I had a panic attack last Thursday. It was the first one I’ve had since the beginning of April.
I’m not doing anything this summer except hanging around at home, and so I don’t have nearly as much stress as I had while I was in college. However, I’m with my family now, which creates a much different kind of stress.
My grandparents are getting to be pretty up there in age. They can’t drive anymore, and they have doctor appointments very frequently. My pap has been diagnosed with dementia, though it’s still very, very mild, and you can’t tell at all just by talking to him. Furthermore, everything they say to each other is in anger or annoyance. They fight or they don’t talk. I guess this is the typical old couple bickering, but it’s all they do, and it gets to the point where they’ll yell at each other and say hurtful things. My grandma had her hip replaced two weeks ago, and she has been in rehab since. I take my pap up to visit her for an hour or so each day, and so I’m constantly dealing with their dynamic.
I’m living with my parents this summer. My brother bought a house and moved out months ago, and so it’s just them and me. My dad has a sort of explosive temper where, if something makes him mad, he gets damn mad. My mom has been the one taking care of my grandparents before I came home, and she has to balance this with a part-time job. I’ve been trying to take a lot of the burden off of her so that she can relax for a change.
With all of this surrounding me, I have become the obsessive peacekeeper. I tiptoe around my dad so that I don’t make him mad, I force a smile and laugh at everything my pap says, I nod and sympathetically agree with everything my grandma says, and I try my best to alleviate all the worries my mom has. When there is a fight between any two of them, I’m the one that gets eaten up the most by it. I say whatever I have to and do whatever I have to in order to calm them and keep everyone functioning peacefully. If I can’t do this, my insides feel like they’re undergoing a meltdown, like it’s my fault this is happening.
This puts an overwhelming amount of pressure on me that is so much different than the pressure I get at school. At school, I control everything in my life, I don’t have to take care of anyone else, and I have my own space that I can retreat to. When something comes up, I deal with it or adapt to it. Here at home, everything is based on these other people in my life. I don’t really control anything, and I can’t get away from them because I live with them and have to do things on their schedules.
Last Thursday, I was making dinner for my parents and my pap. We were supposed to eat once my mom came back from visiting my grandma at rehab. I was making stir fry, which is pretty simple. I put the rice in the steamer and started cooking an hour before we were supposed to eat. Everything was coming along fine, and it was ready to go fifteen minutes prior to dinnertime. I checked on the rice and felt the first signs of panic. The rice hadn’t cooked at all. I had thought I had done everything right, and it had ample time to cook, but the rice still looked like it had come straight from the bag.
I checked the bag to see if there was a faster way to make it. The stovetop directions and microwave directions each took forty-five minutes. We needed the rice or else we’d just have a bowl of soggy vegetables and tofu.
My dad came upstairs and angrily vented about one of our dogs peeing downstairs. I nodded and apologized and offered to clean it up, all while trying to focus on breathing.
He went back downstairs, and I leaned against the counter. My heart was pounding, and no matter how much I breathed, I felt like I couldn’t get any air into my lungs. And I kept staring at that damn steamer that wasn’t doing its job.
I just couldn’t take it. I had to go into the living room, sit down, close my eyes, and wait for it to pass.
Soon after that, my mom and pap pulled into the driveway.
We had to wait an extra forty-five minutes for the rice to cook on the stovetop since the steamer just wasn’t working. I guess they could tell that I was worked up because they all waited patiently in the living room.
Apparently, I hadn’t made enough rice either, and so I received complaints about that during dinner. They weren’t angry complaints, just the typical family nagging, but I was so on edge that I didn’t entirely recover from the panic attack until after everyone went to bed that night and I was left alone.
I don’t think it’s that my family is any more stressful that others. I just have a difficulty handling these situations, and my anxiety only makes it harder. I really need to figure out a way to cope with this because I’m going to be living with them until the middle of August, and I can’t spend the entire summer on edge like this.
If any of you have any suggestions, please let me know.