"Beware The Jabberwock"
On the second night of our trip to Algonquin Park, I awoke in a dark tent, cold and clammy with sweat, heart racing, feeling like my head was lower than my feet and I had a 500lb weight on my chest. The urge to escape was overwhelming and, gasping for air, I unzipped the door and stumbled out into our campsite. Other than the weak light from my headlamp and a couple small solar lights by the other tents, the night was black -- silent but for my laboured breathing and the sounds of small animals scurrying in the underbrush.
It is easier to keep anxiety at bay in the light of day. You can feel it creeping beside you -- lurking behind mundane thoughts about groceries, kids' homework, tasks that need to be finished before cold weather sits in -- and push it away, weave it into the narrative, turn it into part of the story so it doesn't become the story. But at night, with your brain whirring away in your sleep, anxiety eats away at your subconscious -- poisoning your dreams until it creates a monster so big and so scary you explode into awakeness, hyperalert with your mind going a million miles a second, terrified of something, anything, and unable to put your finger on precisely WHAT and therefore less able to control it and reason it away.
Anxiety is the Boogeyman.
Wide awake and restless -- being still only enhances the feeling of being pursued -- I wandered our campsite and the dark road leading to the washrooms. Having an anxiety attack in an unfamiliar place is a nauseating experience. The sensation of "fight or flight" was encompassing -- why was I panicked? Were my kids breathing? Was my house burning down? Was I having a heart attack? Was there a bear in the woods?
The only thing lurking in the dark was my anxiety.
I ran through my disaster plans in my head:
So what if our house was burning down? We are insured, and even if it was burning down there was little I could do about it hours away in a campground with no cell reception. Were my kids breathing? (Yup, thankfully they all sleep quite loudly.) Was I having a heart attack? Anxiety mimics a lot of heart attack symptoms so it's harder to cross that fear off the list, but with no family history of them and a strong personal history of anxiety it was an easy one to reclassify. Was there a bear in the woods? Probably not, but that is why we brought bear spray..
I walked and walked, and ran my plans through my mind like rosary beads between finger and thumb -- taking the time to really feel each "solution" before moving onto the next uncontrollable fear. Taking time to listen to myself breathing, willing my heart to slow down, willing my fingers and toes to stop tingling. Eventually, the combination of fresh air, activity, and mindfulness did the trick.
The battle won, for now, I crawled back into my tent and went to sleep.
"One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy."
- Jabberwocky (excerpt), Lewis Carroll