One of the good things about suffering from panic attacks (Not that there are lots of good things about it. There are maybe two. One is getting out of ladies nights or yet another invitation to an Arbonne spa "party".) is that eventually you come to know the early warning signs of an impending attack and can take measures to dampen or stop it all together. The same is true of depression. If you live with chronic depression (as I do) you learn what the signs are that you're headed for another tailspin. For example, hypothetically, it may be fantasies that you'll get T-boned by a semi. You gleefully imagine that after impact you and your car spin serenely, and in slow motion, through the intersection before you lose consciousness completely and forever. Or, just say, it's a persistent and bizarre intrusive thought of getting shivved in the right kidney; an image that increases in frequency until it dominates your thoughts and you can't even jam out to "Hunger Strike" by Temple of the Dog with your three-year-old without thinking about it. Or maybe it's that you start thinking about what a loser you are and that no one loves you and you'll never be cast in another show because you can't screlt and your voice generally is just okay, and then what will you do because you already quit the business once and you don't want to be that guy that's always quitting the business, and do you really think you can be a successful therapist as a fall back if you are this crazy, and what will your child do without you and you shouldn't have had a child in the first place, what were you thinking? Just, as an example. So, when you start having these thoughts you know your meds aren't working and whatever you're talking about in therapy is probably garbage. And hopefully then you can head it off at the pass. Because if you don't you'll end up under your covers for days and you have a child (or a job, or just basic adult responsibilities), so that's not exactly an option.
Last December I had a panic attack in the produce section of the C-Town in Park Slope. It came out of the blue. I mean, my life was far from stress-free, but I had just booked a big gig I really wanted, my kid's father had landed a decent job, and we were finally going to be moving into our own place on the first of January. But, as I stood in front of the lemons I suddenly got very hot. I took off my jacket. I peeled off my scarf. I took off my sweater. I just kept getting hotter. I sat down on the edge of the dairy fridge and put my head between my legs while keeping an eye on Monty. My chest tightened. My breathing got really shallow. Quickly I was hyperventilating. My dad came back from the cereal aisle. Monty gasped.
"Look, Mama!" He said. "Cheerios!"
"Awesome!" I said, my head starting to swim.
"Uh huh." I turned my head to my dad. "I need help." I mumbled.
"What?" He asked. And then, "Are you alright? Your face is white as a sheet."
Thankfully the brave men from FDNY Engine 239 were doing their shopping at C-Town, too, and it didn't take long before I was surrounded by firemen (a personal fantasy, by the way.) taking my pulse and giving me oxygen.
One ambulance ride of three and a half blocks later (for which I was billed $600, which is remarkable when you consider that most EMS workers make about $11-an-hour.) I was sitting in the Methodist Hospital E.R. waiting to be seen by a doctor. Two hours later I was still waiting. I asked a harried nurse for an anxiety med. He said he we would to get the request approved. An hour later I realized that I had my own anxiety meds at home that I wouldn't have to wait for the request to be cleared on or pay $250 for and also I still hadn't seen a doctor, so I left. What was the doctor going to possibly have to say to me anyway ("Try to reduce the stress in your life.")?
In the following seven months I had some near misses, but always managed to head my anxiety off at the pass by taking half a Clonapin and removing myself from my child's presence whom I love immeasurably and would die for, but who sometimes makes me regret being alive. And once I took myself to a nearby bar for a double scotch, listened to a true crime podcast (www.swordandscale.com, by the way, which if you haven't listened to it go now and start at episode one and I'll see you back here in a couple of weeks), and played Candy Crush until I was ready to rejoin my life.
A couple Mondays ago I was in the city to teach a class. Monty's dad and I are separated, and I have Monty most of the week while his dad works. We're staying with parents of a friend out of the city for reasons that are too complicated to delve into now. So, I had Monty with me. It was easily 6000 degrees out. I had my suitcase and Monty. On Metro North on the way in, Monty had a full on melt down, screaming and hitting me repeatedly. Hard. I'm doing this weird thing where I don't hit him because I believe people who hit their kids are monsters. And I try not to scream at him unless he's about to run into the street or put his hand on the stove. So, I'm hugging him and telling him I love him and that when he hits me it hurts me emotionally and physically. I'll admit that finally, out of frustration, I told him if he hit me again I would leave him on the train which I KNOW is basically just as bad as hitting him and I'm officially the worst. I'm sure the threat of abandonment is just as scarring as actually scarring him. But you know what? It worked. And then I apologized for saying it and explained that sometimes I get so frustrated that I say things I don't mean. And then I gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and all was forgiven. Or maybe it wasn't. I don't know. It seemed like it was, but he'll probably bring it up in therapy when he's in his twenties. Also, I called him "Mein Fuhrer." The worst.
I'm well aware that my problems are nowhere near as bad as most people's in the world, but they are mine and pain isn't relative and I'm not trying to belly ache about how hard my life is. I'm just trying to set the stage. So, the stage is set, right? I'm stressed out.
