Face the Fear


I took this picture in October. Three days later every leaf had fallen. Kind of a metaphor.

The past month has seen a renewal of the Panic Attack. They have hit my family hard so I am having what I take to be sympathy panic attacks. I had them years ago for no special reason. I would wake each morning in full blown panic. It was a distressing way to start every day. Medications took them away, I thought for good. Now they are back this time with kind of a reason or maybe I am just more aware of the part fear plays in my life. I am learning it is a pretty big part.

I already know the thing about disliking stuff on my hands. What I fear about that I don’t know but I know it is an irrational fear of something. Facing a blank page can fall in that category but that happens less often as I usually know what I want to do with the page now. But there are moments in making art that I learned are also fear taking the reins. Art is a “go big or go home” pastime. You are not pushing yourself artistically if you don’t feel a little anxious about the next step ruining your work. You learn to identify it as a fear and then do the next step anyway. If you made it once you can make it again. Learning to push through it takes time, successes overtaking the failures, recognizing fear for what it is.

Panic attacks are not like that, they have an out of the blue feeling that I can’t get enough air and my thoughts are awful-izing on a variety of topics. Or the specific topic that is contributing to the return of the problem. Ruminating on what is happening to someone else, over which I have no control but I want to “fix” anyway, is the biggest contributor. I am afraid for them, I am powerless to do anything to change it so I have a sympathy panic attack. Now dig into the toolbox for all the steps I tell others to take: deep breathing with a lot of focus on the quality of depth is actually helpful because you cannot think of two things at once. As I work on breathing in my belly, not up in my shoulders and chest, I do begin to settle down a bit. Do something to distract my mind. This is harder these days because my mind scatters very well. Watch the scattering. See how it doesn’t want more than a few minutes of anything, except the thing I am obsessing on which can bring me back to the panic.

The dog chasing its own tail. If all else fails I can and will take a pill, actually 1/4 of a pill, and that tiny amount of medication slays the giant. This is why I fill my days with art making because it too slays the giant or, even better, keeps the giant away to begin with. Fear has a survival value, it has a purpose. But it lacks discrimination. It will freak you out appropriately when you need to run for your life from a bear, or less appropriately but just as┬ámuch, when all you are doing is adding splatters of paint for the first time in a color you aren’t quite keen on. It doesn’t know you don’t need all that adrenaline to stop you from splattering paint and you splatter the paint anyway.

You love it or hate it and get on with breathing normally again. Until the next time. Practice does not make perfect but it does make better. Art saves me, sometimes daily, and the art gets better, too.