The night hours linger like long blinks. The quietness of the house yells at me as the ticking of an unbalanced fan makes a melodic beat in the dark room. One of my cats stirs at the end of the bed as it nestles into the spooned crevice my wife has made as she slumbers away. My eyes are heavy and my body aches from the lack of sleep as the early morning hour passes across the 3am mark.
My left shoulder is sore, hurting from too many years of use, abuse and just plain old age. They say it’s an impingement from a bone spur, but the MRI doesn’t show anything wrong. My shoulder muscles are in tight little knots, and those knots send spikes of pain down my left arm and across my chest. Or maybe it’s something else.
My mind grips to the minor burning, the flashes of muscular pain that my body feels, and my eyes open as I wrestle with the thoughts of this being something more than just a muscle pain.
“What if I’m having a heart attack?” that voice echoes inside my head.
My tests have all come back negative. Stress test was good, EKG’s show nothing abnormal, doc is almost certain that this is all just stress. Even the symptoms don’t agree with my prognosis, however match up perfectly with an anxiety or panic attack.
None of this matters. My mind has grabbed onto its own version of the truth. “I’m dying.”
I have to force myself to take slow deep breaths. I put a pillow between me and my wife, getting as far away from her as possible. I don’t want to die in the middle of the night and have her wake up to my cold lifeless body draped over her. My heart begins to race a bit faster now. The breathing isn’t really helping and only helps to accentuate the quietness of the house.
Thoughts being to fill my mind. Walking my daughter down the aisle or dancing with her on that day. Not getting a chance to meet my grandkids and be the world’s most awesome grandfather. How this will affect my wife, who has already lost both her parents and numerous other people close to us in the last 10 years. Her having to find me, like my mom did with her husband… it just doesn’t seem right. Not for her.
The darkness in the room is enveloping. I rub my shoulder, trying to loosen one of the knots. I place my hand on my chest where the pain is just to prove to myself my heart is nowhere near that spot. I massage my chest muscles. I keep breathing and begin a quiet prayer.
It’s as if every thought I have has coalesced into this one moment. A second seems to last hours. The pain is magnified by my thoughts, I try to relax but the grip is too tight.
I stand up and walk to the bathroom. I don’t have to go, I just need to do something. Frustration is starting to rise as I pace back to the bed, laying under the covers, moving my feet back and forth because it’s the only thing I can do.
I put my fingers to my pulse, hear my heartbeat in my ears, feel it pulse in my eyes. “Is this my last night?” The thought screams in my head.
I roll over on my side, away from my wife, and grip a pillow tightly. I close my eyes, thinking “If this is it, I’d prefer to go in my sleep.” I try to sleep but my heartbeat is so loud in the silence.
Sometime later I must have fallen asleep, because I woke up in the morning. Tired, but alive. Well, breathing.
* * *
This is a brief glimpse into one of my nights when my anxiety takes hold. It happens about once a week. It use to happen more, but in the last two weeks, I can only think of once that I have had a night like this. I have never really struggled with anxiety until this last year or two, and I never understood how my brother and uncle, who both suffer from severe anxiety attacks, could be owned by such ‘silly’ things. I understand now, all too well.