Life has been quite full this past week…and may have even overflowed a little.
I’ve been sick with what I thought was a common cold. Turned out in the end to be round three of COVID…
I had a less-than-appetizing post-nasal drip that I just couldn’t shake.
After falling asleep Tuesday night, I woke up frantically around 12:30 am, obsessively swallowing, trying to get rid of this lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. I swallowed, swallowed and swallowed some more, but to no avail.
I knew I wasn’t choking, but my body shifted into overdrive. The adrenaline and cortisol started pumping as my anxiety shot through the roof. Before you know it, I was having a full-on panic attack.
I went downstairs and started pacing in the kitchen, hoping it would disappear. My wife Jody came down to try and comfort me, but there was nothing she could do.
Oddly enough, even though I couldn’t control my body, I was mentally present. I told myself I wasn’t dying and that this, too, shall pass. I started to do some deep breathing exercises to try and calm myself down. It wasn’t helping much, but I can say I was a witness to my own train wreck.
I was simultaneously aware of my frantic body and a somewhat calm and present mind, both totally disconnected. And all the talking in the world wasn’t helping.
So in my infinite wisdom, I started watching Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson to take my mind off things. Well, just in case you were wondering, seeing how infinitely small and inconsequential we are in the grand scheme of space and time over the last 14 billion years wasn’t the best call content-wise. Just sayin’. In retrospect, a sitcom or silly cat videos would have been the better call.
Eventually, around 3 am, things got back to normal, and I finally got some sleep.
I was clearly drained and exhausted the next day, but when I went to bed that night, I started getting anxious about a repeat performance. Luckily things went a little better.
I had never experienced anything like this. I like to think I’m calm, cool and collected, and panic attacks are things that happen to other people. It turns out that I am human. Messy. Fragile. Vulnerable. Yet the recognition of my humanity is, ironically, a tremendous source of strength.
I let go of my expectations of being superhuman, if not somewhat robotic. I reframed a moment of perceived weakness as a source of wisdom. I have more empathy and compassion for both myself and others. I can celebrate having been present amid the chaos. I can accept help when I can’t or don’t want to go it alone.
In life’s darkest moments, there is light to be found. Or, as Rumi put it so well in his epic poem The Guest House:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
How about you? Have you ever overcome a moment of panic? How did you get yourself out of it? What did you learn about yourself?
May we all see life’s challenges as guides from beyond.
Be well! Peter