My friend, and hero, Eve, met us at Grand Central to watch Monty while I went to teach. When I got back from teaching I knelt down to give Monty a hug and a kiss and got extremely light-headed upon standing. I chalked it up to old age and not the fact that I hadn't had much to eat or drink all day (except for a 32 ounce mocha coolata from Dunkin' Donuts which, in my defense, I was told was the "yummiest value."). Monty and I parted ways with Eve and headed to the shuttle on our way to Grandma/Grandpa's place in Brooklyn. Near the beginning of the tunnel to the shuttle my head began to swim again. My chest tightened and I started gasping for air. I knew there was a newsstand toward the shuttle and decided I just had to make it there and get some juice. Pushing Monty in his stroller and pulling my rolly suitcase, I managed to get to the newsstand where I stumblingly bought an apple juice and some almonds and then collapsed on the ground next to Monty. I considered taking a Clonapin, but I had to weigh the option of completely fogging out from anti-anxiety meds against being awake enough to still parent my toddler.
I called my father. I wasn't sure what else to do. He told me to call 911 but that felt a bit dramatic. I chose, instead, to flag down an MTA worker who said they would go get the police. And then I waited there for 20 minutes hoping to god someone I knew wouldn't walk by and see me being all anxiety-y. Though don't think for a minute that I didn't compliment a woman walking by in her fierce two-piece outfit. No doubt she went home and burned it. No one wants to wear something a crazy lady from the subway floor complimented.
The only person I alerted, besides my dad was a friend whose brother is a cop. Basically I was just like, Uh, can I go up to a cop and just be like, I'm having a panic attack? He called. I didn't answer. He texted. I didn't answer. I know people who call friends at the slightest hint of a rough time. Everything constitutes a crisis. I, on the other hand, having an actual crisis, didn't want to bother anyone.
Monty asked for gummy candy which he NEVER has, but at this point I would have bought him a bag of sugar to distract him from what was happening. He finished the gummies and asked for more. I got him another pack.
"Are you sad, Mama?" He asked me.
"No, baby, I just don't feel well." I told him.
"You want a gummy? It'll make you feel better."
He gave me his candy. Then he emptied the rest of the bag into his hand and said, "That's it!" and gave them to me.
My son is a god damned champion.
The police finally showed up. But not before I folded and called 911. There were cops all over Grand Central Station and I had to call 911. It's like the one time you actually want Starbucks and there is nary a Starbucks to be found. That said, the two officers who eventually showed up were helpful and brought me out to the ambulance. While one EMS worker, who looked exactly like Alan Arkin (He got it all the time), took my information, the other, suggested they take me to the hospital. Apparently I didn't look so good, which, I know, weird, right? My dad suggested that the EMS guy was compelled to tell me to go the hospital as part of his job. Like he works on commission. An extra 10% for every sucker he actually brings in. I figured giving Monty a ride in an ambulance would be better than passing out in the back of a cab and waking up somewhere deep inside Queens, hog-tied in a basement. I may have some trust issues.
So, Monty got a ride in an ambulance to NYU Langone. He pushed all kind of levers and buttons that I'm sure I'll receive a bill for somehow.
Emergency Transportation $850
Entertainment of Toddler $6000
Total $10,436.72 (including composition of bill, time, and postage)
I was attended to immediately by both a nurse AND a doctor, as well as a tech who gave me all kinds of beepy boopy tests. When I gave my pee sample Monty asked if it was apple juice. When a nurse gave me apple juice Monty asked if it was pee. Another patient walked by with her pee sample which looked like pomegranate juice. I felt fortunate to only be sick in the head. Two orthodox Jewish men walked by and Monty said,
"Look, Mama! Jingle bells!" Really loud.
My doctor was cute AND Jewish. Unfortunately he was wearing a wedding ring, which, honestly, how would we have told the story of our meeting at our rehearsal dinner? "She was a broke, harried, crazy, single mom. I was a successful doctor. She came to see me for a panic attack. It was a meet cute!" Clink clink.
Anyway, he made me drink two buckets of water and told me to try to reduce the stress in my life...
So, here's the conclusion, I have had to write and re-write much of this piece over and over because of bugs with the app. Monty and I fought about 10 times today. Let me break that down for you. I, a 36-year-old MOTHER fought with my three-year-old son. Because I'm an adult. And he is threevil. He is currently in the other room watching complete garbage on my phone because I can not bear the thought of fighting with him again right now. And it gives me five minutes to "end" this piece. And it prevents me from completely breaking down. Again. Although tonight, when I'm trying to go to sleep, I will lay there wracked with guilt over fighting with my child. I'm supposed to be an endless source of joy and enthusiasm for him. I should be happily giving up my life to play train tracks with him. Or watch him "perform" The Dream Police for the 7000th time. I just can't.
And tomorrow it will start again first thing in the morning. He will throw a tantrum because the banana has a bruise on it. Or I won't let him watch Mickey Mouse Club House or I'll ask him to take his diaper off. And I will try to remember to breathe and try to remember that he is still a baby and won't be able to fully reason for another 23 years. And I will spend the day debating whether or not to take a pill or part of a pill until it's finally the end of the day and he screams and yells for me to sleep in the bed with him which I'll do because I'll just be too tired to fight him again. And anyway, going to bed at 8pm is highly underrated.
Here's where I spout my brilliance.