Sensory & Escape

I had assumed it would be Sunday, maybe even Monday. Thinking that there was a chance that we would not have school on Monday, I was mentally prepared for the unraveling to take place on either day.

I had not banked on an idle Tuesday at 4:57 PM CST sitting in my car, in the parking lot outside of my school, in the unusually cold March air for everything to begin to crumble.

I hate the timing.


Initially I knew something was up around 1:48 PM. I was being rather animated next to a coworker inside the hallway on my way back from a quick meeting. That is my tell, I’ve noted that irregular behavior around people that I try to keep solely to myself in private is a sign that the structure is begin to come apart.

I made a mental note, but…I was still at work, you just have to cover those things up and make sure that you keep the surface under control.

Yes, there was a quick thought of canceling practice after school, knowing the risk that I ran of prolonging my exposure to the walls within the building. However, there was one tournament left in the season, we had a lot of snow days, my high school students were coming up to help, so I couldn’t let anyone down. It was just going to be another two hours. I just had to keep it together, for two more hours.

During practice I purposely floated between debate rounds and individual events. Acting a little bit with the dramatic interpretations, letting loose a little control in order to balance myself out. You see, mentally I see myself as a steam engine. Pressure has to be released in order to keep the engine (see: brain) from exploding. Meaning, if there are specific things that assist in that pressure relief, such as theatrics, it’s a ‘quick-stop’ to keep the situation under control. It is not a remedy of course, but a release valve never-the-less. At 4:30 PM CST we were watching poetry pieces, finding new ideas for students in their events. I thought about how much I wish I would have had the ideas I had now, back when I was a student. Perhaps I would have been a little better in the theatrical world.

Students dismissed at 4:45 PM CST. At 4:46 PM CST I was finishing up a poetry piece, and my high school assistant and myself walked to our respective vehicles and left the building.

The air sliced at my skin. The chill, a razor, trying to peel back the layers I had placed on myself through time. Almost as if nature itself was attempting to get me to realize the point that I was at.

I sent an emergency message to Sabrina.

I’m having sensory problems.

See, I had just bought new sunglasses (I broke my pair on Friday during a fit of fatigue and not focusing on the things that I should have had under control), but they were not tinted enough. The crisp sunlight just penetrated the air. The noise of the music, the gas combustion engine, the noise of the transmission shifting, the tires crunching on week old ice, the feel of the cold on my skin, the overwhelming texture of my gloves, everything was throwing me into a spiral.

I still had to get to Walgreens.

My medication was waiting for me.

You know, that medication. The blood pressure medication. The stuff that reminds me of my limited duration of time on this planet, almost ticking with each pill that is popped any given morning. Naturally dramatic, but realistically accepting at the same time.

I sat in the drive-thru while a lady next to me in her blue, Honda Civic, counted out her change while trying to process her new insurance cards. One of the benefits and curses of sensory issues? You pick up on everything. The individual in the building was on the phone with her. Macklemore was playing in my car. The air was coming through the window. The sun was radiating. Traffic moving. People talking. Noise. Light. Noise. Light. Noise. Noise. Noise. Noise. Noise.

…noise…

My breathing was shallow and rapid.

Here it was.

I was a day off.

How could I be so foolish?

Where’s Sabrina?

I need to get home.

After the Honda Civic had left, I was informed that I had no co-pay today, and I left with my new orange bottle of reminders, to the congested road that awaited me.

Four stoplights, two of them green at the moment, awaiting me prior to the freeway. Upon the divided, four lane feature I tried to catch my breath. There was a slow car in my lane. They needed to speed up. They needed to accelerate. They needed to move.

THEY NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THE WAY BECAUSE I NEEDED TO GET HOME BECAUSE NO ONE ON THIS PLANET SHOULD SEE ME LIKE THIS.!

Gripping the wheel tightly, trying to ignore my breathing, I made my way the 23 minutes, 27 miles to my house from the building in which this entire adventure had started.

The garage door opened on the second try. My wife was at work. I was grateful, I hate it when she sees me like this.

Sabrina was on the line with me. Talking out the problems, and attempting to distract me and help me focus on what I was doing in the house. I was cooking, at least warming food up to eat, I had missed my meals today. Life is busy, work is moving, and sleep is limited. Something always gets cut, and eating during the day tends to be it. Though, I did have four snacks throughout the afternoon and 20 ounces of water. That is an improvement.

Sabrina was right with her guess. I was warming up chicken and rice. Blending that with some salsa verde, and placing it on a tortilla shell.

I got the chicken into the bowl to warm up. I was shaking. My breathing was a delayed rasp. I had to take my shirt off because it weighed fifty pounds today. I leaned over the stove (not on mind you), placed my hands on the ventilation hood, and proceeded to have a delayed moment of gasping and sobbing, with a brief moment of yelling interlaced. Shaking, I was trying to get things back to normal. It is so hard to try to explain the idea of wanting to scream, clinch, cry, and breathe all at the same time. All of which you have no control over because you cannot explain what starts any of the processes.

After a few moments of being light-headed from the hyperventilation, the food was warmed, the couch was inviting, and I just sat down. Stared at the empty fireplace, stroked the back of one of our cats, and sent a text to Sabrina. Apologizing of course, because I was embarrassed, she was in class, and I wasn’t making note of her newly found, extremely uncomfortable kidney stone. I ate four chicken and rice burritos before putting the dirty dishes away. I enjoyed one small bar of dark chocolate and coconut candy, and drank approximately twelve ounces of milk.

Calmer now compared to before, Sabrina and I began to decompress the events that had started days prior that had led to this moment.

In shame I simply typed, “Work is killing me”. Feeling guilty with the release of the send button. I sent another message to my wife, knowing that she was at work for the night, explaining what had taken place. We have learned that it is always wise to be transparent if something like this happens because my wife will make mental adjustments in approach for about eight hours following the event. She of course asked what happened, as is our protocol, and after my brief explanation she went back to work.

This is the communication that is essential. I know she didn’t type, “I’m sorry” to me, but her inquisitive nature of the event is enough to remind me of where her love lies.

Time stops, starts, and flies all within the same second. At 7:13 PM CST I was laying on the couch. I know what happens next. You see; there is a pattern to this mischief. There is a rapid escalation, the critical mass moment, the deescalation that usually involves physical isolation and an abundance of apologies to Sabrina (all unwarranted), and the final stage is absolute exhaustion. At 7:17 PM CST I fell asleep.

I had to reset.

At 8:15 PM CST I awoke on the couch, covered with covers and cats. Quite a comfortable way to wander back into reality. I checked in with Sabrina, started my strength training routine, and by 9:30 PM CST I was on the couch, sitting, typing, and drinking a glass of ginger ale. Metaphorically ginger ale is the same as it is literally; a cleanser. Each night I drink a glass, a way of wiping the slate, and going to bed clean and ready for the next day.


The above selection all took place in a span of nine hours ago. These things tend to happen when I have placed myself under extreme stress. I chose to type this as a form of therapy, openness, and a glimpse of something that I live with every day. Most of the time I can tell when something is creeping up. Usually, days in advance. That’s what happens when you’re an absolute control freak with very few variables to fluctuate throughout your day. I keep it away from work, though unfortunately there is a direct connect with work and these moments.

I’m still extremely embarrassed, that is why I’m so desperate to get home when I can feel it coming along. Sabrina and I discuss being “broken” or never being “cured” (all words I use) because it bothers me. This is nothing new in my life, it’s just a better understanding of myself. It is referred to as “it”, “episodes”, “moments”, and “events”. I still have a hard time just typing the simple noun:

panic attacks.

-Shawn

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