I can't remember exactly when it was that I had my first, legitimate, panic attack. I know it was somewhere in my early twenties because my mom had consistently reminded me that going crazy was something that happened around that age. "This is when these things manifest," she would say as a matter of fact, and I was certain every time she said it I was one step closer to schizophrenia. But I do remember the attack itself, because you never forget that first special time where you are certain you are going to die at the hands of your own mind.
I was in a community college class, Psych 101 or whatever psych crap they make you take as part of your general education requirements. The teacher started lecturing on Abnormal Psychology, and something about hearing all the ways people go fucking crazy coupled with the certitude that I was on my way to join them led me to completely freak the freak out. I remember thinking that there should be a disclaimer on this section for people like me, and sweating so much, and needing to run out of the room, and then running out of the room. I remember walking into the bathroom and wanting to splash water on my face, and believing that I was manifesting a condition that would make me forget which was my right hand and which was my left - that I was somehow fear-thinking my brain into rewiring itself to confuse the two sides, thus rendering me paralyzed for life. I remember wanting so desperately to turn on the cold water, but not being able to out of fear that I'd try and use my left hand, but the right one would fire. I remember thinking that my mom had been right.
The second attack came some months later. I was working for a local Maaco outlet. I'd walked in to apply to be the counter girl, and the owner had decided that between my intelligence, ass, and face I'd make us both a lot of money. He ordered me business cards, gave me a company car, and all I had to do was drive to places where men fixed auto-things and pretend I knew how to estimate a paint job. It was soul sucking and terrifying and on the third day when after work my boyfriend and I smoked a joint on our way to dinner, I became paranoid/realized I was a prostitute with a clipboard and I lost my shit. When we got to the restaurant my legs didn't work, so Steve had to stand behind me as I walked and use his legs to make mine work. And even though he promised me I wasn't losing my mind, the look on his face confirmed that was exactly what was happening to me.
There were third and fourth and fifth and sixth+++ times that summer where I temporarily lost my mind/body function, but for some reason, the whole panic attack thing subsided after I moved to Santa Cruz. The attacks were there, and then they were not, and all I was left with was a crushing depression and anxiety, which to me was a win, because at least I had made it past the foretold "Window of Manifestation" without being committed.
Then one night some three years later - shortly after a miscarriage, living with/planning a marriage to a man I was no longer in love with, overweight from the failed pregnancy/miserable in my body, in my last quarter in college - it happened again. I was at work, then a waitress, and I went to the bathroom because something wasn't right and I couldn't really breathe. I went to turn on the water, and couldn't remember which hand was my left, and then started to think that I was fear-thinking myself into paralyzation again, and this time I became paralyzed. Five minutes later I managed my way out of the bathroom, grabbed the busboy, and told him I was losing my mind and that he had to walk me home and help me with my legs. When I got to my apartment Steve tried to feed me the usual things that worked to calm my nerves, such as wine and pot and cigarettes, but all I could do was throw up foam and think about how it had finally happened for real, like I always knew it would.
The next day I woke up and had that half-second moment where you forget that your world just fell apart/ then remember you've gone crazy. I went to a Bikram yoga class and took it up as a daily practice, and found my way to an acupuncturist that only charged $25, and later that week I found Lucinda Bassett and the Midwest Center For People Who Need Audiotapes To Not Freak The Fuck Out. Between Lucinda, Bikram, acupuncture, and eventually breaking up with my boyfriend, I found my way back to the land of the somewhat normal functioning people. After a few months I stopped having panic attacks, and was able to leave my apartment without listening to an audiotape first, and drink caffeine again, and graduate college, and eventually, drive without thinking that I might accidentally lose control of my hands and/or purposely drive directly into oncoming traffic.
That was October 2003 - March 2004, and that was - until today - the last time I had a panic attack.
In 2007, at the ripe old age of 28, I decided I was starting to look really fucking old, and also, that I needed to have a porn star vagina. I was making $100,000 a year and was only $20,000 in credit card debt, and so I thought why not patronize a Medi-spa*? (*A Medi-spa is like a spa, but instead of massage and manicures and estheticians, there is botulism, needles, lasers, nurses, and one doctor who owns the spa but is never actually there.)
I found a place just a few short blocks from my office, on Maiden Lane, above the Hermes store. Twice a month for the next few years, I would go there, drop a few hundred dollars, drink shitty wine, get injected with poison, have a hot laser burn the hair off my ass/armpits/etc., and get love advice from married Eastern European nurses. It completed the picture of what I had expected myself to be at that age - a woman with a laptop bag, good clothes, an active Yelp account, and a credit line with a Union Square pseudo-plastic surgeon.
To be clear, I never intended to do Botox. I'd been careful to not raise my eyebrows too aggressively, the same way I'd been careful to use eye cream since age 16. But this one day as Raina was searing off my capillaries and my pain-face exposed the depth of my forehead wrinkles, she gasped and commented something like "You're minutes away from looking like the old lady bailiff on Night Court" and I was horrified into trying it.
After the initial shock of losing the ability to move half of my face wore off, it was no big deal. Just a tiny, itty-bitty shot of botulism. My friend Todd did it, too, and we made a game of seeing who could lose the most control over our facial expressions or who looked more perpetually surprised. Normal late-twenties kind of stuff.
I don't know why I stopped going to the Medi-spa, but I think it was somewhere around the time where I stopped, you know, thinking I was going to live to my fortieth birthday. In any case, it wasn't some conscious decision. It just faded into the background, and then I got preoccupied the whole saving my life from the ravages of addiction thing. The last time I remember considering it was in 2014 during a yoga teacher training when my friend Jeanie and I talked about how Botox was a MIRACLE, even though we were then foregoing antiperspirant and fluoride toothpaste to save our pineal glands. The conversation started me thinking Maybe it's time!, and then our teacher said something about it not being the best idea to freeze our third eye, and I thought, Dammit.
