****I wrote this post last Thursday evening and have just now done a bit of polishing. Forgive the delay. There has been a significant increase in positive outlook and endorphins since then.****
At 2:45am this morning, I woke up in the grip of an anxiety attack. Having managed to doze off relatively early, the major part of my battle with sleep was won, but I couldn’t foresee the pending sneak attack. Didn’t have time to steel my defenses. In a cold-sweat, with shaking limbs and a pounding heart, I bolted-to, out of breath and scared witless. For about three minutes (an eternity in Panic Attackland), I struggled for air and against the dizzying vertigo creeping into my vision against an already dark room. Managing to make it into the bathroom, I laid my cheek against the cold porcelain toilet seat cover and started to talk myself back into reality. When my muscles stopped twitching and my heart worked its way back down into my chest cavity from my thorax, my thought process reset itself and went back to its last stream in the depths of REM:
“One more time! Run it forward with a clap, JACK IT BACK!!!”
Since September, I’ve been on a physical fitness odyssey, working my patoot off (quite literally) to get certified as a Les Mills Body Attack instructor. In a little hidden pocket of my heart, I’ve always wanted to teach group fitness, but for some reason or another, always managed to find an excuse to put it off. So, when the Group Fitness Manager/My Wednesday Morning Step Instructor announced the launch of this new class and extended a possibility to train for it, I accepted eagerly. I mean, let’s face it, it’s not often that opportunity walks up and forces itself upon you…if I’d said no then, well, pure folly. The difference between a pipedream and a wish fulfilled is action. It was time for me to get moving. Shoot first, the stress will catch up later.
I had no idea what I was in for. The two-day training intensive was exactly that: Intense. I burned a cumulative 6000 calories that weekend and found out, like a slap in the face, that I was far far far from as fit as I’d fancied myself. Over the next three months, I would push myself to exhaustion and past. I ramped up my conditioning, took a hard look at my form and faced some honest and disappointing criticism from the GFM, a spritely Brit in her early middle age who, I’m certain, pre-cued her own mother through the birthing process. There were many moments that I felt like trash-binning the whole idea.
But, with a little determination and a lot of crazy, I kept on pushing, and eventually forced myself to learn the 12 tracks of choreography that make up Body Attack release number 74.
Now, all of the above is a bit of a gloss-over of the process. It was hard, and it stressed me out, but this piece isn’t about the process, it’s about what I do to myself under pressure and how I’m pretty sure it’s not normal.
In order to be fully certified, an instructor must submit for critique an unedited tape of herself (or himself) teaching their release in its entirety. We’ll let go, for a moment, of the fact that Body Attack is perhaps the most challenging program that Les Mills offers, and that in a normal class, the instructor will stop the music for a few seconds to allow participants (and herself) a drink of water AND that I’ve never ever done anything quite like this before. We’ll focus instead on the idea that for 60-odd minutes, the instructor must maintain perfect form, perfect cueing, perfect coaching and an appearance of ease and physical strength
No pressure there at all.
For a week, I’ve known that my first taping would be this morning. For a week, I’ve been ceaselessly going over my choreo. For a week, I’ve been waking up in cold sweats, speaking cues out loud. For a week, I’ve dreamt of plyometric lunges and squat-jacks. For a week, I’ve been heading toward an anxiety attack.
What happened to me this morning is no surprise. It happened before cheerleading tryouts in high school and the night before my wedding in 2005. I’ve been hijacked before major road trips and after having sex for the first time with a new partner. (”No my love, it is assuredly NOT your penis that is giving me palpitations….”) Sometimes I hear people say things like: “I get myself so worked up” and I want to laugh and explain the ways in which they have NO FUCKING IDEA.
Ideas spin around my head into hopeless kinks. Like the loops of an old school phone cord that’s been stretched from the kitchen into the bathroom around the corner, they tangle back up on themselves, diving in and through and around until all that’s left is a tightly wound ball of useless would-be communication. What-If follows The Worst Case Scenario, which tags along behind Insecurity and Fear who walk hand-in-hand. I joke to lessen the tension, but that only works to ease the minds of those around me. Inside, the chaos is complete. The war wages on, and where there would be respite in sleep, my eyes blink open and the film loop plays on.
At 4am, I gave up the ghost and got up, bargaining with my stomach to please please please keep down the peanut butter on toast. I watched my trouble tracks again on DVD and packed my gym bag, listening to my body for signs of gastrointestinal distress. By the time I introduced myself to my class and stepped on the stage, my heart rate was already up around 140, making the idea of the warm-up track ridiculous. It was by sheer miracle that I made it through the first three songs, hammering past my anxiety to an uneasy détente, and began to relax into the rest of the class. By will and muscle memory, I made it to the end with a performance that was far better than what I’d nightmared about only hours before.
It was not nearly the disaster I’d pictured.
Crisis averted, I am huddled under this blanket, finally getting air to the deepest portions of my lungs. What is my major malfunction? Why am I sitting here with a sour taste in my mouth and an uneasy stomach, nursing an anxiety hangover? Why are my muscles twitching in turns at the memory of adrenaline from this morning’s episode? Surely this isn’t the way the rest of the world handles stress? New situations? What is my damage? My glitch? I may be pursuing a dream, a goal, and yet, my mind and my body take over and act as if I’m headed to the gallows.
With every trip outside of my comfort zone, the din builds inside and I’m suddenly electric anxiety, quivering anticipation. Nerves sing along muscles taut and strung on bone, crouched to spring and fly. No need for breath, this machine runs on the last gulp…fight fight fight, or flight. And when it’s all over, I lay here, sapped and drowsy, heavy-lidded and laden with a dull, dehydrated ache. My life isn’t like yours or yours or yours, and yet I’ve come to live it just the same–my everyday amperage is enough to kill the layman.
Life inside anxiety is an odd and distorted world. It creeps up, unbidden, and steps away with equal stealth, a puzzle to those it visits. I can look at any situation with rational eyes, and soothingly breathe through mantras and positive visualization, but the minute the loop begins, I’m a goner. It’s funny too, in its own way, turning me into a perverse caricature of animated Italian gestures and expressions. Amusement abounds at the jokes I make, boisterous attempts to rob it of its power. But after all that, there are still these mornings when I’m hijacked out of sleep and hit with a sockful of quarters until I gasp for mercy.