in my ears announced the arrival of my panic attack, something associated with the most common forms of anxiety disorders.
It was as if this dizziness had exploded into some urgent, frantic, frustrated desire. I rushed to get my uniform on. I rush to get into my car. My hands shook at the steering wheel. My vision blurred as I sped down the freeway to work. My nerves used my heart like a double-bass drum at a death metal concert as my pulse ceaselessly raced. Sharp pains developed in my chest and sides and I feared unstable angina. My right arm felt as if ghosts were driving pins and needles into the flesh. I felt as if I were floating, disembodied, my body felt weightless and out of my control. I was simply in no practical shape to be driving a car, and this horrible, terrifying panic ensured that I drove unreasonably fast to work.
I arrived at work a solid ten minutes early. I took the time to relax. This effort proved completely useless. My heart wasn’t giving up its effort to dig its way tooth and nail out of my chest. The pains wouldn’t stop, my arm still felt both numb and electric at the same time. Eventually, it came time to clock in.
I didn’t last three hours. As I ran from table to table, nothing seemed to work out right. My arms were shaking. I looked like hell. I grew cross with my customers twice. Of the four trays of food I delivered that day, I came dangerously close to dropping two of them. I couldn’t think. I felt like I was about to explode.
I told my boss that I was sick. I guess she could tell that I wasn’t lying just by looking at me. She agreed to let me go for the day, and, trying hard not to collapse into a heap of writhing and screaming, I quickly walked to my car.
It was around 9PM. I briefly debated with myself over whether I should go home or just go to the hospital. It took maybe a minute for me to understand that I couldn’t hold a proper internal debate, and, accordingly, it would be a safer bet to just head to the hospital.
Once more I sped. The irony of endangering other people’s lives as I rushed to the hospital was lost on me. I was too swept away in this panic. The drive to the hospital was worse than the drive to work. My heart had been hammering for hours. The pains in my body were accordingly worse, I could almost swear my arm was going completely numb. I didn’t feel the weight of my body and I didn’t feel the weight of the car. My mind raced too fast for anything close to a rational thought to form. As far as I could feel, the mass of machine and metal I was supposedly driving was careening chaotically down the highway.
I hate waiting rooms. You sit there among people complaining of horrific stomachaches and broken digits, people who inexplicably couldn’t see that morning… The waiting room at any given hospital is a pit of panic and misery. I sat in my chair, filling out paperwork in a shaking hand, trying my best as I filled out page after page of redundant insurance forms to hold on to information that kept slipping through my fingers.
Finally, they called my name. I found myself laying in a hospital bed, my body shaking for the terror. I had no idea what was wrong with me! I had just woken up this morning and I was… dizzy. It shouldn’t have been anything, it should have just gone away after a cup of coffee, but it simply built and built and built and I felt like I was dying! I could barely hold back from screaming senselessly. I wept, I cringed, my face was a mess. I tried to breathe, but the air seemed too thick and the oxygen too thin. So I lay there, shivering and hyperventilating, as the doctors began to use machines on me.
The feeling of cold metal on my warm flesh was especially sinister that day. They took my heart rate, my blood pressure, they drew blood from my veins and sent it off to some lab for some stranger to analyze. Doctors in white hid behind lead walls as they bombarded my chest with x-rays that they might peer into my body cavity and divine the malfunction. They ran an EKG test, hooking the electrodes to my chest, more cold metal against my skin. My heart felt like it was going to explode. My mind was racing, but I couldn’t hear everything it was saying. As far as I could understand it was simply repeating itself: What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with me what’s wrong with me WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?
I waited for six hours in the hospital bed as they went over the results. I was terrified. I was panicking. My heart hadn’t slowed down yet. The pains in my body had become less of a sharpness and more of a burn.
That day, I seriously thought I was going to die. Facing mortality is a strange thing. I’ve heard before that it has a way of reordering priorities. This wasn’t that kind of experience though. I couldn’t think straight. My mind had burnt itself out that day. It was just a sick sort of languid resignation, hoping that these doctors could figure out what was wrong with me. I lay there, scared, alone, hurting, putting forth constant effort to breathe properly.
The doctor came in and told me that it had been a simple panic attack. There wasn’t anything physiologically wrong with me. It had all been in my head. It was 4AM.
The mind is a powerful thing. If its health is neglected, an otherwise healthy person can fall apart when it loses its ability to handle itself. This panic attack, though it never directly endangered my life, was the single most frightening experience of my life. It is not truly injury. It is not really sickness. It is simple, pure terror.