Raging Panic at The Register

So there I was traipsing through Walmart picking up groceries, and waiting patiently for the kid’s to pick out toys they had saved several weeks of their allowance to acquire.  I am standing in line at one of the open registers when I notice the restrooms blocked off by rolling shelves.

I can hear the cashier talking to the other customers telling them both restrooms have flooded through the drains on the floors and no one can go in there.  There is a small “family” restroom nearby but I notice there is a line and people keep heading in there.

I can feel my panic starting to rise, thinking that if I start feeling ill, there’s nowhere to run!  There’s no safe place.  (Never mind that I don’t feel ill at that very moment… It’s panic, not logic.)

My eyes start frantically zipping around the place, and I’m thinking… I’m in a huge store with hundreds of people and there is one tiny bathroom, with one stall?

I start to pace, thinking “I’ll never get in there!”  These are just the thoughts I’m conscious of.  I’m sure there are five zillion unconscious thoughts that are zipping through my head so fast I can’t grab them.

By this time my panic has risen so high I start to worry that I’m going to scream or freak out or something… or even if I wasn’t physically ill at the moment, the rush of adrenaline might push me over the edge.

My heart is racing, and trying to jump out of my chest.  I feel like crying, and I know I’m taking short breaths and starting to hyperventilate.  So, I firmly tell my kiddos to put their toys in the basket, we’re leaving it– Mom doesn’t feel well.

“Mom’s sick, we’ve gotta go.” I say over and over.  My kids are gracious, but confused.

“We’ll come back another time and get them, ok.  Please, we’ve gotta go.”  They followed after me with concern, but it didn’t take too long for my son to realize we weren’t coming back that day… and he had gotten the very last ninja on the shelf.

He was positive it would NOT be there when we came back (and he was right, btw).  At that point, he was not so gracious.  While trying to calm my panic attack, I also had to field questions from him all night as to why we couldn’t go back right then.  THEN when I recounted the story to my therapist, I nearly panicked again.  The whole situation totally sucked, save for one thing…

My panic and anxiety used to run rampant all over my life.  Even my therapist was perplexed because there was no clear logic, no pattern at all it seemed.  Now that I’ve got the hormones starting to balance, and have cleaned out a good deal of emotional debris…  This panic attack was like a big red arrow.  It was pointing right to a starting place for some unresolved stuff.  Progress!

I knew the restrooms being blocked off was an obvious trigger, so I started to mull over WHY.  One of my oldest memories is of being a small child crying in the bathroom.  I locked myself in there thinking this place had everything I needed (or almost everything)… safety, peace, water to drink, and also the potty.  I could just stay in there forever.

I even remember scrawling a note telling my mother I was running away, and placing it in the sink.  I was trapped in a fairly miserable childhood filled with physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, as well as a total lack of safety and consistency.  So, ever since I was a child, the restroom has been my safe place and my escape.

As I struggled with Irritable Bowel Syndrome in my 20s, once again the bathroom was my saving grace.  When I had an IBS attack, I was quite often doubled over in pain from all the cramping, etc.  It seemed the longer I waited to have a movement, the more painful it got.

Over the years, the restroom is where I have retreated to when I’ve been in any type of physical pain, or in a state of panic and I needed a cool quiet place to calm myself.

OK, so I understand that but why am I still reacting this way now?  I’m in no way unsafe.  I’m not ill or in pain and I’m certainly not trapped anywhere.

My counselor’s answer was that it’s become a sort of biological reaction.  Something to do with my brain chemistry.  My brain has been trained to look for a safe place (the restroom —  goofy, I know) and panic when it can’t find one.  Apparently, it’s a form of claustrophobia.

We can re-train my brain, but it’s going to take some time.  My therapist tells me it’s something that was learned a LONG time ago, then reinforced time and time again throughout the span of my life.  I’ve got to be patient with myself.

After this experience, it took me days to completely shake off the anxiety– I know it’s lingering because I need to work through all the junk from my past that starts bubbling up in those situations, but I’ve got things to do the next couple days, so I’m putting it off.

At this point, it’s been 4 days and I finally feel like I am able to breathe, and it’s a good thing because I have some work to do… I’ve got all those crazy thoughts to journal through, examine, throw out and replace.

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Published in: on November 18, 2012 at 9:00 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. a lovely and courageous post. Thanks.

  2. Wow, Cadence…you sound just like me. I too have a “thing” with the bathroom! I agree with your assessment that it seems like a “safe” place to be and when you are panicking that’s really all you want is a safe place. I’m definitely going to start following your blog because it’s so cool whenever I find someone like me. If you want, check out my blog here: http://www.angstanxietypanic.wordpress.com. I just started it and my goal is to help people with panic attacks and anxiety. I’ve also written a novel about my experience and hope to self pub in a few months. Best of luck to you….

    • I hope you have great success and help many people… it has been an enormous struggle for me but I am now seeing huge progress with therapy & spirituality.

      Anxiety & panic are a horrible thing… they will permeate every aspect of your life if you let them.. they will make everything harder. But there is hope! It can be resolved!


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