So I'm lingering over the editing from Holiday Matsuri, dragging my feet tweaking the cosplay photos just so I can look at them a little longer, relishing in all the laughter and silliness and geeky community that only a con seems to provide.
And while I'm looking back for things to take forward, I'm hanging on to a few spectacular things that happened last week - or at least things spectacular to me. If you've got a minute, I thought I might write these down. You know, for posterity. AND SCIENCE.
It's been a little while since I mentioned my agoraphobia, but I'm happy to report that this time no news is good news. This season - all the trips and socializing and just constant leaving the house - has been just what the doctor ordered (literally) for my exposure therapy. The more I'm out and about and testing my panic limits, the more used to it I am, and the more I can actually enjoy it. Every day there've been hour-long stretches of the worst Orlando traffic, crowds, theater shows, meeting new people, hanging out with large-ish groups, and just generally being the opposite of my typical hermit self.
I talk a lot about being an introvert, but there is a spectrum, and even we introverts can thrive around lots of people we love - at least for a little while. I've found myself actually getting energized this month, getting to see so many friends so often, and while I desperately need a break, I can see how you extroverts like this sort of thing.
All that to say, the day after our party I was flying the highest of highs, and I did something absolutely unthinkable: I went to Universal and rode Forbidden Journey.
If you're unfamiliar with Forbidden Journey, it's a definite thrill ride. It flings you all over, nearly tipping you upside down (forward and back) and throwing dementors, spiders, and dragons in your face at every turn and stomach-churning drop.
And if you're unfamiliar with me, well, my agoraphobia stopped me from going on ALL theme park rides, no matter how benign - even the parking tram! - six or seven years ago. I've been slooowly working my way back, first conquering the kiddie Suess ride in 2014, then E.T. - my chief goal - last year, followed by the Hogwarts Express. I stopped there, though, afraid to test my panic further. In all our trips to Disney over the last few years I've never been on the Frozen ride, or Little Mermaid, and these days even the thought of Carousal of Progress puts me into a cold sweat.
So yeah, me, the girl who had a panic attack in the queue of the Atlantis show just a few months ago, went and rode Forbidden Journey.
What was it? Temporary insanity? A post-party sense of invincibility? John's utter look of glee when I said I'd try? Probably all of the above. But that night I set my shoulders, charged into the queue, and climbed into that scary clamp-down seat thingy without stopping to second-guess. (Thank goodness there was no wait!)
But that's not the best part.
The best part is I didn't panic. Not even for a second. Sure, I was nervous, and I'm sure my heart rate was sky high, but the lights didn't close in and I didn't feel that all-consuming, impending dread. I didn't go weak or start shaking or have my head take flight. I only had to do a little belly breathing, and keep my eyes closed for, well, maybe 25% of it. (It is REALLY dizzying, ha.)
Did I enjoy it?
But did I sail through with only the normal amount of adrenaline and never ONCE thinking the world was ending and/or I was about to die?
And then - then! - the very next night at Animal Kingdom with family, John and I stayed behind and rode the little boat ride in Pandora. I even waited in a queue, though mercifully for only about 10 minutes. I'll be honest - and feel free to laugh - this was harder. The boats move SO slowly that I thought the ride had broken down, and I went dizzy and light-headed at the thought of being trapped in the water. Then I did a little breathing, focused on the things around me, chatted with John, and the panic monster slipped back into her shackles.
I got through two impossible things, you guys. I even managed to enjoy it a little. And best of all, it sort of felt like No Big Deal? This thing I've lost sleep over, this thing I stress and cry and fight against, this fear that's kept me pinned down and fed up for nearly a decade - for those brief moments, that thing was just, poof! Gone.
I still can't believe it, even now. As we left John kept telling me how proud he was of me, but it didn't feel like a big accomplishment. This wasn't my first ride on E.T., where I emerged shaking and triumphant, having battled my way to the exit on the brink of total disaster. This just felt... normal. Normal. The long wound gone, my mind suddenly free in a way I'd almost forgotten existed.
And wow did that feel good.
A few days later John and I were at Holiday Matsuri, the Christmas con from my last post. At one point in the vendor room we spotted a girl ahead of us, flat on her back, taking a nap right smack in the middle of the aisle. I started to roll my eyes - TEENAGERS, am I right? - but as we got closer I saw the tears on her upturned face, her eyes scrunched shut in pain there on the floor.
I stopped. "Oh! Are you alright?"
"I'm... I'm having a panic attack."
WHOOSH. That was my brain, screaming in sympathy, desperate to take this all-too-familiar pain away.
I dropped to my knees, resisting the urge to take her hand or give her shoulder an encouraging pat. (You should never touch someone having an attack, not unless they ask.)
"It's OK, I have those, too. You're going to be fine, I promise."
She managed to sit up, but her eyes were still shut, tears streaming. She was trapped in that place, that place that shivers with no air, no light. That place I know and remember so well.
So naturally, I began asking her to solve math problems.
"Hey," I said gently, "can you tell me what 2 times 7 is?"
I could practically SEE her brain screeching to a halt, switching gears - the surprise temporarily eclipsing the panic.
"Um... it's... fourteen."
"Good. How about 2 times 9?"
I asked a few more, then her name, keeping her distracted. Next I led her through some belly breathing, counting the seconds and breathing with her to demonstrate. Luckily the room wasn't crowded, so shoppers easily stepped around us, still sitting there in the aisle.
"How does that feel?" I asked after a few minutes.
"It feels... better." She sounded surprised. "I think that helped."
Around then a friend of hers came by, and after encouraging her to walk around a little (to burn off the excess adrenaline) I got up to leave. The girl looked up and gave me a soft thanks and watery smile as I did. I hope I did help. I hope I wasn't just some crazy lady who stopped to demand math solutions in the middle of an emotional crisis. But at the very least, I know I was someone who understood what she was going through, someone who could tell her she wasn't alone, that I'd been there, that it was going to get better.
After this week, I know that for certain all over again. Maybe it'll take an hour or a year or a decade, but if you keep trying, if you get the right help from doctors and meds and loved ones and breathing techniques, if you keep pushing that panic monster towards the door, if you chip away at it even when the light goes out and all is dark and it feels like nothing will ever change, if you just keep going, keep breathing, keep watching and waiting and hoping, it will get better.
It's taken me all afternoon to write this. When I started I was sad, looking into next week and seeing only the ways I've already failed people. Now I remember that girl from the con. Now I remember John's face when I climbed into that ride car, the way he grabbed my hand and hooted with happiness. I remember all the messages and comments from each time I've blogged about my panic struggles and victories here, the way you guys tell me it helps, the times you've told me you're finally making that doctor's appointment, or now you understand your loved ones a little better, all because of the things I share here.
I know I'm flawed and selfish and forgetful and bad at showing my friends and family how much they mean to me, but I can write, dangit. I can do this. I can tell you I've been there, that it's going to be OK, that it gets better.
And now I can say I've ridden Forbidden Journey.
So maybe this week won't be so bad after all.
Happy holidays, everyone - and hang in there. Those get better, too.
Now have a happy snow cone ornament. :)