Reality is whatever you focus on.
My grandpa said that the day he was sober.
I didn't know what he meant until last week, when I suffered my first panic
attack. If I could describe it in two words, they would be HOLY JESUS. One
minute I was doing crunches in the gym, and the next moment all my demons
were on top of me.
If you have never done a panic attack, it's a little like drowning, but
there's no water to make you feel better about it.
Inside the gym, I stretched my stomach to dispel the shortness of breath.
I wasn't getting along with my body; it felt like my captor. I looked for
someone to perform the Heimlich Maneuver for Panic. I was lucky to find someone
who could spell meathead.
There was a pulsing emergency in my heart. I didn't know why. It didn't
matter. A chill covered me like someone had died. I felt the need to sprint.
I had to get out -- out of the gym, out of my clothes, out of my skin. The
sky was definitely falling.
Alan Watts wrote, "In seeing fully into his own empty momentariness,
the Bodhisattva knows a despair beyond suicide, the absolute despair which
is the etymological meaning of nirvana."
If this was nirvana, I'd rather be shallow.
The gym-heads continued their reps like nothing had happened. They couldn't
hear the sirens. They didn't see me melting.
I ran to the parking lot, trying to breathe my way back to reality.
Okay, Jason. You are in control. There is nothing to fear. Thou art God...
I circled the lot twice, remembering times when I felt safe. I pictured
myself meditating in the closet. It could have been a past life, it was so
distant. I couldn't find my daily self, the guy I raised from childhood.
The sun didn't feel right either. It hung overhead like the bulb in a laboratory.
Cars passed by in the street. I wished that one would hit me. It was time
for the attack to end. You know, if there was a God and everything. Somehow
my heart kept speeding up: fourth gear, fifth gear, sixth gear. I started
What's the point in our petty pleasures? Even if I achieve my goals... Even
if I were rich and famous...
This is what my shrink calls the Great Mindscrew. Only he doesn't say screw.
The meaning of life is a feeling, he says, and we'll think ourselves wacky
before we attain salvation. That's why he chose his career -- job security.
So it goes.
The sense of loneliness descended; it pushed me into the soles of my shoes.
I couldn't talk myself out of the fact that everything I had worked for,
everything I believed, counted for naught. I had found a new level to Dante's
Madness is the inability to not think. Stop it already!
I returned to the gym to gather my burdens. The hello-goodbye girl asked
if I were okay. I'm not sure if I answered.
On the way home, I doubled the speed limit, enticed by the idea of driving
off a cliff. Some unseen force cheered me on.
Time did not budge. I had fallen through the Looking Glass From Hell. My
life flashed before me, only it didn't take a moment but all eternity.
My wife Yahaira greeted me at the door.
"What's the matter?" she said, feeling my forehead.
"I'm going nuts."
Yahaira hugged me, and my brain threw up. She said I cried. It's her word
"I can't breathe," I said.
"Should I call the doctor?"
Who, Doctor God? Yes, I would like to see God so that I could punch Him
in the nose. This wasn't a broken arm; it was an existential vacuum. It was
the undoing of reason.
But you know you're getting off course when you want to punch God.
Yahaira laid me in bed and turned on the fan. I curled into the fetal and
rocked like Rainman. Who's on first? What's on second. I Don't Know's on
She massaged my neck. I breathed as best I could, but it would have been
okay to not breathe. Yahaira turned on the radio, which restored in me some
link to mankind. As much as I detest commercials, today they moored my lifeboat.
And finally -- mercifully -- I fell asleep.
Next morning, I awoke slowly, afraid to remember killing someone. I brushed
my teeth and made the bed and slipped into my old reality, but it felt
like something was missing. I think it was my sense of well-being. Even
now, I tread with care, unsure when the earth will open up again.
They say you can survive an attack by letting the terror wash over you.
That's like telling a driver to relax in a head-on collision. If the time
comes, I will try it for lack of options. But if you find me shirtless on
the corner muttering about nirvana, you'll know what happened.