I often wake up in a panic. My heart races. I think am going to collapse. I imagine I have all sorts of life threatening internal bleedings.
This almost always happens in the early morning hours. Like at 2 am or at 5 am. So even if I tried to call someone to talk me out of it nobody responds. It’s also a very unpleasant, shameful feeling to have to call someone out of their sleep because you are basically… delusional.
What works for me is to focus on something innocent from my childhood. My childhood was not innocent. My father – whom I love dearly – would come home from work and describe in vivid detail how he wanted to gun down all his colleagues. Or how he imagined his dumb superiors being beheaded by a guillotine. He said the mind numbing machine he operated made that sort of sound. We also watched a lot of sad, negative stuff. Documentaries about war. Violence. Poverty. Famines. I enjoyed most of it.
During the day I am stil drawn to documentaries, books and movies dealing with what I would label ’emergency states’. It makes me feel closer to my father, because that’s what we did together. It reminds me of my childhood. I grew up feeling the entire world had been in flames. And now there was some sort of unusual lull in the struggle. On a personal level I felt like me and my family were being besieged by a world that would never give us a real chance. This is a generalisation, because there were times I was optimistic as well.
Maybe it’s more accurate to say I lived in an environment that was entirely bi-polar. There were days so eerily quiet that one could think we were the last people left on earth and then there were days our house turned into some sort of rock and roll music club. With people cracking jokes. Drinking. Dancing. Cooking food together. Discussing historical topics. But those discussions were weird. The adults I met were working class. When they talked about the Vietnam war they talked about it with such relish that I can only conclude they enjoyed the underdog beating the top dog so much because they were underdogs and wanted to defeat their enemies. Their bosses, their landlords, the people who denied them things because they lacked the right connections or the right degree, or talked differently than the elite accepts. Etc.
But there was innocence as well. My father and I collected comic books. I have kept all of them. There are thousands of them up in the attic back in my house in Belgium. It’s my great honor that I can pass this collection on to my son.
Well, when I am panicking and imagining all sorts of catastrophes happening to my body or mind. At times it gets so bad that I start considering walking over to a bridge over the Danube and to jump to my death just to stop this assault. When the fear overtakes me telling me that my mind has finally been crippled too much to ever recover I need…. innocence.
So trembling, my heart racing, sweating, I start reading Asterix. I nervously pace through the apartment and just read Asterix. On paper. I want to have a paper copy in my hands.
To read one of those comic books takes about half an hour. When am near the end I am usually calm again. I can work. Going back to bed is usually not a good idea. It’s like my demons find their strength in my sleep. So if I go back to bed at this point I risk that they will regroup and that the whole cycle starts again.
I don’t know if this works for everyone, but I am tempted to say:
If you are experiencing a panic attack go and immerse yourself into something innocent you really enjoy.
For me that’s Asterix or the Smurfs.
This tactic only works for me when it’s in book form. Watching an Asterix movie wouldn’t do the trick.
While am pacing and reading I make myself a cup of tea. Usually Saint John’s wort. It could be a placebo, but it helps.
The world of Asterix is so endearing, so funny in a very innocent way, and basically so beautiful that it soothes me.
I tend to read it in French or German or Czech. Not in my native language. The little bit of extra effort I have to make to read the story is just enough to silence my trepidation.
At a moment like that comic books like Asterix are simply a godsend.
I have always refused to take antidepressants or anxiety meds. They have too many downsides, don’t give you insight, make you dependent, are costly, have side effects, make me thristy and mellow and unmotivated.
I never regret spending money to complete my collection of Asterix in six different languages, because they are my beacon when I feel completely lost.
Last night it happened at 1.23 am. I did not read Asterix. I read chapters from a German book out loud for 90 minutes while walking back and forth through the apartment. Then I fell asleep again, but it all started again at 6 am. So I went for a walk outside and corrected tbis blog post as I was wandering around the neighbourhood. Thinking of happier times.
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