Tick… My eyes dart from the clock on the wall, to the door, down to my desk and back to the clock. Tick… My heart pounds faster and faster against my chest; I can feel it in my throat and my head. It restricts my breath. Tick… I glance back up to the clock, then the door. Tick… My right foot furiously fidgets up and down; my hands are dampening and sweat starts to form at my temples. Tick… I breathe in deeply to try and calm myself; I glance once more at the clock then the door. Tick… I grab my backpack and move quickly for the door, towards freedom.
I have only been sitting in class for five minutes, but I just can’t take it. I can’t take the panicked feeling of being trapped and the accompanying weight of the anxiety. I have to remove myself from the desk against the back corner of the classroom, the classroom that doesn’t have any windows and has only one door, the classroom that is full of young adults, the classroom that I just cannot be in.
I have to flee.
As I make my way to my truck, my pounding heart beats slower and slower and my nerves settle with every step I take away from the classroom. I sit in the driver’s seat of my truck with the engine off and grip the steering wheel until my knuckles turn white, all the while searching through my head what had just taken place back in that classroom and wondering how I will deal with all this when I’m back in that classroom. The slowing of the second hand on the clock, the racing of my heart, the damp hands and sweaty brow, the panic will all happen again, three more times to be exact, before I fully remove myself from the situation. This leads to drinking and hiding myself in my apartment with the windows closed during the day, waiting for night to come and the dimness of light it brings with it. Then I will turn to the bottle to suppress the fleeting feeling of wanting to run from the panic of every social situation.
For over a year I suffered greatly from this problem, not knowing why. Why me? I had survived Iraq. I survived combat. I was shot at and put in a position of life and death and came out alive and stronger in the end. I volunteered to serve in the Marine Corps and I chose to fight in the Infantry. It had been two years since I was honorably discharged from the Corps, and I had been going to college during the day and bartending nights without incident. I felt strong and I felt like a normal person and college student. But now I can’t bear to sit in class, go to the grocery store, go out to bars with friends, ride in cars or be around people without this intense grip of anxiety suffocating me. Why is this happening to me and why now?
I never did figure out exactly what was happening to me and why, or why it was happening to me then. But I was able to mostly conquer my anxiety through talking about it with the brothers I served with and other combat veterans. I was definitely not the only one struggling. Talking about it and listening to other stories of the same struggle helped me to understand it a bit more than I did before.
Furthermore, talking about all this helped me to deal with it and stopped me from trying to treat it with alcohol. I consider that period the worst part of my life; I’d much rather get shot at and blown up or deal with any kind of physical pain than struggle with the psychological and emotional pain of feeling weak and panicked.
It is a feeling I’ll never forget, and though I am much better today, it’s still a feeling I live with.