I feel it coming before it takes me over.
Cursing myself, I begin a frantic search. My fingers push around the contents of my crowded purse. Keys. Cell phone. Lip gloss. Gum. Wallet. Receipts. And finally, I feel the cylinder object brush my hand.
I snatch it from my bag. All I can hear in my ears, is my heartbeat, hammering away in my chest like punches from within. My breaths are coming in short gasps and stars begin to edge their way into my peripheral vision. I’m terrified.
Gripping the edge of the table I’m leaning on, I just know I’m going to suffocate. My throat has already started closing up. I try to swallow, but I have no control. My hands are trembling as I pop the cap off the bottle and shake from it, a tiny green pill. I curse myself again. Weak. I tell myself. I’m weak.
I throw my head back as I let the pill slide its way down my tongue, leaving a bitter trail behind it. Quickly, I chug down some lukewarm water. My breathing has not leveled out. I grab my wrist with my hand and try to take my pulse. It’s erratic. A lump begins to form in my throat. I put the bottle of water to the tip of my lip again. The water filling my mouth triggers my swallowing reflex. But something goes wrong. I sputter. My fingers clutch my throat. I’m choking. Breathe.
I need to move. The small, cramped break room is starting to close in on me. Unsure if my legs will even work, I venture a small step towards the door. My head spins. I can’t faint. I can’t faint.
I'm so scared.
The door post I reach out for, keeps me from crashing to the hardwood floor. Breathe. Slow. Slower. My chest feels as though it’s being crushed, I gasp for some more air. My heartbeat won’t slow down. My mind can’t function right. Where am I going to go? I try being rational. Out in the middle of the shop filled with clients?
The nausea is starting to bite my stomach. The sandwich I ate for lunch is threatening to make a re-appearance. Get a hold of yourself!
The hallway I’m looking down looks longer than I know it is. Laughter floats up it and invades my ears. I can't go out into the shop and pretend I'm fine.
But one glance back into the enclosing space of the break room, and I’m shuffling, dizzily down the hallway. My head spins impossibly fast.
I make it into the shop. Two clients are chatting with Keeva, as she’s rolling a perm. As I try to fake some normalcy, one of them looks over at me and smiles. The smile I respond back with, I can feel, is tight and my face feels strange making this expression.
The lump in my throat grows bigger. And I’m still gasping for breath. Before anyone has the chance to speak to me, I make it through the shop, past the row of shampoo bowls, and I swing open the door to the laundry room.
Hot, moist air invades my lungs. I clutch at my throat as I lean against the door I just came through. The air conditioner doesn’t reach back here. But there’s no one here. No one to give me bazaar looks and stares. No one to ask questions. Just me. And my distorted grip on reality.
Tears begin welling in my eyes. I choke back a sob. Frantically, I start throwing wet towels from the washing machine into the dryer and turn it on. I needed some kind of noise to drown out the sobs I could hold at bay for only so long.
As soon as I hit the button that sends the dryer into motion, my poorly constructed dam has broken and the sobs flow from my swollen throat uncontrollably. Slowly, I lower myself onto the floor and bury my face in my arms. And I wait for the medication to make its way through my veins. Weak. I remind myself. You’re weak! That small inner voice is now screaming at me.
And my sobs come on more violently. Weak.
"Panic disorder," my doctor had said that day in his office.
Of course I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden I could lose all and absolute control of my body and mind. But panic disorder? I knew I wasn’t crazy.
The laugh that escapes my mouth now, scares me. Wasn’t that just the type of thing crazy people say?
It feels as though I’ve sat there in that slump for twenty minutes, when my tears start to slow and breathing doesn't feel impossible. With a shaky hand, I grip the edge of the dryer for support and drag myself up off the floor. With my sleeves, I pat at my wet face. I was sure my make-up was a mess. I was sure I was a mess.
I stare out the window as cars pass up and down the street outside. Life was going on as it should. The world was continually spinning as it should. What was happening to me?
A familiar sensation begins to warm my head. I feel limp and weak. My eyelids are heavy. And the dizziness I now feel, is different, it’s medicated. And I remember exactly how I got here. The day it all started.
My newly colored black hair was pulled back. My dress was black, as were my sandals. My make-up was half leftover from the day before. My nail polish was chipped.
The day my grandfather was laid into the ground.
Maybe that was the day, I can’t quite pinpoint it, about two months ago, that I lost control of myself.
The only thing I’ve felt for two months now, has been this crushing fear. Fear that’s had me paralyzed. Fear that’s left my mind frayed. Fear that’s left my faith shattered.
Maybe I’ve been introduced to my own mortality. Maybe I can’t stand the thought of my grandfather being gone. All I have is a bunch of maybe’s. No one knows.
From where I am, I can’t see a way of escaping this noose around my neck. I want my life back. One day I was fine. And then the next, I looked in the mirror and said goodbye to the reflection.