I was already not having a great time when 2016 began, but there was something to look forward to mid-year: a European vacation. Wife and I were going to drop off our daughter with her grandparents, then the both of us were going to head off to Europe for 10 days. 3 days visiting friends in Denmark, then 3 days exploring London with a friend from Singapore, then 3 days in the British countryside for a beautiful wedding with friends we hadn't seen in 7 years. It couldn't come soon enough because I was struggling with something awful and entirely new to me. Anxiety. I've lived an entire life worry-free. Yet, for some reason, my brain decided to experiment with anxiety in 2016. Just for kicks I guess.
As the vacation got closer, my anxiety was starting to be replaced by excitement. But, the day before we left, I got an awful situation dropped on me. That was it. My brain snapped. I got my first panic attack. It was surreal because at 35 you feel like you've experienced every feeling and emotion your brain is going to concoct. Suddenly, I was experiencing something entirely new and singularly awful. I couldn't sleep, I was sweating, shaking, my chest was heavy, and the situation that had been dropped on me constantly swirled around my head, consuming every other thought. I had no control over my brain and was unable to think about anything else. It took all of my focus and willpower to not dwell on it, but it was almost impossible, and mentally exhausting. It reminded me of my first time meditating and how frustrating it was to try to think of nothing, only to discover seconds later that my mind had wandered and I was thinking of stuff again. I'd get so tired of fighting it, that sometimes I'd just give in and let it overwhelm me. Night was the worst. I couldn't sleep. At one point I stayed awake for 3 days straight. I'd just lay there panicking, waiting for daylight, my face hot and my head cycling through the same thought over and over and over again.
Needless to say, the entire vacation was ruined. I was having a hard enough time fighting this mental battle, but we were also navigating across Europe with no cell service, sometimes with no English speakers and an old-fashioned paper map. We'd also made the rookie mistake of packing large, heavy suitcases. There's a reason people say they're "backpacking across Europe" not "Lugging 50 pound suitcases across Europe". We'd wanted to do a trip like this our entire lives, and now that it was happening, I was locked in my head. Completely unable to be in the moment or enjoy the country, my wife or our friends. Thankfully my wife and friends where incredibly supportive, though my wife often says we need a vacation do-over.
There was a memorable moment during the trip. I'd been awake for several days with panic. We were staying with our friends in Jelling, Denmark. It's a beautiful, isolated little town at the ass-end of Denmark. Everyone but me was napping. I was sitting behind our friend's electric piano, rocked with panic, looking out the window at the beautiful countryside under a light misty rain. I started playing piano. All my panic and emotions rolled out of my fingers into the keys, and for the first time in days I felt peace. I played for hours till my wife woke up. Without saying a word she pulled out her phone and recorded me playing. Here is the video. It's surreal for me to watch. Photos and video always have a layer of pretense to them, like when someone takes a photo and everyone stops acting natural and smiles or duck-lips or does that thing with their chin that stretches out their neckfat. The video my wife shot is completely genuine. It's me, going on 3 days awake, battling a horrific panic attack through a piano.
First thing after getting back i got my panic attacks under control and addressed the situation that popped up before we left. Panic hasn't been a problem since. But, it's still wild to look back at this video and see a panic attack in a song.