From time to time I ask myself this question, Do you believe in guardian angels? And my gut response is to say no, of course not. But then I think back to one particular day when I know I wasn’t alone, and I’m not so sure.
May and June of 2003 are what I like to refer to as The Spring of the Panic Attacks: I was overtaken by my anxiety to the point that I honestly thought I had some terminal illness. My attacks happened nearly everyday for a week, mostly out of nowhere, with no warning, no easy way out.
The following is an account of the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. Time has not dulled the memory of this attack and the accompanying encounter, nor has it made me ‘come to my senses’. I offer no explanations or excuses; this is simply my experience.
I’m a few days shy of my twenty-first birthday and I’m in my bedroom. This is the room I have slept in my entire life, in my parents’ house. Completely safe, right? I’m just hanging out, not doing anything in particular, certainly nothing stressful – and I begin to get lost in my anxiety.
Why am I having these attacks? What am I doing with my life? Am I going to live with Mom and Dad forever? So I have some disease? This can’t just be anxiety, there’s no way that’s all it is. I need to figure this out, I hate this, I hate this, I hate it.
Somehow I’m lying on the floor. My body no longer feels something that I can control. This is the manifestation of my anxiety: tears, trembling shaking shuddering. Sweat on my forehead, down my back, behind my knees, under my breasts. Shallow, quick breaths. Heartbeat off the charts. Tachycardia, as they said in the emergency room a few days ago.
My hands are on my chest, as if by pressing down hard enough, I can slow my heartbeat and quell this panic. It’s not working; I’m beginning to feel hopeless. This is not going to end. This is the most scared I have ever been.
This is terrifying.
If I can’t slow my heartbeat, maybe my hands can slow my breathing. They are now around my throat. There is no logic here. There is only my panic and the desire to find a way out. I try choking myself: I need to stop this out of control breathing, and then I won’t feel this way anymore. As long as this feeling ends, that’s all I care about.
This is where things get hard to put into words. Something comes over me, a break in the fear and panic. I feel surrounded by what I can only describe as the opposite of panic. Safety. Comfort. Love. I sense –I have no idea how, or what exactly this means- but I sense the presence of my godfather, Eddie. [Eddie died just before I was born, but my parents and godmother, Julia, talked about him throughout my childhood. Julia always signed cards Love, Julia and your godfather Eddie in Heaven.]
I’m not even sure how I know it’s him. I certainly don’t see anything, it’s not like that. It’s just a sense, as if my soul and his have already met on some other plane, outside of space and time, and here he is now, helping me in this awful moment. Here is the spirit (presence? energy?) of a man who I have never met, never been able to talk with or hug. I am sobbing with relief and gratitude. Oh my god, I can breathe again, it’s okay, I’m okay. It’s over. I’m going to be okay.
Eddie’s presence does not linger. I am assured that I am all right, that I do not have to be afraid, and the panic attack is over. My mind has released its grip on me.
I am back on the floor in my bedroom, my breathing slowly getting back to normal. I must have been calling for my mother because here she is, rushing through the doorway and apologizing, saying she didn’t hear me, she’s sorry that I was alone. We’re both crying; she hugs me and I am so humbled, so grateful. I am safe.
I am okay.