Imaginary Monsters - A Personal Essay
It’s similar to the fear you felt when the murderer crept across the movie screen, compelling you to check behind your shower curtain every time you enter the bathroom. It’s similar to the monster in the video game that haunts your mind with visions of terror, urging you to leave a lamp on during the night as you search for precious sleep.
Throughout my teenage years, I was oppressed – not by a person or organization or anything tangible that I could escape. Do not take this as to say my childhood was not spent with a carefree spirit, nor my teenage years lived without laughter. Both were filled with episodes of happiness. But sometimes, happiness seemed far away. I recall the first time this happened.
I was alone, sitting on my bed during the evening. A dark cloud settled over my mind. My heart pounded within my tightened chest. My breath quickened. I reached out my hand to grab anything within reach to clench it tight while I pressed my other hand against my chest in a desperate attempt to keep it still. My fingers found a blanket nearby. I ripped it off of whatever it was wrapped around and pulled it close to my abdomen. I panicked as I tried to slow my breath. But, my body had taken control and it would not relinquish it. My shoulders and arms buzzed as my veins flooded with an overabundance of oxygen. I yanked the blanket up to my mouth to cover it. The fuzzy micro spun fabric blocked most of the air, drastically reducing the oxygen entering my bloodstream. The buzz in my extremities gradually reduced as my breathing slowed and my chest stilled. My mind remained cloudy. I dropped the blanket and let my body fall to the side, overtaken with exhaustion. Only when I drifted off to sleep did I find peace.
When I woke, I recalled the event. I asked myself what had happened and why. I searched for answers. I perused my limited knowledge of medical conditions. “Could I have some sort of sickness?” I asked myself. “No, no, that’s not it.” I dismissed the notion and consoled myself with the thought that it was only a one-time occurrence. It was only after the fifth time that I pursued help.
In today’s technology and information-soaked world, my first reaction was to seek help through facts. I sifted through various articles online. They told me that I had experienced a panic attack.
“Panic attack?” I thought. “I panicked?” I resented the suggestion that I could be so mentally and emotionally weak. But, something inclined me to continue reading. One article noted that my body reacted the way it did because it sensed that I was in danger, activating its “fight-or-flight” response.
“In danger? In danger of what?” I recounted the events preceding the panic attacks. All of them included stress-inducing thoughts. Most notably was the thought of a career and finding a job after high school. One of my brothers was in the process of applying to colleges. I saw the stress in his face as he considered his skills, his likes and dislikes, and his options as a result. But, he never seemed to panic. He embarked on his quest for a career one step at a time. I began think that something was wrong with me, thus inducing another panic attack.
As the years progressed, I became wearied at how frequent the panic attacks were becoming. By the time my high school years were coming to an end, I now couldn’t control where my panic attacks would occur. They would happen at work, forcing me to seek refuge in the bathroom as I fruitlessly tried to calm myself. They would happen at school. They would happen in the car. I could not control them. But what scared me the most is that I didn’t know what caused my body to panic.
What frightened it so much that it forced me to hide away? I could point to certain things like college-preparation or studying for a test that produced vast amounts of stress. But, others were going through the exact same things. They weren’t panicking. Their bodies weren’t shutting down. What made these thoughts more lethal to my mind than theirs?
It wasn’t until years later while I was in the middle of my college years that it hit me like an ocean wave violently crashing down on my head: it wasn’t the thoughts or events that were causing my body to panic. It was my perception of them.
I had given those thoughts power by elevating their importance or placing my self-worth on their outcomes. Like a mad scientist feeding his diabolical creation, I fed my fears to make them become bigger. I gave them power. In return, they made me powerless. They sapped my strength. They reduced me to a cowering, trembling child.
At that moment, I had a solution: don’t give them power. But, then who do I give it to? We must give power to something. Giving it to other imperfect human beings will only produce the same results. Giving it to me might do the same, as I am no more capable of being perfect, trustworthy, or unwavering as anyone else. Who deserves this control?
Only one who is perfect. Only one who is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and steadfast. Who on earth perfectly possesses these qualities?
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis