Karen Rivers

there is no reason to panic.

Karen Rivers

Panic is supposed to be your history, not your present.  It's a story that you tell sometimes, to help someone.  When you talk about yourself, then, it's like you are talking about someone else, which makes it easier, of course.

It was a long time ago.  


And there were mitigating circumstances, reasons for you to be, if not afraid, then maybe at least justified in claiming to be "spread too thin":  a dying grandmother who spoke little English, multiple jobs, full-time school, an expensive apartment in a city you both loathed and couldn't afford, a failing grade in physicis, a best friend on the outs, a boyfriend in the mob.

In the mob.  

Remind yourself.

Back then, breathing in short gasps seemed like a normal happening.  Being unable to get out of bed one day seemed pretty inevitable.

But then you were OK.

Over the years, you took your small self and begin building up layers of similar selves around it, hoping to strike upon the one that was the REAL you and who was not, in unpredictable waves, terrified.   Like Russian dolls, matryoshka -- the smallest one hand drawn, a stick-version of the child that was you made of popsicle sticks and books and a small, glowing light; the largest then the most elaborate, overworked, made of thin glass overlaid with gems and twirling paint, each detail a labor of love.

Until, of course, it cracked.

These things happen when suddenly you become given to fainting, like a Victorian spinster in a tight corset, reaching for her opiates.

"Some people do," said the doctor.

You couldn't explain to him how a couple of faints were going to undo you, if you let it.  

You couldn't tell him about the fissure that was forming.

You didn't mention about how you just suddenly realized that it could happen again.  

And then it did, because it is the kind of magic that appears when you fear that it will.  

But you are OK.  Remind yourself:  You are still here.  Breathing regularly.  Only occasionally tunelling down the shaking halls of impending doom, wondering what the hell is going on here NOW?

You walk over a bridge-overpass with your ex on shaking legs.  You, your dog, your ex, and your Old Friend Panic.  You think "old friend panic" and you laugh because it isn't funny at all and even though the bridge has rails, you are 100% certain that you will die there, on that bridge, rendering everything else moot.  

You make yourself walk, even though you would rather take your chances darting through the traffic on the highway below.

You take each step, one at a time.

And it's fine.  Of course, it's fine.

What did you expect would happen?  Really?  

When you were twenty-one and stopped getting out of bed, your sister took a ferry to your bedside, forced you up, and took you for a walk to the place where cruise ships dock.  You will always remember how tiny you both were next to the ships, and how you held out your hand to show her how your thumb twitched violently of its own volition.  She helped you pack, drop out of school, sell your textbooks.  

Even the idea of a cruise now makes you want to cry, the looming white hull leaning towards you, blocking the light.

You moved home and stayed there for six months, during which time you did not leave. And if you did, the galloping cantering whinnying fear came with you, reminding you that you were batshit crazy.  I am in the mall, and I am insane, you would think.  I am at the library and I can't breathe.   I am going swimming?  Are you kidding?  Crazy people do not swim.

So you took some drugs, and then spent months withdrawing from them, the rage about the difficulty of withdrawing from them somehow buoying you through the less-than-exciting climax, the turning point where you just simply stopped being scared of everything.  Sure, you were scared of some things, but not ALL THE THINGS.  Which was better. 

And in this way, years went past.

Years and years.

When you weren't afraid, you did things freely and easily, you moved about the world unweighed by nagging reminders about your own vulnerabilities.

Enough years that you began to believe that the outermost Russian doll was now more like an armadillo, tough and leathery and impossible to chew through.

And then the random fainting and you realized the armadillo layer wasn't as firmly attached as you'd believed, in fact, it wasn't there at all.   The armadillo itself ran off into the desert where it died, or didn't, who cares?  It's an armadillo, and you -- YOU -- are glass, cracked and exposed, suddenly deeply genuinely and entirely afraid.


You spend a few days holding still, waiting for it to pass, so it decides to visit you at night instead.


Who's there?


Fight or flight, they say.  But what do "they" know?  Do they know what it's really like?  Because even you, who know what it is like, cannot describe what it is like unless it is actually happening. 

You know there is almost no fight left.

Instead, you start just flat-out telling people, "I'm having a problem with panic."  

"Oh," they say.  "Me too."  Or "I'm sorry.  Let me know if I can help."

No one is alone, least of all you.  

Last time, you were alone.

You feel sad for that earlier doll-version of you, the crude wooden one who was so concerned about ACTING NORMAL that you forgot how to ask for help.

And you congratulate the broken-glass, former-armadillo you for saying, "Hello, I need some help here now.  At least for a while." 

So that's what you are doing, leaning on people who will accept being leaned on.  Walking over the bridges, arms hooked through theirs, trying to feel your complicated feelings without letting them propel you over the guardrail and into the traffic.  You aren't going to die.  Not just yet, anyway.   You aren't exactly flying, either, but your legs are moving and so are you. 

The next layer of your doll, you decide, will be marble.   Cold and solid and impenetrable.  Pristine, perfect, still.   Elegant, beautiful.  A swirling green grain, like nothing more than moss on stone in the rain, the fresh smell of green forests permeating the stale sharp scent of your vertiginous crackling fear.  

Soon, soon.

You believe in "soon". 

How are you, my lovelies?   

I'm fine, actually.  I really am.  


And so thankful for all the help.