A friend of mine recently confided she is having panic attacks. To allow a secret to drift out from beneath my private pillow, I used to suffer from them as well. For anyone dealing with this affliction, you will understand fully how debilitating it can be. Thankfully, in my case the attacks came during a stressful period and packed their bags once the stress was eliminated. The first attack occurred shortly after my ex-husband and I moved to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. During that ten-year span of my life we traveled as construction sub-contractors for a major engineering company. The nature of such work necessitated employees move as one job was completed and another opened up. Relocating to Alabama was to be our third such move in as many years. Truth is I found it interesting living in so many different parts of this fine country. Certainly it opens your mind to new cultures and scenery also allowing you a brief glimpse into how people live outside of your usual stomping grounds. At times, however, coming into an area and knowing nobody can be a bit off-putting. Such was the case in Alabama. Construction families we knew were due to arrive eventually but we were the first on the scene and settled in for several months before we would welcome a familiar face.
For those first few months I struggled to adapt to my new surroundings. The full blast of summer heat and oppressive humidity had moved into the area. Outside activities were limited to early mornings or after the sun was tucked in for the night. As per usual during that time of my life I applied at a local temp agency. There was no point in taking on a full-time job when I knew I would be leaving somewhere down the road. My first, and as it turned out only, assignment was to be in the contagious disease department of a local hospital. Looking back I was a bit leery of this particular job description as it included supervising urine tests for incoming employees and working directly with the head of the department on getting out the news about preventing the spread of infectious disease. Great work and a good cause but also one could only imagine all the little germs floating about in such an arena looking for a host to set up housekeeping in. Deciding to accept the position in spite of my trepidations, I submitted my arm for the series of injections required to prevent me from becoming a patient in the hospital rather than an employee. Had I gone to the deepest darkest jungles of Africa I believe I would have emerged disease free.
Needing some new clothes for my job I headed to the closest mall. Our car air conditioning labored to overcome the heat outside and I began to feel claustrophobic with the windows closed. Inside a store with some likely clothing choices I was led to a small changing room and once inside began to get undressed. My pants hit the chair just before all the lights went out. I could hear people talking loudly outside and suddenly my heart began to pound and my ears were ringing like church bells on Sunday morning. Feeling about for my pants I heard someone outside say the generators would kick in and shortly a dim light came on in the fitting room. Dragging on my pants, zipping them as I walked, I emerged from the small room like a horse straining at the bit when released at the starting gate. Literally running through the mall I was certain I was either having a heart attack or a stroke and must have looked to those I passed like a guppy gasping for air at the top of the tank. Outside, heat or not, I could feel my heartbeat slow and my body calming down. Driving home I remember shaking and thinking I had surely developed some disease with a three syllable name and likely only had days to live.
Setting up an appointment with a doctor, I related my experience to him and was assured I probably was good for a few more years. Anxiety attack was the diagnosis and therapy was the suggested course of action. Really? An alternate suggestion was what they might call these days “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is basically the art of using your mind to control your reactions. The first part of getting a grip on these paralyzing moments is realizing the reaction you are having to your surroundings is far more accelerated than the situation dictates. This overreaction might be described like a person calling the fire department because someone has lit a match. Too much response for too little reason. At first I simply dealt with it the best I could. When in Costco towards the back of the store I would have to migrate towards the front so I could see the exit doors. For some reason knowing I could get out allowed me to remain inside.
During that time my daughter was in California expecting her first child, my first grandchild. A momentous occasion for both of us, I was on baby alert hoping to get out to the west coast before the baby decided to show herself. The thought of being inside a plane with these claustrophobic panic issues did not occur to me at the time. The due date coming close I booked my ticket and two days later boarded my plane. Hot inside the cabin, I stored my coat and situated myself in my least favorite spot on any flight in between two strangers. Since it was a quick booking the plane was nearly full and the only seats available were in the middle. Fine. I was doing fairly well until the flight attendants closed the exit doors. “WHAT”, my mind began screaming inside my head? “OPEN THE DOORS, I NEED TO GET OUT. NOWWWWW!!!!!” Sitting there wedged in between two total strangers I entertained the thought of tearing off my hot clothes and running naked screaming down the aisle and banging on the door to the cockpit. Next I thought about grabbing one of the incessantly smiling insipid flight attendants and telling him or her to get the exit chute ready because they were going to be one passenger short on their headcount. In the end I chose door number three and began to breathe slowly and chant to my inner self “you are not dying, you are having a panic attack”. Shortly I became calm enough to pull my book from my handbag and open it to the folded page and begin reading. Thankfully at some point an adult beverage was offered and I made through the end of the flight. I am not recommending you use alcohol to soothe yourself, but a body has to do what a body has to do
As with all things one day at a time. As human beings we all suffer from frailties and imperfections over our lifetimes. The human mind holds so many secrets yet to be uncovered. Happy endings for me were leaving this behind. For those of you still dealing with them Google “mindfulness” and check out some of the beliefs associated with it.
Martha Stewart hit the nail on the head with the title pie quote. If you pile everything bothering you on the plate it will appear overwhelming. However, if you break it up and tackle each item in order of importance it will be much easier to manage. Just breathe, breathe, or drink whichever works.
This salad is so beautiful on the plate it’s a shame to eat. It is fresh and delicious with a light vinaigrette dressing and a dab of fig balsamic.
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Fig Balsamic for Two
1 cup of fresh spinach, stems removed and torn into pieces
2 heirloom tomatoes (preferably different colors) sliced thin
4 thin slices red onion
1 large mushroom, sliced thin
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 plum cut in wedges
4 grapes, halved
2 Tbsp. fig balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic can be substituted)
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (use good quality for best results)
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. pear vinegar
1/4 tsp. basil
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Whisk together and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Divide the spinach between two salad plates. Arrange remaining salad ingredients on top. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Put 1/2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar on either side of each plate. Serve with vinaigrette.