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Fear Is a Monster MAG
There is something truly delightful about fear. Good-quality fear at its best reveals its nature through jumps and shrieks and screams, through goose bumps and shivers and bug-eyes. Almost everyone enjoys a scary movie, a haunted house, or a Halloween party from time to time. Every culture has its own set of scary stories meant to be shared with friends at night and, for the more faint of heart, with an accessible light source nearby. Very delightful, indeed!
But there is another kind of fear that is not delightful at all. That is the fear from which one wakes screaming at night, the fear that paralyzes the body and mind, that makes the thought of suicide seem like a warm quilt on a winter evening. That fear is a different breed. It is a monster, one that controlled me for nine years.
The room smelled like dead moths. Painted gray and carpeted with a threadbare beige rug, it reminded me of every other psychologist’s office I had seen in the course of my life. I stared blankly at the pale lump of flesh before me. I was in second grade but felt much younger, flanked by my parents in marmalade-orange chairs.
“So, what are her symptoms?” asked the Lump, its voice grating my ears as it spoke. I answered before my parents had a chance, my voice barely above a whisper.
“I have panic attacks.”
The Lump moved its arm and scrawled something on a clipboard. She (the Lump) – almost too bland in appearance to be classified by a gender – looked at my mother and father as though I were not present. “Cara gets them every day?” She pronounced my name incorrectly. I loathed that.
“It’s CAH-ra, like you drive a car.” I hesitated, then continued. “I get six, sometimes seven, every day.”
I was beginning to feel as though this visit was futile. I had the same feeling as the past three times I had been to a psychologist, but this time it was stronger. Then I at least had a sliver of hope. I had none now, not so much as a smidgen. Even if my parents thought the Lump might help me, I personally would not stand for an hour-long car ride every week just to speak with someone who could not pronounce my four-letter name correctly. I had better things to do on a Friday afternoon. I glanced up at my mother impatiently, and began tapping my foot to match the beating of my heart.
“Cara,” the Lump pronounced my name correctly this time, but now it just sounded like mockery. “Why don’t you go out in the waiting room now. I need to talk to your parents.”
I was more than a bit offended. Here was a child psychologist who did not care what the child in question had to say. I stood up so that I was at eye level with the Lump. “You’ve never had a panic attack, have you?” I snapped. Her eyes flashed angrily, so I quickly sat back down to avoid further issues. I heard my parents inhale sharply, and I felt their eyes on the top of my head. I crossed my arms.
They sent me out. I was back in the drab waiting room. The monotonous, mechanical murmur of the white-noise machine on the floor began to irritate me. I turned it off. Behind the door to my right, I could hear my father’s voice. I could not hear full sentences, only fragments. I did not try to understand them; what anybody in that room had to say did not interest me. As far as I was concerned, I was finished with this place.
I settled myself back down in the cold black leather chair, wincing as it made contact with my bare arms. The odor of stale coffee mixed with old cardboard was making me uncomfortable, and I felt myself start to perspire. I knew the inevitable was coming. I began to hyperventilate. That familiar sick feeling washed over me. Starting at my toes, it worked its way up until I was immersed in it like a cadaver in a tank of formaldehyde.
I was lightheaded now. I gripped the arms of the chair as the anxiety took over my whole being. My head spun with terrifying thoughts: images of choking, loved ones dying, things burning, pictures of what Hell might look like.
It was all I could do not to scream as I whirled into the black vortex of a panic attack. My knuckles were turning white, and I bit down on my tongue until I tasted blood. It went on interminably, this mental torment. I needed desperately to move, but where? My parents would be angry if I interrupted their meeting. The irony of having a panic attack at a psychologist’s office!
Ten, twenty, thirty minutes later, I was coming back. I could feel it subsiding, this monster that found me in the most precarious places; I could feel it crawling out my arms and legs, and I slumped back into the chair. I heard the doorknob turn and my parents walked out of the Lump’s office. They looked troubled. Still shaking, I ran to my mother and hugged her.
Now it’s six years later, and I no longer suffer from this anxiety disorder. Since the peak of my anxiety, I have been on four medications: one that made me exhausted, one that made me violent, one that stopped working after six months, and finally, one that worked for real. Eventually, though, as the dosage was decreased, I found I had simply outgrown the monster that had controlled me for so many years.
Today, I am free of medication and anxiety. My parents no longer ask me with concern every few hours how I’m feeling. I no longer wake from panic attacks every night. I have better friendships, and I love to eat – something I could not bring myself to do when I was anxious. I enjoy scary movies, haunted houses, and Halloween parties.
Nonetheless, anxiety changed me. I have calluses where most teenagers do not. I can still remember every night I spent crying and shaking, staring into the blackness of my bedroom. I remember how frail I was because of how little I ate. I remember that monster striking me daily at school, and then lying dormant, yet remaining very much alive. But the calluses that make me remember the bad things also remind me of something else. The monster is dead, and it will never return. And that, my dear reader, is victory.