Heart beats. Faster. Faster. Faster. It feels like a racing, fluttering, thing trying to escape from her chest.
Breath shortens, lungs tight and full, but starving.
Palms tingle and sprout beads of moisture, fingers cold and clenched.
Brittany can’t see anything but the closet door. The dresser next to it, the bed to her left. All gone.
Stumbling, she tips off the bed toward the door. Feet barely catching her as they thud down into the thick carpeting.
Hands slip once on the knob, it doesn’t turn.
Using both, Brittany gains purchase and the door pops toward her. Barely able to stagger back enough to open it.
Breaths sucking, sucking.
On her knees, Brittany feels the cooler temperature of the floor in the closet against her knees and palms. Reduced to crawling, Brittany makes her way into the closet. Gasping breaths, she lowers her face to the cool, shadowed floor and lets her eyes close for a second.
It’s not a heart attack. Brittany offers herself this reassurance. Close the fucking door. Her brain responds in a scream.
Heaving herself up, Brittany lunges for the door that lingers open behind her, desperate hands slipping on the knob and she tugs it towards her. Cocooning herself in the blessed silent darkness.
Sagging back onto her heels, Brittany forces her breaths to slow, forcing her lips to purse as she slows the breathing out like she works on in each therapy session. As her heart beats begin to slow, she’s able to settle back against the wall of her closet and rest her palm on her sternum.
Feeling the comforting weight, she allows her eyes to close and forces her lungs to keep expanding and contracting, her mind to occupy itself counting the beats of her heart. Reminding it that it still beats, that it remains trapped in her chest behind her ribs.
Now that she can think, Brittany is able to recognize the panic attack for what it was – not a heart attack. Her hair sticks sweatily to her temples and tears stream from her eyes, unnoticed until they plop onto her chest and hands.
Swiping angrily at her tears, Brittany feels that familiar tension return to her shoulders and her mouth droops into a fierce frown. When will these stop. She doesn’t remember when they started, but she knows she wants desperately for them to stop.
This one started as she sat on her bed, looking out her window at friends and family laughing and enjoying each other on the back lawn. They’d come to celebrate her high school graduation, but Brittany felt distant from them. Alone. Isolated. She knew she should go outside – the party is for her, after all. But she hadn’t wanted to. She’d felt the white walls around the window expanding and the glass shrinking in her vision, as if she was zooming back from it but yet knowing she was unmoving. She’d tried to turn away from the window. Hoping it would calm her to see the solitude of her room. But it hadn’t worked.
“Brittany” she hears her mother’s voice, faint and from a distance. “Where are you girl?” her mother called, her voice moving closer. Brittany imagined her walking through the back door to look for her, expecting to find her. Moving deeper into the house when Brittany didn’t pop out from behind a wall or around a corner.
Why can’t I just be normal. Brittany again demands of herself. Wanting to answer her mother, but also desperate not to be seen yet. Hands shaking, she wipes at her damp cheeks again. Frustrated sighs as she swats at the bedspread leaving darker streaks of tears drying in front of her. I just want to feel safe and in control.
Brittany wishes for nothing so much as she wishes she could trust her parasympathetic nervous system not to betray her. There are days when she forgets, the time bomb of anxiety ticking, always ticking, in her brain.
Heaving a sigh, Brittany acknowledges that this one is done. Hauling her resisting body off the bed, Brittany heads for the bathroom to splash some water on her flushed cheeks and to smooth out her sweaty hair. She knows its been 10 minutes too long and her mother is bound to be at her door soon.
Looking at her reflection, she practices a smile. Adjusting it until its pleasant and content, without the manic pressure at her cheeks that might make it look desperate and false. Drying her hands. Brittany has readied her facade.
Happy. Happy. And Safe. Normal. Her watchwords, her wish. Her facade.