Heather Madame. A panic attack.
I remember one day (it feels long ago but I know it wasn’t) that me and my brother were biking around Watauga. I had bribed him with several quarters to go to Half Price Books before heading home. He wanted to leave, I made up every excuse to linger. Finally he said he would just wait outside with our bikes while I finished up. As I left the register, new books in hand, my phone buzzed with a new message:
We need to leave. Now. Mom thinks she’s having a heart attack.
Mom is what the Taoist monks would call a ‘fire person’ – energetic and lively but, most relevant to my point, they are excellent storytellers and tend to be drama queens. I knew it was possibly her asthma acting up, giving her chest pains, but I rushed home anyway. Half of me expecting to see an ambulance parked in front of the house, half of me expecting to walk in and find mom kicking back and watching I Love Lucy while drinking black tea. I grabbed my house key and fumbled with the lock before shoving the door open with my shoulder. She explained her symptoms, I snapped at my brother to open all of the windows and get her some ice water as I asked her whatever question popped into my mind until I ruled out a heart attack. In the middle of the questioning, I attempted to hypnotize my mom (yes. I just said that.) to calm her down. It only frustrated her and irritated me. She was not a logical thinker at the moment and I was no hypnotist. All I knew of the practice was what I read from psychology texts, and I had developed a bizarre faith in its efficiency to calm stress and heal addictions. So, naturally, it would work on simple anxiety…Ha. Well, as is usually the case these days, she called Batwoman and, as is usually the case these days *cue superhero theme* she knew exactly what to do. It had been a panic attack.
I live with anxiety – with attacks, a nightly sense of impending doom and relentless dissociation (the only time I haven’t dissociated lately is when I am writing). I feel like these are my bullies. They mess with me, they hit me, make me feel stupid and keep me quiet. I am okay with my bullies doing this to me, because it is normal now – or at least as normal as it can be. But when I see one of them attack someone I care about…it feels twisted, wrong.
Flash forward to today. When Heather told me about the attack she experienced, I recognized phrases she used and feelings she described. And I felt helpless and sorrowful that I didn’t know it was happening when it occurred. I knew there was nothing I could do to make the post-attack anxiety vanish, but I found myself offering anything I could to help her, like she used to do with me. I would be a bit confused when she would because there was nothing anyone could do. But I suddenly understood. There is nothing anyone could do to change the attack or remnant, lingering fear hours (sometimes days) after, so what else can a friend offer but their time and assistance for every petty little thing? She tried brushing it off, saying a popular phrase of mine when it comes to attacks “It’s life, what are you going to do?” I felt for a moment that I was speaking to myself, and when I recognized the words, I immediately thought Ohh no you don’t.
I wouldn’t wish a panic attack on anyone..except Hitler, and maybe Obama during a press conference…and the absurd human being who wrote The Definitive Book of Handwriting Analysis because, I am telling you now, that man is one of the reasons any credible handwriting analysis books are still found side-by-side with mystic and pseudoscience texts!
I mean also, that not only did I become Heather for Heather, she became a Hannah to me, when she had her attack. I got a taste of what it must be like for her to hear what I’m going through when I tell her. It’s a bitter, cold feeling. What can you do? What is there to do except offer anything. It feels like being on your knees in a chilly wind on a frozen street, and you’re holding out your empty palms, not to receive, but to request to give. Give what? Look at your hands, you have nothing. You can’t do anything. Look at your friend, they’re beaten and shivering. You are in the cold because they are, but you can’t give them sunshine, you can’t give them a thing in the world because there isn’t a way to ‘fix’ a thing like this.
Heather is under a massive amount of stress, and she rarely thinks of herself.
Yes, yes I believe cold and twisted and wrong is how it feels. And not just with the attack, but what is surrounding them,the events, the thought at the very moment it happened.
But what is there to do but sit out here, in the cold, offering empty air and consoling with inaudible words? What can a friend truly do, except this? This is somehow enough, because it can never be enough to cure, but enough to comfort. If even for a moment.