After that, I don’t remember what the third time was. It blended in with the fourth and the fifth, sixth, seventh, thousandth. It might have been one night in Olivia’s Soul Food restaurant when it was a packed house with a line out the door and I was in a booth at the back, sitting across from Dan. And suddenly, over cornbread and collard greens, I was sweating, gasping for breath, terror rising from the pit of my stomach up through my lungs which couldn’t work right. I couldn’t get a deep breath. My arms and legs went weak and were trembling, and I had no ability to swallow, nausea, and over what? What?
I never knew when IT would happen. I could be walking on the beach across the boardwalk from my front door. Maybe watching a volleyball game at the sand courts nearby, or could be in a grocery store picking out oranges, and suddenly rising panic would be my reality. From out of fucking nowhere. I would leave as fast as possible, desperate for the feelings to go away. I began being hyper vigilant, did my heart just beat weird? Am I breathing correctly? Can I depend on my legs to hold me up? Do I need to run?
I thought I was losing my mind. I was ashamed to tell anyone, afraid I would be institutionalized. Afraid I would be judged. Afraid that there was something really seriously wrong with me. I had never heard of anyone else having anything similar happen to them, not in real life, not in the hundreds or thousands of books I had read. I had to keep this secret so that I wouldn’t be found out.
What really sent me around the bend was one day I could hear a strange noise, slowly getting louder. It sounded like the cry of a large bird, it was piercing. It went on long enough that I went outside to see what it was. A block or so away I saw a small crowd gathered around a young man who was screaming, he was terrified. His eyes were huge and he was screaming, screaming, turning in circles, nowhere to go, no safety. A police car pulled up and the officers got out and tried to talk to him but he was screaming, screaming. One cop touched the young man’s arm and he tried to run. They caught up to him and forced him into the back seat of their patrol car and drove him away. His screams getting harder to hear as they got farther away.
Would that happen to me? What if I had an episode and couldn’t run and couldn’t hide and I was found out? Would I be put in the back seat of a cop car and be taken away to someplace horrible? Would I spend the rest of my life screaming, screaming, with nobody to help me and a crowd of people watching?