Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.

25 Jan

We gape, opened mouth, at the line reaching back towards us. Sunday afternoon matinees are usually foolproof. Low volume, quiet theatre’s where one can stretch long legs and lay coats on seats.

In the line for snacks it begins to mount, the silent wave squeezing my lungs, methodically. I push back, ignore it, snark about speed. The man in front of me comments that everyone is going in the theatre, the same one we’re going to need to be in. Everyone. A full house.

I can feel my eyes pounded out of my sockets. I foolishly left my Ativan at home, by now adjusted to and good with the slight crowds. I hadn’t expected this, though I should have on a -16C day. I stare intently at the tiny piece of down feather escaping from the jacket in from of me, willing it to let go.

The noise is like a surf, rising and falling, cresting and slamming against me. It becomes so loud I can feel myself getting ready to bolt, suddenly each single noise has joined hands to play red rover, the incessant beeping of some machine, the low level hum of conversation, the shrieks of laughter from far too many pre-teen boys, the inane chatter from the girl-women behind me, popcorn, change on the counter, footsteps, sighs. It rolls over me and I start to panic and can’t breathe. I feel my legs begin to buckle, turning to jelly.

“Holy fuck.” I mutter, and it breaks, passing through me and around me, coming down, rising again ever so slightly then lying down, prone on the floor. Strength returns.

Watching two women who spent 15 minutes in line need to have bag sizes explained to them, as the cashier so obviously plots their painful death, breaks the panic. Brings me back.

In my head repeats a mantra, even as my thumb threatens to break the skin on my arm. “Nothing is wrong. All is fine. Noise is noise. You can do this.”

There’s something depressing and humiliating about having to tell yourself you can hack a crowd at 31. Something sad about feeling like you might faint in a public place for no more of a reason than it’s loud and overwhelming.

Finally, we grab our snacks, head toward our show. The only seats we can find quick are, thankfully, on the aisle, and at the front so my legs are free to roam. I’m ok.


Sometimes I’m fine, and it makes this all the worse.

I woke up this morning, finished a book, came downstairs to a contented family. I reached for the peanut butter in the cupboard and thought “I feel happy right now. Nothing magic, or extreme, just normal, garden variety happy.”  It was so simple and pure that I wanted to hug it until it bled. I stood inside the moment and realized that it was the one thing I wanted for my life. The singular goal of just having a life full of this basic need.

At the risk of sounding trite, it was lovely. I so rarely am afforded a moment of peace like that. I grab it as fiercely as I can. I felt normal-I said to myself “THIS is what everyone else feels, in some cases, all the time if they’re lucky.”

I spent my time feeling normal for once. Normal mom doing normal mom things.

Cringing in a line waiting for fucking popcorn-it destroys whatever grasp you have on normal, rubs your face in the fact that you most certainly are not normal, points and calls you crazy. You wait for the people around you to notice that you’re nearly coming out of your skin, imagining the whispered giggles to be about you. You remember that your brain is fucked up and doesn’t work like most of the other people in the room and you suddenly feel like a pushpin on a map, a place people might have been but will never stay.

Suddenly your normal happiness is gone, leaving only the shame.

But. But this time, I focused on the fact that not too long ago, I would have taken one look at the crowd and taken off. I would never have stood so long, touched and bumped by so many strangers, I would have never been able to sit in a full theatre without leaping to the worst of panic’s. I would have given up at the first sign of that horrible bully seizing my innards.

I still hate it. I still hate these little jarring reminders of how fucked up shit is. But it’s nice to know that sometimes, I can almost win one.


11 Responses to “Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.”

  1. Molly Chase January 25, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

    Yeah, what you said.

    Honest to Cheebs, there’ve been times in my life when it’s felt like I had a lifelong, life-threatening allergy to normal. In the middle of a bout of depression in my mid-twenties, something once made me laugh, and the sound of it was so unfamiliar to me that I cried.

    I keep running towards the normal, though. Some days are better than others.

  2. Bon January 25, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

    dude. well done on making it through. so sorry the movie sucked ass after all that…but still.

    i spent a couple of years at most feeling much like this – for me i guess it was grief combined with depression, left me feeling skinless and panicky – and it was awful. i knew i was healing when it faded. i was so grateful.

  3. Cynthia Page January 25, 2009 at 9:26 pm #

    I’m sorry.

    Anxiety/panic and I are deeply acquainted. I have a very hard time with busy. I’m okay with waiting as long as I have space and I’m not hot. The grocery store is often a minefield for me.

    I remember visiting a friend in Summerside in 2001. She had just finished radiation treatment and I remember being so impressed at her strength. She wanted to go to a movie. I took my rivotril. The movie was 15 Minutes (title, not length). It was stadium seating and I remember feeling as if I would fall any minute. I was so dizzy I focused on a spot in front of me. My heart was beating out of my chest. I couldn’t swallow. I remember nothing about the film itself – I spent the entire time rocking in my seat. Afterward, I went into the bathroom and bawled. My friend could persevere through cancer treatment, and I could barely stand to sit in a theatre for 2 hours.

    I just got In Defense of Food. When I’m done, you can borrow it if you want.

  4. Carin January 25, 2009 at 11:12 pm #

    Go you! Beat down the beast. I think that’s awesome. You said something that I think maybe is a sign of hope. These are *reminders* of how your mind has its troubles. They’re not the everyday. Which is awesome! You made it! You didn’t have to leave! That rocks.

  5. thordora January 26, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    It’s not a victory so much as just how I need to live. It’s tiresome, and lonely.

  6. bromac January 26, 2009 at 10:33 am #

    I think it is a victory! I’m very happy for you and proud of you. It is a small victory and next time you’re confronted with an overwhelming crowd, it won’t be so hard. And the next and the next and the next, it will continue to get easier.

    Yay on the normalcy. When I have those moments, when I realize: hey, i’m calm and i’m happy and it’s a normal day; I almost cry with disbelief and joy. I have been having them more frequently as well, and it is great.

  7. Marcy January 26, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    Tiresome, lonely, yes, but not devastating anymore. You know you aren’t destroyed. Well done!

  8. Sol January 26, 2009 at 6:49 pm #

    When I’m in a crowded place, even if outdoors, even if just a slightly crowded street or shop.. I start hating everybody so badly I turn very hostile, and my husband hates it, he hates me when I’m like that. But I can’t help it. It’s not something I choose.

  9. Krista January 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm #

    We all have have things that make us un-normal. I’m back to toting my ativan around so when my boss says she needs to talk ….I can. It is very difficult to have a conversation like an adult when your heart rate is 125+ from a stupid anxiety attack. Trigered by what……….a simple conversation w/ a boss. Sheesh! STUPID, STUPID, STUPID but it happens.

  10. crabbykate January 26, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    I get this. I really get this. There have been too many times to count that I have walked out the bank/grocery store/fast food restaurant/post office because the line was long and I felt like I was going to pass out. Every day is a battefield for me. Every. Day. Every time I leave my house I think about whether or not it’s going to be a day where that happens. And mostly, I get pissed off that I am even thinking about it in the first place. And then I get pissed off at the people around me who tell me “just to relax” and take deep breaths.

    So yes, I get it.

  11. Kelly O January 27, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    Crowds give me panic attacks, too. I usually have to have a drink or two before I face them. God help me if I ever become an alcoholic.

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