We were having dinner, wings. She loves hot wings. She’s brilliant and I don’t know anyone like her. She’s been home now for over a year. She had been gone 7 months, and I really believed she was fixed. I wanted to believe she was fixed. We never get fixed. We trudge the road. We skip, run, fall down, turn around and walk back the way we came, get turned around again, and walk a little further. Every so often, if we’re lucky, we have people join us for a section of the road. These people catch our tears in their hands, but they never give advice, they never hand you a tissue, they never give up. They are there to witness and encourage. She isn’t fixed. She’s changed. Me, too. We are witness to each other.
We were eating wings and I was telling her about this experience I had. I had seen a post my ex was tagged in and I freaked out. I don’t freak out. I don’t pine, I don’t lament, I don’t drag shit out longer than I need to. I let go, I release with love, and I get on with my life. I told her I saw this post and I couldn’t breath. My heart was racing, chest tight, heat creeping up my chin into my cheeks, over my forehead into my brain. I was shaking, heaving, the impulse to run away was so strong I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to sit at my desk a second longer. “Mom,” she said, “Mom, you were having a panic attack.” I stared at her across the table. Those curls, eyes, eyelashes. The only thing different about her than the day she was born is that hair. That glorious head of curls.
Panic attack. I knew people had them. I didn’t. Sure, there were a handful of times over the course of my life, starting in my late teens when I found myself uncontrollably sobbing, feeling like the walls were closing in, heart racing, sweat beading up on my brow, chest tightening, needing to escape the room, the person, wherever I was, calling my mom in utter confusion and telling her there was something really, really wrong with me. I called those nervous breakdowns, not panic attacks, and I managed them with alcohol and drugs. I got sober, had my kids and I experienced only one more when they were very young children.
You know how when something hits you, the truth hits you, and recognition floods your body? I knew then, when my 18 year-old daughter named this experience for me that what had started out as grief and loss had cracked open something long forgotten, hidden in the dark, dismissed, minimized. But it was tenacious in its demand to be known. Timing is everything, and it was time. Kids were gone, I was single, the eruption was happening whether I liked it or not. I did not. I did not at all, like where this was headed.