Panic is my new best friend.
I mean, it isn’t official. We don’t have a Facebook video together or anything, and my parents haven’t met him, but at the end of the day, no one else feels as familiar.
He’ll hit me up out of nowhere, for no particular reason, like best friends do. He’ll show up next to me when I am eating cereal at Lil’s, and he’s always by my side at any group function, whispering in my ear.
Panic and I share everything. We share space; we share time; we share air. Honestly, he’s a bit of a hog. He’s always taking up all of my attention, and he’s not very respectful of my time. Sometimes, when I really need some time away from him, I have to put in my headphones and hum, or fiddle with something, or drum my fingers against the table, or go for a run, or do ANYTHING to block him out. I just cannot focus with him around. He’s too good a friend.
The things Panic says to me aren’t nice. I mean, best friends can be like that. They’re the people you can count on to be blunt and point out your flaws. They’re also the people who watch out for you, telling you when someone else secretly hates you, or doesn’t like something you did, or thinks you’re stupid. It hurts my feelings to hear these things, but I never tell him to stop because I want to know. I want to know the things that I should change about myself. I want to know when someone else doesn’t like me or doesn’t want to talk to me, so that I can get out. I just wish that Panic wouldn’t interrupt me, repeating himself over and over while I’m trying desperately to have a normal conversation.
Sometimes he says something pretty benign like,
“You have an essay you should be writing right now.”
Except, because Panic and I are chums, he can be a little obnoxious in his reminders.
“You have an essay you should be writing right now.
You have an essay you should be writing right NOW.
You have an essay you should be writing RIGHT NOW.
NOW. Writing NOW.
Oh my GOd, I swear you’re going to fail.
What the F**K are you doing?! Why haven’t you finished yet??
You have so much you should be doing now and tomorrow and next week…
Honestly, when are you going to get organized? When are you going to be finished?
When are you going to be perfect? I am SO TIRED of you being anything less than perfect.
You just, you disappoint me. You’re not enough and you know it, but if you just
LISTENED to me…
Maybe I could fix you.
Other times, Panic says things that are a little more hurtful:
“Did you see that? Did you see that face?
Did you notice when she didn’t wave back?
Did you see that she read your message, but didn’t reply?
Yeah, she’s mad as hell and she’s hurt and she hates you,
But you know why. Can’t think of a reason?
Sure you can.
You were late to the club meeting she led last week,
You walked in right as she’d begun talking.
Also? That joke you made in the middle of class?
She probably immediately gave you up,
But maybe if you just lay low for a while,
She’ll forget that you’re stupid and talk to you again.
It’s probably over though.
Yeah, your friendship is toast,
She hates you.
You’ve got no one really.
I mean, yes, you have friends,
But they would all rather be talking to each other
Than talking to you.
You’re extra; you’re unimportant.
You shouldn’t expect things.
You shouldn’t expect attention.
I’m the only the only one who’s always going to be here.
I’m the only thing that’s real.”
So my other friends don’t like Panic, and I get it. He goes too far. He’s dramatic, and he’s kind of mean. Sometimes he makes me cry. Other times, it’s just hard to breath with him around, and I start shaking and hyperventilating.
The thing is, when Panic’s around, I lose track of everything else. I am never completely sure who’s more real, Panic or everything else. When Panic’s around, he’s more real, when he’s not, I feel fine. It’s as if I overreacted. I’m the dramatic one, not Panic.
Sometimes I tell my friends about the things Panic says to me. I tell them about the empty feeling he leaves behind along with a serious belief that I have gone crazy, because the other people eating Cheerios aren’t crying. My friends are amazing and supportive and sweet. They tell me that I’m OK, that I’m not crazy, that I have nothing to be afraid of.
Part of my brain agrees. Part of my brain says,
“Sarah, these are smart people. These are people who know things, who use reason, and who are talking to you even though they do not have to. Sarah, you should listen to them. Sarah, you can trust them.”
But it isn’t that easy. My brain and the smart people surrounding me can argue all day long, but Panic has already convinced my body. I always FEEL like he’s right, like he’s the real one, like he’s the best friend, because he’s the only friend, because he’s what’s real, because he takes over. When Panic comes to visit, he is always in control, and we’ve gotten pretty close. He shows up all the time.
So, I need to change who I let speak to me, I need to keep Panic at bay, either by changing my inner dialogue or getting on medication. At least, that’s what I have been told.
The whole thing seems crazy to me because I have good days. Sometimes I even have days when I’m not stressed, or at least not REALLY, and on those days it really does feel like Panic is a person I made up out of boredom, a problem that must have been resolved because my life isn’t any different, but on those good days, though nothing has changed, I’m not terrified, and so the Panic of yesterday and tomorrow feels irrational and insignificant.
It also seems crazy to me, partially because I’m not even mad at Panic. I’m scared of him, and I hate how much control he has over me, but it’s not really his fault. He’s trying to warn me. He’s trying to point out my flaws, so that I’ll be better. And he’s not the only one. Stress and Anxiety started it. All of them look out for me, check me when I get cocky, tell me to do better.
I don’t know what I would do without them. I don’t know who I would be.
I do know that people who love and believe in me think I’d be better off without Panic, and in moments of relief, when I’m dazzled by runner’s high or in the middle of Coloring Book, I agree, because I feel amazing. I just need to trust that, and somehow I have to convince myself that I am in control, that I am bigger and stronger than Panic.
Panic isn’t a loud guy. People don’t always see him with me, because I don’t think he is who people expect him to be. He has a reputation for hanging around the loud-screaming types, but I don’t scream and run around in circles when I’m with Panic. Sometimes I pace the floor. Sometimes I trace the same pattern in the tile over and over, grounding myself. Sometimes I sit very still and nod while the words of someone else flow over my head, and I wait desperately to run away by myself. Sometimes I can’t move, but other times I have to move. I often find myself smiling broadly and making excuses as I half-walk-half-sprint to the bathroom, and then I watch myself, as if from someone else’s body, run into the wall or curl up in a corner, tucking myself into a ball and becoming as small as possible. I always want to be small; I always want to quiet; I never want you to notice me when I’m afraid. Panic is isolating and lonely, and when we are together, no one else exists, so you may not ever see me with my new best friend, but he’s always around.
I’m not dying, and I am also not actually alone. In times like right now, I am well aware of just how incredibly lucky I am. I know some truly amazing people, some of whom know exactly what I am going through, because even though Panic seems like MY best friend, dude gets around. He knows a lot of people, and even though he can be isolating, in some ways, I get to see more of these other amazing, fighting, struggling, surviving people through him. And when I see those people, making new friends, living their lives, I remember that Panic doesn’t always need to be my best friend. We’re chums for now, and that’s OK, but I don’t think I’ll keep him around forever. He’s honestly just not that nice to me, and he certainly isn’t fun.
In any case, I thought I’d write this because I have a Panic disorder, and it isn’t the best, but I’m going to be OK, and you’re going to be OK, and we’re going to be OK together. Sometimes we just have to patiently tell the things inside us that don’t value us that we need a little space, that we need a little bit of our time and focus back, so that we can live life in the present and enjoy it. Panic may be my best friend, but we don’t always need to be close, and I’m allowed to get some of my life back. I can have some of my life back, little by little, even though he seems more in control right now, and so can you.
You are the one who is alive. You are the one who is real. Take these struggles and this hurt; live and make things and grow in spite of it. You deserve to. You are what is real. This moment is real. Experience it and live and breathe. You can do it. I swear. You may not believe me right now, but you are bigger than this thing that you are going through, and you are stronger, because you are what is real, and that makes all of the difference.