Discover more from The Fainting Couch
In which I resist becoming a shut-in
I won't do it! Probably.
Something I was excited about upon our move to the Hudson Valley was our proximity to the local rail trail. When we bought the place we knew the trail was fairly close, but we didn’t realize there was an entrance a couple blocks from our home. It’s perfect and beautiful: it connects us to the center of town; it takes you all the way to the Hudson River walkway. I couldn’t be happier about it. Well, I could be happier. I’d be happier if my brain worked right.
My first few times walking the trail were uneventful. But during a recent walk I began to have that familiar, unnerving sensation that I get from open spaces. The trail is fairly wide and straight, and I started feeling like I do when I’m driving — the “I’m going to float up into space” feeling.
I felt untethered to the world, cut loose; even though I am perfectly aware of how gravity works, my body wasn’t getting the message. I reached for my phone to distract myself, and as I moved my head, the world tilted. I reached out to steady myself and there was nothing around to steady myself on, so my brain rapidly soaked itself in panic juices (I’m pretty sure that’s how it works).
I calmed down enough to get home without incident, where I calmed down some more. A one-off, I figured. I’m still getting used to the trail, and my new surroundings. It will feel safer and more secure as I continue using it.
But it happened again, and again. It happened a couple of days ago. I tried staring at the ground as I walked and the ground started to look farther away from me, as if I were indeed floating. I knew I wasn’t! But the alarm system in my body began clanging away. My heart leapt around and my hands shook. This time, fortunately, there was a sign near me, which I grabbed onto for support. I called Scott.
“I’m having a panic attack,” I informed him.
“Oh, no. You sound okay,” he said.
Of course I sounded okay. You’d never know when I was having a panic attack. Just like you would never know when I’m severely depressed. I will keep these things inside until they kill me, to be polite. I mean I don’t want to make a scene. I would rather die, literally. People walked by me and I said hello to them, calmly, politely, while my legs turned to gelatin and my eyeballs wobbled and my insides shrieked.
My legs, fortunately, moved me forward even as my body screamed ABORT! ABORT! SPACE LAUNCH IMMINENT! “Talk to me while I walk. Tell me I’m not going to float away.”
“You’re definitely not going to float away,” he said. “Do you want me to come get you?”
(Yes.) “No,” I said, “I think I should do this myself.” (Yes come get me I am flying up into the stratosphere even as we speak.)
I exited the rail trail.
“I’m almost home.”
“I can see you walking up to the house,” he said, “you look good!”
I laughed but it was comforting, knowing that I was doing a good job approximating a normal person walking home normally.
I haven’t gone for a walk since this incident, which is not good for my mental or physical well-being. I need to get a handle on this, and the driving thing. Or I really will become a shut-in, leaving the house only to get the mail, squinting in the sunlight, my pallor and hunch frightening the neighborhood children.
After I wrote about my driving phobia, my friend Barbara recommended EMDR — eye movement desensitization and reprocessing— which she says cured her flying phobia. (“I’m getting on planes! And not throwing up!” she exulted. “It’s a whole thing!”)
EMDR is a little hard to explain; you move your eyes in different directions while talking about your past traumas. (I think there are other methods that involve paddles? Or flashing lights? I’m honestly not sure.) People rave about it.
I actually tried it once, a long time ago. The therapist I went to was an older gentleman. I had one session that was pleasant enough, and then at the end of the session the therapist said he was going in to the hospital for surgery and would call me when he was recovered.
Reader: He never called me. I left him a couple of messages but I never received a response. Did he die? Did he just not like me? Did he not like me, and then died? I still wonder.
Anyway, I figure that attempt didn’t count, so I will try again, and report back. I found someone local who does EMDR and has had success with phobias, and I’m feeling hopeful. Unfortunately her schedule is quite tight — it seems everyone needs therapy thanks to, you know, [points at world] — and she might not be able to see me for a while. So until then, I’m going to have to manage using, well, pills, pretty much. (Shout out to my old friend Klonopin!). Or if you’re in the Hudson Valley and want to be my walking buddy, give me a shout. I am 97% calmer when I have company.
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