I let it wash over me like a cold shower. The feeling I knew all too well by now, the fear that creeps into my bones. It starts as a hot flash of heat that floods my body, the tingle rushes down my spine and grips me from head to groin, squeezing me tight. That’s when my mind starts to race in innumerable directions, trying to find the source of such a terror. For that’s what it is, a terror that squeezes out all hope or reason and I’m left more vulnerable than I’ve ever been.
My mind keeps focusing on the fear, focusing on the hot flashes and a strong buzzing overtakes my body. As I watch these feelings they get worse, the heat starts to burn, the buzzing spreads and grips my whole body in terror. I’m frozen.
“What’s worse than this?” The fear asks, teasing me.
I desperately search for the answer, the fear controls me and my thoughts now. Every time it repeats the question, the sensations worsen as if to prove it can always be worse. The heat boils inside, the buzzing tightens around my throat. Like a broken record, my brain keeps going down this vicious ineffable path of terror. I’m completely paralyzed, my body and my mind.
And then it happens like it always does, the end of its questions, the only time it can get worse, the last time it asks the question, “What’s worse than this?”
“Death,” I reply.”What if my mind can kill me? What if it forces my heart to speed up too fast? Is it possible?”
“Yes,” the fear replies. “You can die. I can kill you.”
And that thought propels the fear into an indescribable terror. I see a small line of light in my vision, as though it’s my life force, so delicate and sensitive, so easy to snuff out. The fear has power over me, reason and logic are no longer my friends, having abandoned me when I needed them most. I am stuck alone and helpless.
The terror grips me and my heart beats like a drum, pounding through my chest. I try to calm down and ease the fear. The more I try, the worse it gets. I try to fight the fear out, I shout at it, “That’s not possible. I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.” But I don’t even believe it myself and the fear knows it.
It laughs in my face. “You fear me,” it slithers.
There’s a party around me–my party, at my house–and I’d completely forgotten about it. People are murmuring and laughing blurs, none of them having any clue what was going on in my mind. I don’t care anymore and I run to my bedroom without saying a word. I can’t turn my mind off. There’s no escape.
I slam the door behind me and hear the voices outside like I’m viewing reality through a fish bowl. Everything else is so far removed from me now. All that’s real is the terror and it never lets up or gives me an inch. “I’ll kill you,” the voice whispers happily. Tears come to my eyes as I fall to my bed, gripping the bedsheets tight. I need something to distract my mind, to get it away from the fear that won’t let up.
I’m sobbing now. Pleeeease! What do I need to do? I appeal to the gods, every one of them, trying to strike bargains for my life, for this experience to end and go away as I do every time. I promise I’ll do whatever your want. Please just let this go away. Nothing happens as the gods don’t hear my cries for mercy. Only the terror hears it, laughing the whole time.
“You can’t escape me,” it says happily. “What’s worse than this? Don’t you want to feel that now, too? Feel it grip you.”
I lay helpless until darkness envelopes me completely.
It’s been sometime since the last attack. It weighs on my mind heavily as the days pass by. There’s a lingering fear always in the back of my mind, like the terror is watching me, waiting for its perfect opportunity.
Traveling through the mountains with my friend on a mini road trip, we begin to talk about serious subjects to us. I’m somewhat reluctant, but I bring up my problem. “I have these… panic attacks,” I say to her.
“What’s that?” She asks, checking the road carefully. A blanket of snow is falling from the sky and the roads are slick with black ice.
I take a moment and try to explain, “It’s when I have this fear of dying, like my own mind can… kill itself.” Before she thinks I’m crazy, I quickly continue to explain, “I know, I know. It sounds nuts, but it’s true. I don’t know how to explain it. My mind goes out of control and spirals down this path, like a computer that can’t stop, forcing me to experience worse and worse fear until I fear I’ll actually die. It’s like I’ve opened up Pandora’s Box in my mind.” Yup, I sounded crazy.
“That doesn’t sound crazy at all,” she replies. I’m surprised by her reaction. “Actually, I think the mind can get a little out of hand at times. Have you ever tried meditating?”
“Kind of. I mean, I’m not good at it and don’t really know what to do,” I say.
“Alright, tonight, we’ll try.”
As we get to the hotel we’re staying at that night, I can’t help but hope that this will pay off. I can feel the eyes upon me, hiding in the dark spots of my mind. It never gives me a moment of rest.
My friend explains how to watch my thoughts–not to fight them, not to challenge them, and not to fear them. She tells me to let them wash over me and don’t judge them. “You can discipline your mind this way and when you have your next panic attack, you can take refuge in this quiet place in your mind,” she explains.
I’m ready. I lay down and try to quiet my mind. Actively watching my thoughts, I observe that there are none. Then one pops out, a nuisance of a thought, nothing really, and it quickly falls away as fast as it came. Then some more thoughts start to emerge, thoughts that I actually feel emotionally vested in. Watch, don’t judge. Just let them flow.
I feel like I’m doing pretty good and have almost forgotten about the fear lurking in my mind when it happens again–the heat rushes over my body, adrenaline floods through me and my heart begins to race out of control. It’s here. I feel strong pressure at my temples and it only gets worse, like it will crush my skull. My ears feel like they’re going to implode and I start breathing heavily.
I try to grab at the calm I had only a moment before but it’s elusive and evades my attempts. I become desperate, grasping at it all the more frantically, the terror about to consume me like it always does.
Then I remember my friend’s advice. “Don’t cling to it. Just let it flow through you,” she had said. “The more you fight it, the worse it will be. The more you want a certain outcome, the harder it will be to achieve.”
Reluctantly, slowly, I breathe. I relax my body and mind and try to let go of my desperate grasping at the calm. I am the calm. I give in to the terror. What’s the worst it can do? I let the fear wash over me, let the sensations flood over my body, the buzzing washes over me. It normally causes me to cower in fear, but this time I watch it from a distance.
It’s just a fear of fear. Taking refuge in the calm, it warms me in its pleasant tranquility. The fear and its accompanying sensations begin to turn and change, they transfer and become a kind of bliss. Peace hugs me and my mind relaxes into a state of absolute calm. I am not afraid. I am not afraid anymore or ever again.