I have panic anxiety disorder. After many years of therapy, I rarely need medication and have learned to subdue it most of the time. But this doesn’t mean I don’t still have panic attacks. It’s a constant battle for me to discern what’s something to be upset about. The most common time for me to panic is when something uncomfortable happens unexpectedly.
Several years ago my husband came to my rescue during one of those horrible moments when it felt like the earth was slipping from under my feet. He proved he would never stop being there for me, including when I have an anxiety crisis.
We had taken an extended vacation to Colorado with his brother and his brother’s family. We explored many towns and landmarks, going somewhere new every day. One day we passed a botanical garden and spontaneously dropped in.
My husband’s brother, Randy, a finance executive, likes to lead these expeditions with business-like focus. He thinks linearly and explores his world in that manner. I’m creative minded: a writer, photographer, and crafter. My thoughts are like a whirlwind—I’m sometimes carried off by my creativity. My husband and his brother are fast paced while I’m a stop—look up the name of the rose and then smell it—kind of person.
So, while we were in the botanical garden, Chuck and Randy were checking off their list of things to see and I was taking my time with the photographs, delving into the craft with each subject. We were in the atrium with its circular winding path and large foliage, and it was easy to get separated.
I looked up from my encounter with an enchanting bromeliad and discovered I was alone, but assumed everyone else was just around the corner. I rounded the path and they weren’t there, so I hurried up. When no one answered their cell phone, I doubled back, retracing my steps.
When I still couldn’t find them I panicked. My heart was racing and I felt like I was trapped. I couldn’t escape the escalating feeling of terror even though the entire time I kept reasoning with myself that it wasn’t like my family had left me stranded in a tropical rain forest or abandoned me at a train station. We were all still in the park. It was going to be okay.
But that reasonable part of my brain was losing a chemical battle. There’s a reason it’s called a “disorder.” I wasn’t able to talk myself down. It didn’t matter that maybe at any other time I might not have panicked, or that all I needed to do was step outside the atrium and look for them. Somewhere deep inside my subconscious, that little-girl-me who had been lost at an amusement park when she was four years old, was terrified. She soon found her way into my middle-aged-consciousness and caused a melt down.
Leaving the enclosure of the atrium to find the restroom helped. I cried for a moment then took some deep breaths. After about five minutes of splashing cool water on my face and allowing myself to decompress, I felt ready to try to find my family again.
I walked out of the bathroom to hear “Lorraine!”
My husband was calling my name. I was so relieved to be found. I felt like I’d been rescued from a wilderness after wandering for two days alone. I’m not being dramatic. That is what a panic attack is—a real response to a false perception.
I started to cry again.
We sorted out what had happened. I, being lost in my art, had dallied; and they, being finished with their tour, had headed out—not realizing I wasn’t behind them. By the time they figured it out and made their way back to the front of the atrium I had found refuge in the restroom stall.
Many people may have chided someone like me, making a panicked person feel worse and even more uncomfortable. But not my husband. He hugged and kissed me, as happy as I was at being found.
He placed both hands on my face and looked me in the eye, saying, “I will always come find you. Just wait for me,” he said. “If you are ever lost—just wait. I will always come find you. I promise.”
Just knowing he will keep his promise may be enough for me to keep the panic at bay in the future. No mental wilderness is too thick or too tall that he can’t guide me out of it. No one wants to be in need of rescue, least of all me, but it’s reassuring to know that his love will answer, when my terror comes calling.