I stayed in last night. Didn’t want to be in public. Turns out it was for the best, because Avicii headlined at the Hollywood Bowl. It was madness down there. Aside from the usual traffic related fuckery, the streets of Hollywood were choked with insufferable euro-trash freaks. Much more so that usual. (Your honor, in my defense, the German tourist I ran over with my car was wearing tripp pants and a neon mesh shirt.)
Ugh. The worst part was that Avicii closed his show with fireworks. (I guess eardrum-shattering pyrotechnics are necessary if you want to distract a bunch of idiots from the fact that they paid eighty bucks to watch a teenager with no musical talent hit play on his iPod for an hour and a half.) I wasn’t there, but fuck, I didn’t need to be. Anyone within a two mile radius of the Bowl was treated to a series of sudden and unexpected explosions in the sky.
Normally that kind of thing is no big deal. I love fireworks, but last night I wasn’t prepared. When they went off, the reptilian part of my brain instantly processed the percussive staccato as gunfire. Fucking hell. A fraction of a second later, my conscious mind realized what the sound really was, but it was too late. That’s the nature of a trigger. It’s not rational, and it’s not something you can control.
For those of you who are familiar with PTSD related panic attacks, you’ll know what I mean when I say I already knew that I was fucked. There’s a certain walking dead phase before the physical symptoms of a panic attack set in where a tiny part of your conscious mind is fully aware that you’ve been betrayed by your own subconscious.
You know what’s coming, but there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. You try to breathe your way through it. You try to outmaneuver your sympathetic nervous system with calm thoughts. You try and pretend that you’ll be fine, but that’s not the way it works.
I can’t remember if this is something I’ve written about before. I doubt it, but it’s one of those things I carry with me. It’s not quite emotional baggage. It’s more physiological baggage from a violent event in my past that involved three men with guns to my head.
I don’t care to talk about it more than that except to say that guns and gunfire are a trigger for me. Not all the time. I’m not a skittish little bunny rabbit, but it’s something that I know might happen. Part of the reason I own a gun and regularly go shooting is because the activity has legitimate therapeutic value for me. I’m not afraid of guns, but a panic attack isn’t about that kind of timid, nervous fear most people associate with being afraid.
A panic attack is fear. It’s a savage orgasm of distilled terror that is almost indescribable to someone who’s never experienced it. The physical symptoms are horrifyingly real. My arms and legs turn into cold, shaking rubber. All the warm important stuff inside the center of my chest constricts, and with every shallow gulping breath, it dares my heart to stop beating. Every fiber in my being screams for me to call 911 and tell them I’m dying, but I’ve learned that if you do that, they’ll actually show up.
Last night’s was relatively mild compared to some. I was able to whack myself in the head with a double dose of xanax before the worst of it could render me a sobbing pile of shit. Goddamn, that stuff is a miracle drug. Actually, I think it’s still in my system, because I woke up this morning feeling absolutely peachy.
That’s probably the strangest part of a panic attack. It ends. Quite suddenly, as if nothing ever happened. Afterwards you’re left to sit in a puddle of your own sweat during a benzodiazapine-induced refractory period where you feel perfectly fucking fine. Never mind that mere moments before your heart was pumping hot black oil and your brain was on fire.
I used to think the sharp contrast between the panic and the calm was somehow profound, but these days I just let myself fall asleep. Fuck having deep thoughts after that kind of petrifying bullshit.