I had my first panic attack in second grade. I’d left a book in my desk that I needed for a book report. Although I’d read the book, and had almost everything that I needed to write a stellar report, I didn’t remember the author’s name. Since there wasn’t a google to help me, I flipped the eff out. I cried and cried, shaking on the couch, asking my mom to call the school over and over again. I begged her to take me back to school so that we could find someone who could open my classroom door. Luckily, there was one janitor still on duty, and he saved a 7 year old’s sanity that night.
I continued having panic attacks for years to come: On my 9th birthday when my parents split up and I was convinced that I would kill myself. In fifth grade when I finished a math evaluation first and doubted that I could really complete a test before everyone else. Going into 7th grade when I had my first big audition, high school auditions, and music juries (after every.single.one), fights with boyfriends, etc. It seemed that as I got older, the stress of life caused the attacks to become more frequent, longer lasting, and they were always coupled by a lingering, foggy depression.
By the time I left for college, I had accepted that anxiety was just a part of who I was, and coping with it in a new place would have to feel as natural for me as finding new friends; not my favorite thing to do, but definitely necessary for survival. Luckily, friends came quite easily, and the stress of college seemed inconsequential compared to the stress of 12 hour days at a performing arts high school and my home life. I found ways to release my anxiety before it bubbled over; I spent a lot of time alone journaling, reading, researching anything that interested me. My favorite thing to do was to go to the Music Building at night with my violin, find an unlocked practice room, and play and practice all of the music that had brought me so much anxiety in high school. I’m not sure if I did that to master the music or to show the music that it hadn’t mastered me. I would play and drink coke, and listen to Muse, journal, all in the stillness of the night, comforted by the tiny space of a room that kept all of my noise and anxiety contained.
By the time junior year arrived, those self care tactics had slowly dissipated. I had less time to myself, and found more comfort in being with others than with my own thoughts. My confidence was wavering as I was less sure about becoming a teacher, anxious about my life after college, and was really pressing into figuring out who I was spiritually. The panic attacks returned with a vengeance. Sometimes they would build for days, other times, I would seemingly fly out of a room to get air. I remember one night, having a panic attack in my room of the apartment that I shared with my best friend of now 18 years. (WOW). AS I slowed my breathing, opened my eyes, and uncurled myself from the fetal position of the floor, I saw that there was a note that she had slid under the door.
“To Tereva 4rm The Girl Next Door”
“…Remember the feeling of racing down Wal-Mart with a red thong flying. Think about the feeling you get when a lil grubby child calls you “Miss Crum”. Remember Fudgsicle, singing “Summertime” to your adoring fans at Lillians. Think purple tiaras. Think about butt bumping competitions. Remember the feeling of laughing so much that you start shaking. Remember your Grandma’s cooking. That’s some good stuff! I want you to remember how OVERWHELMING the love in your life is and put that before anything else.
Well, mushy letters are fun. Tonight is gonna be a good night. I love being your friend and all that comes with it! Thanks for being amazing.
<3 your cuddle bunny”
I’m quite sure that night ended with us watching Fresh Prince episodes until 2am and there might’ve been a butt bumping competition as well.
I had never really let anyone into the dark part of my world. I presented to everyone as being self assured, funny, and outgoing, but for quite a while, only Karima knew the subtle signs when anxiety and depression were brewing.
Some time later that year, while taking a trip home to Miami before graduation, I had one of the worst panic attacks of my life. I was in the car on the way to Karima’s home where she and our best friend (of now 11 years?! WOW!!) Morgan would meet to carpool back to Gainesville together. The car ride was miserable. I don’t know what happened, but by the time I arrived at Karima’s home, I was in a heated argument with the person who was driving. I was on the verge of tears and felt the anxiety rising. My breaths were getting more shallow and I just remember asking “Please stop. Please stop. Please stop.” To this day, I’m not sure if I was asking it of myself or of the conversation. When the car stopped, I flew out to get fresh air.
The thing about panic attacks is that you feel overwhelmingly stuck and the only thing that you want to do is to move away from it. The feeling of suffocation overwhelms your body. You believe with everything that you are going to black out from the lack of oxygen. It feels as if your body is against you and is plotting your murder without your consent. Which in turn makes you panic even more because you believe with everything that you will literally die.
“I’m having a panic attack” I whispered to the person. “Please. Please. Please.” I needed to feel reality in that moment. That I was alive. That I wasn’t going to die. That I wasn’t alone. That it was a stupid argument in the scope of things. That I wasn’t going to be homeless on the streets after graduation. I sat on the hot concrete in the parking lot. And I heard the car door slam. And I heard the car’s engine rev and leave.
I was alone.
In a parking lot.
Sitting on the concrete, truly believing that I was going to die.
I can’t explain the significance of that moment in my life. It was heartbreaking and life altering. I was literally abandoned during one of the most vulnerable, scariest times of my life by someone I should have been able to trust to protect me.
And that caused more anxiety.
I don’t know how long I was there in that parking lot. It seemed like hours in panic time. But I remember going back to the letter that Karima had slid under my door months before. I remembered that she and Morgan were just a few steps away in the apartment. I remembered the nights that we spent talking, sacrificing sleep and participation points to listen and pray with each other. I remembered how although she hates hugs, she always gave them to me freely.
And that helped me to breathe.
When I told Karima and Morgan what happened, after many failed attempts at talking, I remember the silence that hung in the air. It was heavy and marked by grief. When I finally got the nerve to look up, it was as if the pain that I felt was reflecting in their eyes. I was ashamed (illogically) to invite another friend into this world of anxiety that I struggled with, and humiliated by being so worthless to someone else that I was left in a parking lot. And then, the words came that smoothed my heart. “That. Is FUCKED UP.” Morgan has always been pretty frank.
We sat in silence for a while. Everyone kind of sitting in pain, not knowing where to go next. And then we all embraced. It started out kinda silly as a way to end the never familiar silence that always follows pain, but ended in tears, and one more emotional tie that leaves me forever willingly bonded to these two sisters.
When I saw my daughter in my womb for the first time, I was shocked. Although I desperately wanted a daughter, I was convinced that this second little chicken nugget would be a boy. Or maybe I secretly hoped that she would be a boy so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the anxiety of being a daughter’s mother. While mothering, nurturing and protecting seem to come quite naturally for me, the anxiety of doing right by my daughter kind of hovers over me. I’ve thought a lot about what I want my love for her to be marked by, and I keep coming back to Morgan and Karima.
Although they are my friends, my sisters, they have in many ways been mothers to me. They have laughed with me in times of joyful abundance, cried with me when my heart has been bruised. They have stayed with me when I have been hormonal and irrational, and they have knelt down with me when I have been weak and broken. They rally around me in protection when something is fucked up, and tell me the hard truths even when I want to be coddled.
That is the kind of mother that I want to be to my daughter.
Fierce and strong.
Compassionate and Constant.
Present and Gracious.
Constantly flexing between mother and sister.
Guide and Partner.
And that excites me. When I think of the examples of love that I have, the anxiety vanishes and I am genuinely giddy with the anticipation of adventures, learning how she loves to be loved, baring my teeth at anything that threatens her safety, confidence, or dignity, and teaching her as early as I can to always remember the overwhelming love in her life, and to put that before everything else.
I will be a good mom to this daughter of mine.
Whoever she is, whatever she becomes, whatever she has to battle, I will overwhelm her with love.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear…” 1 John 4:18