Sunday, December 14, 2008

Evening of Panic

Everything felt perfectly fine yesterday morning when I dropped Jeff off at the airport at 10:30 am. He found out last week that he had to go on a last minute business trip to Israel, and we hastily booked his flight for Saturday and made plans for me to join him on Thursday when he would be done with his work and I, with my doctor's appointments for additional tests. From the airport, I rushed back to the city to pick up my dear (and as it turned out, hungover) friend Paul who was waiting for me at a Bart station. We attended an information session on USF's MFA program and then spent the rest of the afternoon having lunch and loitering at a Border's.

Around 4pm, I headed back home, looking forward to reading Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer, a book recommended by a friend and one I was sure would launch me into writer stardom. I pictured myself, curled up on our chaise lounge, under the lamp, complacently absorbing words of wisdom and the key to my future.

Thirty minutes later, I found myself feeling strangely panicked. The house was too quiet and everything too still. The house felt too narrow, the walls too close. I looked at the clock, and it was only 5pm. The thought of facing the whole evening alone felt suffocating and daunting. I dreaded another minute alone in the house.

I wrapped myself in layers, put the leash on Sherlock, and headed toward the doggie park less than two blocks away. When we neared the park, after many No!s, Sit!s, and Sherlock, No Pulling!s, I scanned the park to survey the visitors of the hour. When I saw the lone owner and the lone doggie packing up to leave, my chest fell, and I pitied the two of us about to enter a soon to be empty park. We walked in, and much to our relief, other moms and dads with their little pooches entered the park within minutes. We did the usual greetings. What's the name of your little one? How old is she? Oh, mine's a little nutty. He doesn't really care to play with other dogs. Oh, really? Well, at least yours isn't OCD like mine. All he cares about is that ball even around a cute poodle like yours. We stayed for at least forty minutes in the unusually cold evening, mainly because I was reluctant to return to the quiet of our house.

When we returned, the quiet was still there, as palpable as the wall. I felt gripped by some strange pressure, making it difficult for me to breathe, making me feel too alone and slightly panicked. I turned on the lights in the kitchen, the dining area, the living room, the hallway, and even the bathroom and the bedrooms that were completely separated from where I was sitting. I popped in a CD, first Puccini's La Boheme, then irritated by what now sounded too distant, Eurythmics' Greatest Hits, the music of my college years. I sat on the couch, checked my gmail, read the latest stories on the NYTimes, the Huffington Post, SFGate. Then I went onto iTunes, looking for some movie I could click on and impatiently scrolled through a couple of categories. I made Sherlock sit on the couch with me. Within a few more minutes of clicking, I found myself darting off of the couch, pacing the room, feeling suffocated, wondering if I should just step outside and walk around the streets in the dark aimlessly.

What was wrong with me? I am a woman used to solitude. I spent big chunks of my 20s and early 30s living alone, coming home to an empty house. There had also been many nights when I had worked late in the office, at ease with the fact that I was alone on the entire floor. Even during the past two years, Jeff had been away for days at a time for his business trips, and I had felt perfectly fine. But today, I felt panicked. I had felt this kind of panic only twice before, once after a bad break-up and another when I was visiting relatives in Korea and realized that no one there, possibly no one in the entire country, really understood me, not the way I needed to be understood.

I found myself typing out a panicked email to a few girlfriends and clicked the send button, knowing how busy they usually kept themselves, wondering what they had already planned for the evening, and regretting that I hadn't planned my weekend in advance.

I put on my jogging gear, got in the car, and drove to the gym. It was 6:30 on a Saturday night. I never went to the gym at this hour on a weekend, even when I had no plans. I found the gym surprisingly filled with people and felt relieved. I jumped on the elliptical with an enthusiasm I rarely saved for this machine and focused on following the plight of the gorillas in Rwanda and Congo on Planet in Peril.

About an hour later, I returned home and found that six of my girlfriends had already responded to my panic email. On a Saturday night. They left email and voicemail messages inviting me out, suggesting get togethers for the following day. And I felt a wave of relief come over me. My friends were out there, making time for me even on a busy night. I felt the panic subside, the loneliness dissipate. I made plans for the following day and had a glass of wine. I spent the rest of the evening talking to my sweet friend Sarah who was taking a break from consecutive late nights of flirting (and depriving many bar hopping men of her wit and charm). And by the time I went to sleep, I felt once again at ease in my world.


  1. I've had a panic attack before (while I was abroad) and it felt very similar to what you describe. I remember being utterly convinced that something terrible had happened, or was about to happen, to my family. The sense of being too far from my loved ones was overwhelming. I got all shaky and my heart rate went up. It took most of the day before I felt better again, even though I knew the fear was not based on anything real. Such a strange experience! I haven't had one since. I was surprised at how long it took for the feeling to pass.

  2. I'm not sure if this is why you are feeling the way you are, but when a close friend of mine had a m/c, I remember her mentioning how lonely she left. She couldn't really put into words why but in some way I understood. You are very lucky to have some kind friends.