Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I don't panic often... at least, not that out and out/total chaos/head spinning/chest collapsing panic that threatens to overtake all rational functioning and leave you a pointless limbotic mess in the midst of what feels like a major crisis.

Typically, I am good in a crisis. There is a concept used in counseling that focuses on a client's inherent and instinctive response to crisis and that emotional sense of overt panic. It connects back, I believe, to the limbic brain (my husband's second favorite topic - second only to the presidential election cycle)... this hardwired, primal, genetically encoded response we have to events in our lives that simply shake us to the core past the point of rationality.

Basically, the three possible responses are fight, flight, or freeze. I tend to be a fighter. I get highly analytical, methodical, and focused and try to move forward as efficiently and effectively as possible.

It is theorized you have no control over which of these responses you will use when experiencing a crisis. Apparently, it's just a part of who you are, much like your eye color and ability to roll your tongue. Coded in and hidden away to emerge on its own like an autonomic reflex designed to help you handle what feels blinding and overwhelming and all-embracing.

I have only panicked in a way that left me feeling truly unhiged twice. The first time was at LaGuardia as I was headed to London to study theatre for a semester and could not find my passport. I stood in the parking lot, saying "no no no no no no" over and over and beginning to succumb to a full-on panic attack. Luckily, my mother was there and stayed calm... talking me through it and methodically searching the trunk, my luggage, etc. until we found it and were able to head in to make my flight. (This was not an example of "fight" - it was more "freeze" than anything else. The only time so far I've done that.)

Today was the second major panic I've experienced... and oddly enough, it was because I was late for a class I'm teaching. I simply got it stuck in my head that we started at 11am instead of 10am and was happily heading home after taking my daughter to the mall when it hit me I had about 2 minutes to get home, drop off the baby, grab my books, pack my lunch, switch cars, and head to campus. Not possible.

I also realized in that moment I had left both my cell phone and my wallet at home. So there I was, panicking, worrying I was about to be failed in my class for a very stupid, simple, but careless mistake... and trying not to speed or drive unsafely because my daughter was in the car and I had no license on me. Dumb upon dumb.

I was able to stay calm, not go too fast, and get us home safely so that I could run inside, holler to my husband, and head back out with him in the driver seat as I frantically called everyone I could think of who might be able to cover for me until I arrived.

I made it to class only 5 minutes late and everything was fine. But it made me think about faith, and crisis, and our inherent responses and beliefs, which ultimatley affect our experiences within and reactions to the many variables we encounter in our daily lives.

Do you believe everything will be okay? That everything has a purpose? That there is someone looking out for you? That everything happens for a reason?

Do you believe you are unsafe? That nothing goes right for you? That you are doomed to fail again and again? That no one is going to help... you are alone and stuck and sure to get rained on no matter how hard you try to stay out from under that little rain cloud?

Because, here's what I'm thinking. We may not be able to change that hardwired response, the one that kicks in automatically, right away, and becomes the beginning to the rest of our story. But we can change how we think... how we process and prepare... what we innately feel to be true with regard to our own capabilities, the altruism of those around us, and the way in which we are connected to this vast, complex, and intricate journey we call life.

Faith is a choice. Faith is a conscious effort to tell ourselves it will all be okay even when our cells are screaming and our solar plexus feels like a supernova. Faith is the blessing of reason with a nod toward the sacred as we seek to expand our view in understanding the limitations and infinite potential of ourselves and everyone around us.

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