tfw: You Are Having A Panic Attack

tfw is a mini personal essay series I’m try to do on Tuesdays to recount second-person experiences of feelings and experiences we all have. Or maybe I’m the only one who has them?

You walk into your office, a space that you’ve entered and worked in hundreds—maybe thousands—of times. You pull out your computer and you sit down at your desk. You say hello to co-workers and you start your work day. It’s 9:30AM.

It’s hot this morning. You have on a sweater and shorts. You don’t mind the heat. You like it but, for whatever reason, the temperature is a little itchy today.

“I need you to do this,” your boss pops by to tell you. They describe everything that you need to get them and you squint and blink, logging into that you are registering what they are saying but you are not actually processing. A gauzy screen of hot has swollen your brain. “Can you have that done by 4PM? That would be great.”

“Of course,” you smile. Your boss walks away and you feel a drop of sweat slowly wander down your cheek. It stops in an eye. You rub it. Maybe you have an eye infection? You’re still hot and itchy. Is your eye infected? Maybe the heat has affected your eye? You rub it again and realize you can’t see and you get up and grab your glasses out of your bag and you sit down. You put your glasses on and you feel a little better. It’s 9:36AM.

The air feels thick and thin, doesn’t it? Full of a gas yet fluid too. You try to maintain a steady cadence of breath as research. You’re on deadline. You click open an email and attempt to read what it says. Nothing is processing. The words push your eyes, stick for a moment, then fall onto your keyboard. You adjust your glasses and take in a slow, steady breath. It’s still so hot. You slide back in your chair, catching your undershirt to the back of the chair and pull your sweater off. Maybe that will help? You feel cooled. You try to read.

Your hands tingle. You make fists, unwrapping and rewrapping your fingers, trying to wake them. You attempt deep breaths but they get choppy. You’re hot and cold. The sweat pops out from your brow and sink into your eyelashes. You take off your glasses and wipe your face. You put your sweater around your shoulders. You feel lightheaded. You need something to eat. You get up and go to your bag. You catch an eye following you. You pull out some nuts and you place them in front of your computer. You struggle to fish out nuts from a very small opening. Your co-workers are watching you, you think. You cannot tell but you feel like they are, an audience for your wrestling a giant almond from a hole. You pop it out and eat it and you chew and realize that you aren’t hungry. It’s 9:44AM.

Now the room feels smaller. Is it smaller? That’s impossible. There are other people in here than before but the room isn’t smaller. The thick-thin air is crowding you and you are hungry but fully, cold and hot. You try to take deep breaths, to slow yourself, but that is failing to work. “I really need to start doing yoga more regularly,” you tell yourself. You pull out your phone and reserve a space in a yoga class for tomorrow morning. You feel a little better with the click into class. You think about what a yoga teacher would say right now, how you need to set an intention with your breaths and that you need to slow down. You don’t even know what’s on your mind outside of these prickly sensations. You need to go to the bathroom, to expel something. You need to get out of here or you are going to mess yourself. You can’t leave work, can you? You stand without any reason and then sit down again. You should leave. You need to get out of here. Your heart clenches its teeth. Your back is all wet.

You walk out of the room, out of the office, onto the sidewalk, and you walk, without intention, still hot and cold and wet and dry and hungry and full. You direct yourself toward a coffee shop. You think about calling your mother. You remain on high alert, to prevent any coworkers who may be walking into work from noticing you. You jaywalk with a lightheaded sprint. You see a dog and think briefly about how dogs probably don’t have panic attacks. A child screams and you bump into the wall at the entry of the coffee shop. You walk in and fuzzily find yourself at the back of the line, staring, no idea where you are but that you need something from this place. Food? Drink? Bathroom code? There are so many people. Your mouth is dry. Do you have to talk to them? The air is different here. It’s cooler and thinner. You appreciate the climate. You notice a table is missing where a couple are chatting in chairs, facing each other, their hands around cups at the same plane a table would be, floating on an invisible surface. You wipe your forehead. You adjust your glasses and clear your throat. You grab a juice and a banana. “Will that be all?” Bathroom code. But do they have a code? You don’t wan’t to ask. “That will be $7.50.” You pay and you leave and you consider looking at the bathroom but there is a line and there are so many people and you need to go back to work. You fumble the juice open and drink and feel better but you can’t see. Everything is white.

You sit in a chair, back in your office. It’s 10:01AM. You look at your screen and there are no words but impossible shapes and you stare out the window and you think about how you were just out there and how it helped and how you can find that help here, where you are. You breath shallowly. You think about chill pills. Can you get Chill Pills? Is that Xanax? You wonder. The wonderings of Chill Pills helps calm you. You’re still hot and cold but less hungry yet unsure if you need to go to the bathroom. Your hands don’t tingle but you feel moist. You adjust your glasses and the words come into focus. You can read again.

You let your hands wander around the keyboard, letting yourself settle into an autopilot, as the juice cools your body. You stare at the banana and it winks at you, grabs your hand, tells you that you are going to be okay. You look at your phone, at your yoga reservation, and you take a deep breath and it catches the lungs, carrying you into a steady cadence of breathing that you haven’t been able to find for what you believe to be days.

You take a deep blink. You breath lightly and think about how many hours until you can go home. You sit up and read the words on the computer. You start typing and you feel less itchy. You put your sweater back on. You send your first email of the day. It’s 10:30AM.

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