I dance with panic and fear. Not necessarily because I like it, but it’s better than any alternatives I’ve found. At first I didn’t want to dance. I was in denial. I tried to organize it away. Drugs helped. I was, in my mind, a perfectly normal person. Happy, positive, busy. I got along well with life. I didn’t push too hard at life, and life didn’t poke too hard at me. But, panic and fear and anxiety came rushing into my life. Without ever asking permission, or inquiring if I knew how to handle them, they were there.

I began to notice dangers. For instance, what if a person (a person like ME) forgets how to swallow? What then? Or, breathing, how about forgetting to breathe? What would happen? I began to choke on most foods, and couldn’t quite catch my breath. My heart raced alot and I thought maybe this was a heart attack. I remember driving down the street and seeing this big Public Service Billboard listing the five warning signs of Heart Attack – I had them all! I pulled the car over and dialed my HMO. The nurse, using a very condescending tone, told me that if I was having a heart attack I wouldn’t be talking to her on the phone and that I was probably fine. I hoped that when they found me dead they could trace the call to her and make her feel terribly guilty. Over the next year I had three MRIs (to find the brain tumors), two Stress Tests (one after wearing a portable heart monitor for 48 hours), numerous x-rays and too many doctor visits to count.

My family physician is a saint, he is NOT condescending and he has been wonderful in explaining the ins and outs of Panic Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. He has educated me about stress. He is willing to talk meds and refer me to psychiatrists. He orders tests when I am convinced of imminent death. He still takes my calls. After 18 years he STILL takes my calls, and schedules appointments with me – this man is a saint!!

But my *dance* with panic and fear started about five years in to the disease. I just couldn’t get my mind around the possiblity that I may survive these symptoms. I thought I was really petrified of death. And that it was just around the corner. With three small children, and having just turned 30, I was pretty sure that my Panic and Anxiety arose out of a fear that an untimely death would leave my loved ones alone. I began a Jungian analysis and in doing that I started writing down my dreams. I studied Jung’s approach to healing and imagery. It started to occur to me that perhaps I wasn’t so afraid to die. What I was afraid of was life.

And so began the dance – with panic, with anxiety and with life. I began to risk things like making art, studying mythology, and creative writing. The generalized fears and anxieties, the dangers encroaching on my life made their way into collages, journal and stories. I tore paper and glued it to large canvases, splashed paint around and added the flotsam and jetsam of my life. The creations were huge, colorful and full of movement. I took classes at the University and read books, plays and myths from ancient Greece.

I also took Buspar for a few years, then during one terrible time I suffered from depression and Effexor was a life-saver. I have had an “as needed” script for Xanax that lasts for years, but I always have it filled. I don’t mess around with these symptoms, they’re scary and they can kick my butt.

But I dance with them. There is a rhythm and a beat that I can relate to. Many times I can embrace the symptoms and out of them I can create some dynamic response to life and love and fear and risk and pain. And that is the dance. It is a spiritual dance for me now. I know that I’m alive, that I’m human, that I’m scared a lot of the time, but I’m not alone. I’m dancing.

In comes the feeling, the symptom, the pain and the conviction that I’m about to die. And on the best days we swoop together through my studio, throwing paint, gluing glass, paper, beads, sticks and stones to canvases that express this mood. In that frantic effort to catch my breath or slow my heart I smoosh clay into fantastic shapes and fill it with items that poke, prod, stick and pierce the softness. I write stories about death, grief and terrible loss. I write about healing and crying and unlikely groups of people coming together to solve a problem or withstand a devestation.

I dream, I flow, I get scared. I take care of myself – I eat as well as I can, I exercise, I limit my exposure to triggers. I dance with this disease. And in the process of this dance I am living. With abandon. This is my story, and I’m sticking to it!