After that, I sort-of counted it out, but I didn't officially count it out. Then out of nowhere, it got back into my head.
Maybe Botox, because those damn lines that make me look mad when all I'm trying to do is think hard are getting worse…
Maybe Botox, because I'm not getting laid, and…
Maybe Botox, because I bought that new pair of Palazzo pants and what better to go with them then a frozen forehead and blue pumps…
And then today as I was sitting at a traffic light, on the corner of Fresno and Herndon, my mom riding shotgun, I saw A Sign, which said "Rejuvinique Medical Spa!" and before the light even changed, I was dialing furiously to get a last minute appointment. Because Christmas Eve-Eve in Fresno is the perfect time to get some lite plastic surgery.
The place from The Sign was booked, and so was the second place I called, and the third and fourth place didn't even pick up, so I told God "Hey, if you really want me to get this I'll only call one more place and if they don't have an opening, I get it." But God clearly wanted me to get Botox because the last place I called had an opening at 2:15pm.
I went home and went on a run in the rain, took a call, and jumped in the bath. It's weird how these things go, because while I was in the tub I finally cracked open Gabby Bernstein's new book, The Universe Has Your Back, and it starts out with Gabby talking about a panic attack she had in 2015, which made my stomach feel sick, because if Gabby can have a panic attack, crap. I got dressed and headed out the door, and my mom offered to drive me because to her Botox is outpatient surgery. I waved my hand at her and said something like, "pffft."
I was feeling FINE when I walked into the place with the huge plastic sign that said WALK-IN BOTOX, and fine still as I filled out countless forms. It wasn't until I was in the exam room and a disheveled doctor came in for my 18-second pre-check that things started to feel off, and by the time I was seated in the Botox chair, the elevator in my body was in total free fall. All of the sudden something about the entire situation was wrong, and I wanted to run, but also I couldn't think fast enough to understand that I could and should run. Before I knew it, a nurse was stabbing my forehead with a needle, and the taste in my mouth changed, and I could hear the pops of something in my forehead, and my life started to flash before my eyes.
I started to think things, like how I was putting poison in the place that I've spent the last few years rebuilding, and how ridiculous it was to think that putting poison near my brain was a good thing to do, and that botulism was now spreading through my bloodstream as well as my chakra system, and that my Kundalini was for sure being affected. I started thinking about what Kelly Brogan said, about pulling one thread and the whole web getting FUCKED, and my heart started beating even faster, and my saliva kept tasting like poison, and I started thinking that my thoughts were most likely causing botulism to spread to places it shouldn't, because now I know how powerful my mind is. Then she finished, and she started saying messed up things, like how I couldn't bend over or lay my head down for four hours, and I started asking questions, and the answers were things I didn't want to hear, like how botulism moves. I was feeling fainter, and when I went to stand up, the darkness started to set in, and I stopped being able to hear anything but liquid pulsing through my ears, and had to sit back down because I was losing consciousness.
The nurse was talking to me and asking me if I was okay, and I was telling her it was a panic attack, but also I was pretty sure it was because I had been poisoned and was slowly losing all function just like King Joffrey. She asked me again whether I'd had this done before, and whether I had freaked out in the old days, and I told her no, I hadn't, because I used to BE walking poison in the old days. I started thinking about how at dinner the night before my Diet Coke made my head hurt, and how I had been telling my mom that I'm more sensitive to chemicals than I used to be, and HOW THE FUCK COULD I HAVE THOUGHT THAT PUTTING POISON IN MY FOREHEAD WAS IN LINE WITH EVERYTHING I FUCKING VALUE IN THIS LIFE THAT I HAVE TODAY.
She was fanning me, and there was ice on my neck, and I was sniffing rubbing alcohol, and wondering whether huffing rubbing alcohol was a violation of sobriety somehow, and I realized that I wouldn't be able to drive. I had to call my mom to pick me up, which felt like when I used to have to call Steve to pick me up from my panic attacks. It was amazing how much I had forgotten, how quickly it came back.
I texted Laura and told her what I'd done, and she reassured me I would not die nor be paralyzed for life. My mom made me soup and Ritz crackers with butter, and at 3:33 my Danielle LaPorte Truth Bomb Alarm went off on my phone, which said "FAKING IT HAS A COST." I sent a screen grab of it to Laura, and I laughed at how the Universe is so annoyingly clear with its lessons when it wants to be, and I told her "At least this will make a great blog post."
I'll let you infer the lessons I learned, which are plenty. But the biggest, and most important of them all is one that Meggan Watterson talked about on a podcast recently. She said, "May I never get to the place where I think I am done."
Tonight, sitting in my mom's big blue chair, my car parked across town like I'd stumbled home from a bar the night before, unable to move my head from left to right, texting pictures of my toxic forehead to my friends, feeling smaller than I had in a really long time, what occurred to me was not that I had gone back in time, lost some gained ground, or was perhaps going crazy.
What occurred to me was that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, on a path with twists and turns and dips and peaks, and that I'd rather have a thousand more panic attacks with this understanding, than no panic attacks and some delusion that I should be anywhere else in this life than exactly where I am - which happens to be light years away from where I was in 2003, and now also light years away from the girl who walked into a Botox clinic this afternoon, thinking she was still the kind of woman who is down with putting poison in her forehead.