A look of concern rushes over the gentle doctor’s face.
“That’s hard,” he says, pondering what to do. “I will give you some medication to help you.”
Yes, that is perfect.
He hands me two little baggies to calm my nerves and bids me on my way. When I arrive to the office a few minutes later, I pop a pink and white capsule for anti-anxiety and then my colleagues and I head off to the first funeral service for Adam.
As soon as we step out of the van and I see the old photo of my friend, he blue eyes and smiling face peering back at me, I feel instantly grateful that the medicine has kicked in. The shortness of breath I have been feeling all day is gone.
We walk through the temple, where our staff has created beautiful posters adorned with photos of Adam working, living, loving life. I want to fight the tears, to keep calm … but there is no use. Seeing him alive, happy … grief overcomes me and I let myself sob openly.
For about 90 minutes, monks chant. Later, I learn the monks are telling Adam that he has passed away, and he is no longer a part of our world and to go and leave this world and move to the next.
“He will collect his footprints tonight,” Lek informs me. “He will stop by your house, Diana, and say ‘goodbye.'”
I leave the service and head to go and see Ron at The Playhouse. I feel OK, but a little off.
Then, as we sit together watching the ongoing battles for affection on Loi Kroh, I start to feel lightheaded.
“I think I need to go lay down, I feel like I am going to pass out,” I tell him, feeling everything in my body tighten and panic being to envelop me. Panic that I am going to collapse right there.
“Go lay down on the couch,” he instructs me. “I will check on you in a little.”
I barely manage to get up and go to the couch. The bar starts to spin. I lay on the little black couch and try to text my friend, but the phone falls from my hands, which have started to shake.
I close my eyes and feel drunk, even though I haven’t had a drink.
I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. My heart is beating out of my chest.
I gather strength and go to the bathroom. For some reason, just sitting on the cool tile floors of the bathroom makes me think it will calm me down. But, it doesn’t.
I’m overcome with nausea and instead of calming down, I get hysterical and sick, vomiting in the toilet. I struggle to catch my breath as I sob and heave. Locked in the bathroom, I call my friend, Aaron, barely able to talk.
“Hi! How are you?” He asks, unaware of what’s going on.
“I … I …” I gasp, trying to speak between cries. “Something is really wrong with me. I can’t breathe. My heart is racing. I just puked. I. Can’t. Stop. Crying.”
“Oh …” he says quietly. I know there is panic in my voice. Panic in my breathing.
Panic, panic, panic.
“I just … help me … talk to me … do something to get my mind off what is going on with me … I can’t do this …”
He begins to recount a trip he took to Las Vegas until I have caught my breath.
Moderately calm and off the phone, I look at myself in the mirror. I look like death. White face. Red eyes. Tear soaked lashes.
I look like I just lost someone dear to me.
I go and sit back outside with Ron.
“You ok?” He asks.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Then, I start to get light headed again.
What the fuck is going on with me?
“I need to go. I need to walk. I have to get out of here,” I tell him.
Then, I leave.
The walk from his bar to my house is about 15 minutes, but I’m not sure if I can make it. I go between fits of feeling like I am going to pass out to fits of wanting whatever is going on in my body to fight this. To walk. To let the warm, tropical breeze wash over my face, my arms, my legs.
Finally, I succumb to the terror that is starting to race through my veins, and I get into a songthaew and head to my street. Along the way, I look for friends to help me, but no one is there.
I get to my house, shed my clothes and crawl into bed. But, then it hits me again. My heart races. I feel lightheaded.
Adam is collecting his footprints tonight, Diana. And, he is collecting you.
Fear grips my heart.
Then, my phone rings.
“Are you ok?” She asks me after hearing my breathy words.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lie.
“Do you want me to come over?”
“No,” I breathe. “I am just going to go to bed.”
“OK, well, if you need anything, you tell me.”
I lay back in my bed and death consumes me.
I’m going to die tonight. I’m having a heart attack. I have to get out of here. Adam, you can’t take your footprints from here. I’m sorry.
I dial Paula back.
“No,” I begin to wail. “I’m not OK. I feel like I’m dying.”
“OK, I’m coming over.”
“No, I will meet you. I have to get out of here.”
I struggle to get out of my bed. Struggle to turn the light on. Struggle, shaking violently, as I put my clothing back on.
You have to do this, D. Fight the urge to pass out. Stand up. Get dressed. Get. Out. Of. Here. You are not being logical.
I make it to my front door and fight with the lock to open it.
“Please,” I sob. “Please open.”
Finally, I get out of the house and begin to walk barefoot to Smith. Hysterical. Crying like I’ve never cried before.
“Oh my god,” she says when she sees me. “What can I do?”
“I don’t know,” I say through cries. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I think I am going to die.”
“Do you want me to go and get the doctor?” She asks.
“No, no, no. I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to miss the rest of Adam’s funeral tomorrow.”
“Do you want a hug?”
But, I am frozen in one position, and one position only. Face contorted into sheer fear and grief, arms up at my shoulders, tense. “I … I can’t move.”
I ask her to call another friend of ours, Ducko, who I know can help talk me down. And when I can’t stop heaving and struggling to breathe, I have her go get the doctor.
He comes out and grabs my wrist.
