You’re pushing 175 pounds and that’s just too much for your frame. “How have you managed to gain over ten pounds in a month?” your doctor asks. It’s three days before Christmas at your yearly check up. Hmmm, you think. Baked potatoes with 3 tablespoons of butter each (three at a sitting, at least) along with cheese and sour cream. Kale on the side for health. Key lime pies; tiramisu; ice cream sandwiches; ice cream sundaes; pasta with sauce, gobs of butter and 1/4 pound of parmesan. Those pesky burritos your daughter recently started eating, only good oozing with sour cream, slathered with cheese and you like broken tortilla chips inside for variety of texture. You eat your own and finish hers. “It turns out rice and beans aren’t that good for you. Too many carbohydrates.” she says. Shit. You were so proud to be eating this with your child. Beans? Really? As a vegetarian what else is there?
No wonder your new Levi’s weren’t making their way across the great expanse of stomach. You thought it was because you were drying them in the drier but no.
Your doctor says there’s a new initiative at the health center to set goals with patients. Losing some weight should be one of them. Clearly, yes, but not until after the holidays, you say. You have plans to make a couple of gingerbread houses with your kids on Christmas and you know you won’t be able to resist the thin crisp little cookies you’ll make out of the excess dough. You know there will be tasty buttery treats at your mom’s house and trips to restaurants while you’re staying at an inn with your kids.
You discuss the crushing panic attacks that have taken root in your body over the past few months. You’ve been weaning yourself off the Ativan and Clonipin you’ve been taking daily for over six years. There’s a recent study linking Alzheimer’s with benzodiazepine use and you want out. Your doctor agrees that going off the drugs is an excellent idea. These recent attacks are rougher and stronger than ever and they don’t come with a warning. None of your old tricks are working. It used to be just thinking back on what had been roiling around in your brain before the attack helped. Name it and it disappears. Not this round. There’s too much in your head.
It used to be you were unable to watch the news or read the paper. Your skin was too thin. Knowing too much made you feel like you’d just explode nervous breakdown style. You didn’t have any padding. No room for anything extra. The panic was more manageable because it was contained to your own small life and immediate environs. Now you’ve got a responsibility to be informed so you read the paper. You’re stronger and more grounded than you’ve ever been. You read it and read it and read it and sometimes it’s all just too much. A journalist is beheaded. Just the word beheaded is enough. And it keeps happening. Innocent journalists. Innocent black boys and men murdered by police and the police getting away with it. Good guys not winning. Bad guys abound. Girls kidnapped and raped. Families split apart. Death. Fear. Hate. Ignorance. Violence. Environmental disaster. People with guns shooting up schools and malls and movie theaters. And the unrelenting sorrow for so many strangers and for so many of the people you love who suffer.
Maybe not a good time to wean you both say, with the holidays coming up. But start breathing. Start slowly. Carry the pills but try not to take them unless you absolutely have to.
You’ve always got them with you. Last month a lovely neighbor gave you three tickets to see the Nutcracker. You generally avoid crowds and suddenly you’ve got a little paranoia of bombs and kidnappers as you drive into the city. You get to the Opera House and your kids are bursting with excitement. They are actually on the edges of their seats. You feel the first wave of panic. You reach for the bottle but it isn’t in your pocket. It isn’t in your pocketbook either. You are stuck. You sit in your chair gripped with intense and paralyzing fear. You dig your nails into the velvet on the armrests. You don’t let go. Your mind races with ideas of what you might do but none will work. Sometimes talking on the phone helps but that’s not an option. There’s nothing. You start breathing deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Nothing. You keep breathing but you’re deep in your panic. You don’t want your kids to know so you smile at them when they turn to look at you. You don’t stop the breathing exercises and then suddenly, fifteen minutes later, you are calm. Calm in the way of an Ativan. A lovely wave of calm. You feel great. You can enjoy the dance and, even better, you get to watch your children enjoy themselves so thoroughly. You can look up and around at the beauty and opulence. You made it through. Deep breathing will be your new best friend.
Exercise has been shown to be more effective for reducing stress, anxiety and depression than therapy and pharmaceuticals combined. It’s the New Year. You’ve got your goals set with your doctor just in time: breathe, exercise, eat less and keep moving forward. It’s already working. She will be proud.