I tell myself to breathe. I whisper it in my mind in time with my breaths that I know are coming naturally, that I intellectually know are normal respirations, and that I appear outwardly to be just fine to anyone looking on. No one's looking, though, so I don't guess it matters, really, if I appear normal or if my external matches my internal freak out.
It's routine, now, this daily waltz with anxiety and panic attacks that try to creep up on me and sabotage me. I've been playing this game for over forty years, so I've gotten good at external appearances, and at keeping the panic from overtaking me.
It's still there, though, and I'm not sure what it would feel like to have it gone and still be lucid...pills can take the edge off, and I am equal parts grateful for what the medicines do and frustrated because they are a two-edged sword. I've had to accept remaining on 50 mg of zoloft despite four difficult, dizzy, disorienting months of trying to get off. On the bright side, I've reduced the dose by half successfully--the dizziness is at bay as long as I take my pill each night. Miss a pill, and by morning, things are spinning and I'm frustrated.
So I remind myself to breathe. Sometimes, this happens over and over throughout rough days. Rough nights---those are something else. In the night, I am truly alone and that's when the anxiety and panic can really grab hold, especially on nights where I am battling stomach acid that I've aspirated, that I can smell (almost taste) in my nose, and I am forced to crouch and lose all my stomach contents while I try to clear my lungs--a stupid gag reflex that gets me every time and leaves my ribs and back sore for days, so that deep breaths are impossible and laughter causes tears.
This time, the nastiness is coupled with bright red blood, my throat and esophagus raw from the acid, and I sigh, almost in relief, knowing that in June I'll have an EGD and know just how badly the last four years of almost weekly, sometimes nightly episodes like this have damaged me.
It would be easier if there were a clear pattern of triggers, but there isn't, not really. And sleeping almost fully upright doesn't prevent it, nor does the medicine, which has its own issues.
I keep thinking that these things will disappear, go away, and I will wake up one morning in a dawning realization that I have not had to deal with the panic, with anxiety, with acid reflux, with any of the various things that make my life oh-so-interesting. That doesn't happen, though, and so I find some sort of comfort in realizing just how many of my friends and acquaintances deal with similar demons, similar issues.
I'm not special, unique, unusual, at least not in my circle of friends. So many of us fight the same battles, cover the same worn territory. It's not ideal for any of us, but it beats bearing this all alone.
And I whisper to myself to breathe, as I know so many others do, too. And I am comforted in that imagined synchronicity, of us all whispering silently to ourselves, often in tandem, breathe, so that if one of us forgets, perhaps the collective whispering will serve to keep our breath coming in and out, all on its own.