“I think I’m having a heart attack,” I sob hysterically. “I can’t breathe. I can’t stop crying.”
“You’ve been through a lot,” he says, taking my pulse.
“Am I going to die?” I sob.
“No. No, you’re not. You’re not having a heart attack. You’re not going to die. You are having an anxiety attack. You’ve been through a lot. You need to sit down and breathe and take one of the pills I gave you earlier. You have to.”
I finally am able to moved to the bench outside where I puke again, but not before I get the pill down.
Paula and Ducko surround me, making sure I am ok.
“I feel like I am going to die,” I whisper. “I feel like he wasn’t supposed to die so young, but he did. And, now tonight, I am going to die, too.”
“You’re not,” they both say to me. “You are going to be fine.”
“What is wrong with me? Why is this happening? I have no control … I can’t stop crying … I can’t …”
I tuck my head between my legs and succumb more to the uncontrollable sobbing, my whole body convulsing with each cry. With each short breath.
The two finally convince me to go up to the little bar at the apartment and sit with them and calm down. Within minutes, the medicine has kicked in and the terror and feelings of death have all but disappeared.
I feel stoned. I feel safe.
“You want to stay with me tonight?” Paula asks. “Or do you want me to come to your place?”
The scared hasn’t entirely left. I worry that once the medicine wears off, I will die in my sleep but no one will ever know because my doors are locked.
“Will you please come over?” I ask.
She obliges and we slowly head back to my house.
By the time I crawl into bed, I am exhausted.
I go through the final funeral service like a zombie the next day, keenly aware that at any moment the panic can once again take over my body and I will be paralyzed with fear. But, I manage.
It isn’t until the next week when it hits me again. I’m at lunch with my friends and my hands start to shake. My heart starts to race.
“Fuck,” I whisper. “I think I’m about to have another anxiety attack.”
“No, no, you’re not,” they both reassure me. “There’s no reason.”
And, they’re right. There is no reason. I try to breathe deep and when we leave, I pretend I am ok. But, I’m not. Within the quick walk from the restaurant to the office, I start to feel light headed again. Instead of walking to the office, I go to the restaurant where my co-workers are and ask one of them to come out.
Carolyn leaves lunch and looks at me.
“I think I’m having another attack,” I say, beginning to shake. “I’m so sorry, but I need your help to get through this. I can’t freak out like I did last week. I can’t lose it again.”
We sit together on a step.
“It’s ok,” she says. “Breathe. You will get through this.”
“I just don’t understand why this keeps happening to me. I was fine before Adam died. I was fine. Why now?”
I feel like my body is rebelling against me. Like there is something I must have done massively wrong to go through the torture of yet another anxiety attack.
“I can’t do this. I need help.”
She goes and gets me a glass of water and I pop a pill to stave off the looming attack.
Again, within minutes, I’m fine. But, I make a decision I need to get help.
I message my therapist in Vegas and tell her what has happened, explain that I’ve never had these attacks before, and how scared I am that something is wrong. That Adam’s death has triggered something in me and now it has its hold on me. Something that won’t let me go.
She advises me to go to a doctor to make sure it’s not medical. Then, I get a message from my parents telling me the attacks, like the depression I used to suffer until I went to a shaman, run in my family.
The next morning, I go to the hospital and meet with the psychiatrist there.
“I am going to prescribe you two different types of Xanax,” he says, pulling out his pen to write the prescription. “One you take twice-a-day, one you take two of if you feel like you are having an attack.”
“But, I don’t want to take them,” I explain. “I don’t want to be on these pills.”
“You are going to have to, at least for two weeks,” he says.
I walk out of the hospital, defeated but at least reassured that I won’t have to go through the attacks again.
In the meantime, I try to figure out what the hell has happened in my life that has triggered this. Yes, my friend just died. Yes, I’ve been under stress. But, what makes this different from anything in my life that could lead to such attacks? Has this always been in me, just laying dormant?
The thought of that alone makes my heart race and my hand reach for a pill.
For two weeks, I teeter between racing heart and calm. Racing heart. Calm.
“Mind over matter,” Ron tells me. “You can get over this”
And then more friends come out of the woodwork.
“I have them all of the time,” one says.
“I know what you’re going through,” says another. And suddenly, this uncommon, alien feeling in my body isn’t alone. It’s all around me. And when I start to feel light headed or like I’m going to have an attack, I simply give one of them a look and they tell me to breathe.
This newest addition to my life isn’t easy. It’s especially hard when my family isn’t here and they know what’s going on. I get worried messages from my mom checking in to make sure I am ok.
I’ve been to two doctors and now have to go to a psychiatrist to see what can be done without having to be on meds forever.
But, I’ve learned to quell the attacks a bit. I’ve learned that when my heart races, I’m not going to die. I’m just about to have an attack, and I breathe and I drink a glass of water and I sit in quiet until it passes.
It’s not an easy thing to live with, but the past few weeks I have never felt more loved and supported by people who unexpectedly have come into my life. In Thailand. My community of friends is so amazing. I am so grateful. When I feel like I can’t live like this, I think about all of them, and all of the support and care they have showered on me. And, that blessing helps the anxiety so, so much.
Have you ever had something like this happen to you when you’ve been in another country? What did you do?