Last night was a seriously bad night. I cried at bedtime, and then felt relaxed and fine and went to sleep without problems only to wake up at 3:30 a.m. drenched in anxiety.
The first time I ever woke up afraid in the night, I was on retreat at Spirit Rock and a teacher advised me not to get in the habit of running from the fear, so I developed a protocol that I do lying in bed, and the anxiety always passes in some seconds, no longer than a minute, and there’s never been more than one episode of it per night. It happened so many times that it eventually became routine and I stopped feeling afraid of the fear—there was the fear, but there wasn’t the fear of the fear, which is by far the worst part.
Lately, however, I’ve been starting to fear the fear again, plus once or twice anxiety has arisen while I’m lying awake in bed (not asleep), which is unprecedented and unwelcome.
Last night the feeling of anxiety wasn’t extremely strong, but it lingered and lingered, which triggered fear of the fear, and I eventually got out of bed, though with grave misgivings: now will it be impossible to get through this while lying down ever again, and where will it end? If I walk into the kitchen and it doesn’t go away, then what? Will I run out into the street in a panic, ending up in the emergency room at San Francisco General Hospital on an IV drip of Ativan? Should I call the crisis hotline? Is there still such a thing?
I think the only time I ever called a crisis hotline, it was about 12 years ago and I was also freaking out about a relationship, and it was helpful. But if we hardly even have streetlights and trash pickup anymore, do we have crisis hotlines?
I went to the bathroom, I paced about, I called my mother (who has kindly said I can call her at any time of the day or night, if needed) and left a message. I left a message for my father. I left a message for my therapist, about the eighth since Friday night. I left a message for Howie, my meditation teacher, at his office. I left a message for Lisa M., who has assured me that her phone is set to inaudible when she’s asleep. I left a message for Amy B., who gets up very early and is three time zones to the east.
I turned on the computer, correctly thinking I would find an anxiety chat room. The one I found first had a welcome message saying something like, “Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, in this or that situation. This is normal. Anxiety disorder, however, is a completely different thing, a debilitating situation that makes normal life impossible,” and there was some information on PTSD, noting that it can kick in well after the traumatic events occurred, and then I got worried that I have PTSD because of the hysterectomy, cancer, job loss and loss of C. (and/or presence of C.).
I also got worried that I’ll end up with chronic anxiety, having to take pills, and chat all day every day with anxious others online, and then I decided not to get started with the anxiety chat room thing at all, and called my mother again instead. This time my father answered her phone and listened to my tale of woe, and somehow here I am on Monday morning still alive, albeit having slept for only three and a half hours.
But what about tomorrow night when I’m at Spirit Rock and wake up panicked in a dead silent dormitory full of strangers, far from my cat and my phone? Fortunately, there is always someone on call at night there in case of emergency. Unfortunately, that person is going to hate me by the end of this retreat.
And now, time to pack.