Nothing Special, Really

Monday, August 11, 2008

Two Weeks In January

I'm really not sure how this is going to come out. I've been working on this post off and on for a long time now. This is about something that happened to me back in January, so of course, a lot of the emotion that I experienced back then has deteriorated, and the intensity of what happened may be lost now that it's 7 months past. But a post like this isn't just something I can write on the fly, and I don't think my head has been straight enough until now, nor have I been in an environment where I can clearly write what went on. So now, 7 months later, sitting in a coffee shop, I'm going to try to write a post on what may have been the strangest period in my life.

How's that for a buildup? Ready? OK, let's go.

Back in early-mid January, I fought with a bit of mild depression for a couple of weeks, although that description isn't entirely accurate. It wasn't depression in the sense that I was constantly mopey or unmotivated, and it certainly wasn't serious enough that I was a candidate for some kind of self-inflicted bodily harm. But if it wasn't depression in the clinical sense, it was certainly depression-influenced.

It all started in the shower. I was doing my showerly business, half-awake, with my mind still off in some stream-of-consciousness daze. Bouncing from one topic to another, my mind got fixated on one thought in particular. I suddenly broke out into a sense of panic & anxiety, intense enough that I let out some sort of weird whining-moaning noise loud enough for Wac to hear from the kitchen. I had to physically shake my head to break my train of thought. This happened for a minute or two before it finally went away. Still emotionally shaken, I finished up my shower, and headed on my way to another day at the office filled with reading various poker blogs & ESPN.com.

I wasn't really too concerned with what happened that morning. The truth is, that wasn't the first time it happened to me. I've experienced that same sensation many times before. In fact, I can trace it as far back as elementary school. I can remember sitting on the bus during a field trip, just drifting off in thought as I stared out the window, when my imagination would get the best of me and I would freak out, albeit for just a brief moment.

What made this episode in January so significant & worthy of starting off a blog post with is that it was the first of many episodes within a two-week period. Usually, I experience them every couple of months, or if I'm lucky, once or twice a year. But for some reason, that episode in the shower triggered something within me, and for a week, I continued to dwell on the same topic over and over again until I had the worst episode I'd ever experienced, right in the middle of class.

It was a Wednesday, so that meant it was the more boring of the two classes, and it was easy for my mind to drift off. Instead of taking a round-about way, my mind almost immediately started thinking about that topic again, and I broke out into a panic that was so intense, I very nearly walked out of class.

So what is this thing that induces such panic in me any time I think about it?

Death.

Or specifically, my own death. Or even more specifically, what happens, or doesn't happen, after I die.

What is bothersome to me isn't a fear that I'm going to die or that I feel like I am dying (although, being a hypochondriac, I certainly have feared that at times in my life as well). Instead, what's so troubling is the thought that, at some point in the future, I will cease to exist. And really, if my mind wants to, it can be any topic that sets off the series of thoughts that leads me to this. For example, that day in the shower started like this:

Thinking about Guitar Hero 3>thinking about how DragonForce is a silly band>thinking about the idea of dragons & how that idea came about>thinking about the fact that dragons never even existed>thinking about life in Medieval times>thinking about how long ago that was & all those people are dead now>thinking about how one day I will die>thinking about how one day I will cease to exist>thinking about what that will be like>thinking about how scary that is...

In a nutshell, trying to comprehend things like the end of my existence, or sometimes things as grandiose as existence itself, or future existence - things that my personal philosophy has deemed incomprehensible - are too much for my mind to handle, and ultimately, I panic when I think about them.

When I was younger, if I would I poke someplace on my body that I injured and it hurt, my dad would say "then don't poke it!" I can imagine him, and maybe many of you, thinking "if you know it's scary, then don't think about it!" And for the most part, I don't. Like I mentioned before, I'm usually able to work out of these panic attacks within a couple of minutes. And they're not so debilitating that I feel like I'm in any kind of physical danger; it's all mental for the most part. So I'm not really bothered by the fact that I have these attacks every now and then, I just accept it and deal with them the best I can.

But these attacks in January, these were different. First, they were more frequent than before. I had never experienced them so close together, and rarely more than one a day. Secondly, they went beyond just thinking about my own existence, or inevitable lack of existence. Specifically, the episode in the middle of class went something like "blah blah blah...I'm going to die one day. All of us here in this room are, and once that happens, that will be the end. Everything we do, everything we're doing, everything we will ever do is meaningless because all this is just temporary."

That last part....that was something new. All of my previous panic attacks ended with just the idea of not existing. It was all future based - freaking out about what would happen in the future. That night was the first time I ever made an inference in my own mind about how that impacted what was happening now. And at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I haven't been the same since.

To be continued...

1 Comments:

  • Hey Matt...All I can say is your not alone on this topic. Panic attacks are a way of life for many of us. You just need to learn to live with them. I think you know the answer to this who thing and that is do not dwell on things you can not control. Live each day to it's fullest and let life do what it does....it goes on. I know this sound rather simplistic but you will find the answer for you. All my love, your sis-in-law. Cathy

    By Anonymous Cathy, At August 11, 2008 at 8:03 PM  

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