Soooo . . . it’s been a while. I know. Get over it.
Hey, did I ever tell you I used to suffer from panic attacks? NO? Well, no wonder. Panic attacks aren’t very funny. Oh, sure, it’s funny when it happens to someone else. HAHAHAHA! Can’t walk half a block from your house to mail a letter because you’re AFRAID? Hilarious. Can’t sit on the front porch with your husband because you once had a panic attack there? BWA-HAR-HAR! Shove pills down your gullet to numb your central nervous system so you can’t feel anything? Tee-freaking-HEE!
Oh, wait. That all happened to me. But come on. It’s still funny. You have to laugh, right? Anyway, it’s been quite a while since my ol’ friend panic attack paid a visit. But the day I signed up for my first Bikram yoga class, I had a feeling we might be meeting again.
You see, my young friends, the panic attacks were always triggered by heat and humidity and the feeling that you can’t breathe because there’s no air when it’s hot and you gasp and hyperventilate and OF COURSE there’s plenty of air but that doesn’t stop your brain from telling your body YEE-HAW! It’s fight-or-flight time, and you ain’t got no one to fight and there ain’t nowhere to fly. So you’re stuck with all this adrenaline and shaking and sweating and the hands get numb and the heart pounds and you gasp and gasp and the black dots start to dance in front of your eyes and you pray for unconsciousness.
And when it’s over, you spend all your time worrying about the next one.
Because this yoga . . . man, this fucking yoga. I swear. It’s like the perfect storm of panic attack triggers. Hot, humid, packed with sweaty people. And in between the poses, we have to be breathing statues. Or, in my case, last Sunday, a hyperventilating statue.
The instructor that day was tough but kind. There were a lot of new people in class, so he talked nonstop to keep them from freaking out. He assured them (and all of us) that we were expected only to give our 100% best, to work hard but to be compassionate. And to stay in the room for the whole 90 minutes.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a panic attack, but there is one basic tenet. Once it starts, you have to get out of there. I don’t care where “there” is — you have to leave. GO! NOW! Get the hell out of there! Because wherever you are, somewhere else is better. Especially if where you are is a 104-degree room in which you have specifically been told to stay.
It was about two-thirds of the way through class. I’d been struggling since the second pose. I typically stand on the “cooler” side of the room, because duh. But regardless, I was broiling from the inside out. The heat. The humidity. The breathing. We’re encouraged to sit down and take a break any time we need to, and believe me, I did. But it didn’t help. I couldn’t get a handle on my breathing. I tried sitting, lying down, doing the damn pose to take my mind off it, but it was dug in.
Then the instructor said the magic words: “We’ve got a lot of new people in here today, and sometimes when that happens, there’s a sort of panicky vibe in the air that can be contagious. The rest of us need to help keep that under control.”
Well, that was all I needed to hear. There are panic vibes?! In the air? And I’m breathing them in? Well, no fucking wonder! Shit, man, I’ve gotta get out of here! I felt the familiar numbing sensation that precedes a full-blown attack. There was no air in my lungs. My vision swam. Limbs turned to jelly. Pounding, pounding, pounding.
This was it. Was I really going to leave the room? What would happen? I was about to find out.
Between poses I raised my shaking hand and caught the instructor’s eye. I motioned toward the door as I unsteadily got to my feet. “Oh, come on,” he said but didn’t try to make me stay. I kept my head down, ignoring what I was sure were looks of contempt, turned the handle, and . . .
I was out! I had left the room! I waited for lightning to strike me dead (it would’ve been welcome at that point), but nothing happened. I ran to the changing room to get my panic pills, which I carry with me everywhere even tho it’s been 700 years since I’ve had an attack. I was still gasping and feeling pretty awful, but I was so glad to be out of that room.
It’s policy that if someone ever does leave the room, the instructor follows them out to make sure they’re OK. I really didn’t feel like talking, but between gasps for air, I explained what was going on. The instructor didn’t make me feel bad for leaving, but when I said I’d had a panic attack, he pointed out, “Well, it just won.” And he was right.
He returned to the room to continue the class, and I sat outside, concentrating on calming my breathing. So cool! So quiet! I was feeling a bit better. I figured I’d sit there until class ended, then skulk back in and get my mat and towel.
Here’s the instructor again. Holding the door open and motioning me into the room. “Get back in the game.” Without hesitation (but also without much enthusiasm), I trudged back in. I made it through the last two poses and breathing exercise somewhat shakily, but I didn’t die. Getting back in that room was the best thing I could’ve done, even if it was the last thing I wanted to do.
So now the question: Why the hell am I doing this? Well, most of you know I’ve had ongoing chronic and debilitating back pain. Many of you know about the Vicodin. But what you probably don’t know is that I’ve been at the end of my rope in more ways than one. Yes, the end of THAT rope. Chronic pain will do that to you. So will Vicodin addiction. Turns out panic attacks were the least of my problems.
This yoga is saving my life.
My pain is manageable — some days I don’t even call it “pain.” I’m stronger, mentally and physically. Before last Sunday, I’d made it through 88 classes where I breathed through the discomfort, the heat, the challenge of the poses. When I’m in a tough situation, I feel better equipped to deal with it.
The instructor advised me to “get my ass in the hottest part of the room.” That doesn’t sound very fun. But I’m not exactly in this for fun. I’m in the fight of my life, and panic may win a few rounds, but I plan on taking the championship.
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Oh, my god, are you still here? Well, don’t worry. Next post will have tons of nudity, sex, and juvenile humor, just as you’ve come to expect from I Do Things.
Please read about my second Bikram yoga class here (It’s way shorter and much funnier, I promise!)
Bikram studio came from here