Last night, I had what I was believed to be a heart attack.
There I was, at 1am, going about the business of sleeping, when I woke up gasping for breath.
You know that Oh-My-God freak out sensation when you nearly avoid rear-ending someone? It was like that: Cold sweat, a squeezing sensation in my chest, accompanied by heart pounding.
Physical alarm immediately gave way to mental panic as my mind swirled around the idea that I would for sure, without a doubt, die right then and there of coronary failure.
It was almost exactly like this, only the part of Bart Simpson was played by my boyfriend, who responded with his typical response when I wake him up (usually to alert him I can’t sleep) in the middle of the night: “Hmh. Wha? Insomnia? Ok, how bout you rub my back then.”
“No!” I gasped, annoyed that he failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. “I think I’m having a heart attack. I can feel it in my jaw and right arm!”
My boyfriend, who happens to be a doctor, reassured with a sleepy pat on the shoulder: “Right arm? You’re fine; if it were a heart attack and had pain in your arm, you’d be feeling it in your left.” Pause. “….. You could be having a stroke, though.”
So, after a good 10 minutes heading down the rabbit hole of certain doom, I get a hold of myself with a good grounding sama vritti breathing sesh. Once able to think clearly, I realized, at 46 years old, I’d just experienced my first ever panic attack.
It turns out I’m one of the six million people in America each year who don’t even know they’re panicking. Instead, we think we’re dying.
The fact that found myself in the throes of panic was surprising: Anxiety is not my default. No stranger to depression, one of my long time companions, this was my first experience with paralyzing anxiety. Oh, man, do I now have empathy for folks who suffer from this on the regular.
This morning, I reflect: What is going on? Why the onset of panic attacks now?
Of course I know. As the owner of a mind-body business whose mission includes holding a safe space for all, I’ve attempted to create the illusion that I was reacting to the country’s chaos with equanimity. But the truth is, I’ve been internally unraveling over our political landscape since fall, when the presidential election was in full toxic swing.
It’s all taking its toll: Witnessing the indignity of entire sections of humanity losing their civil liberties. Watching democracy crumble. The spin doctors’ manipulative lies. Sadness over the way we’re treating the earth. My own personal fears over losing my ACA-issued health insurance.
I think, though, what’s been so alarming is absorbing the collective hate in published social media comments; the fury and vitriol of the trolls, in all their misspelled rage.
I’ve also been denying its effect on my personal relationships, but it couldn’t be any clearer. At 11pm on election night, I picked an irrational, massive fight with my boyfriend. Lifelong liberals, he and I agree on all things politics. There was nothing to dispute there.
Nevertheless, aided by the poisonous coping mechanism of three vodka sodas (easy on the soda) I downed in quick succession as I realized voting results weren’t going to go the way I expected, I threw off my pantsuit jacket, and donned my proverbial boxing gloves. I can’t even recall what the argument was about, but I took out all of my disappointment and shock on him. I quickly went for his jugular. He went passive. We’ve been squabbling ever since.
Last night, it became all too much: If I wasn’t going to honor and own my anger, fear and sadness, it was going to own me. And it owned me it did.
I’m hoping my experience last night was a one off; that it was the “ahem” tap on the shoulder I needed to be aware of my own denial.
This was the wake up call I needed. We are useless if we let our dismay at the world create internal destruction and discord with our loves.
I wish I could offer wise words of how to stay informed yet sane; how to harness our feelings into a collective revolution.
This, I believe, is highly individual and subjective. Advice to, say, “Act with love and compassion” may seem Pollyannish to some; it could resonate with others.
We all have to find our own way to stay healthy and sustainable.
What I DO know is being on the mat helps. Regardless of whether or not you practice in your living room or the studio, practice today. This is a start.
You are not alone knowing there’s magic in this: Devotion. Breathe. Move. Sweat. Rest.
Then? On whatever scale you can (even if it’s small): Find your people. Get involved. Use your privilege. Look for the helpers.