When Your World Collapses from Acute-Onset Anxiety

anxiety bridgeMy world fell apart a week before Rosh Hashanah. One September morning I was drinking my usual four cups of tea, moving too quickly through the house, and dreaming up a thousand different ways my life could change. The next, I was awake before dawn, my breath shallow and hard to find, certain that death was imminent and the universe existed only to swallow us whole. I carried on like this for a few days—monitoring each thought and feeling as they emerged, hypervigilant and aware of myself to the point of feeling unreal. I was a moving puddle of tears and rolling fears, shuttling from bed to couch to bed again, never really sleeping in either place.

On the fifth day, I found myself between the stucco walls of the public clinic, tugging at my jeans and gently tearing apart the paper draped beneath my legs. This was the place that could see me on such short notice. I stared at the posters reminding me to make good choices, healthy choices, and I found myself muttering sadly, “I always do, I always do.”

The doctor who saw me diagnosed me with acute onset anxiety. No kidding. She inquired about my personal life, my job, my hobbies. Out of habit, I held back when I described my occupation—you never know how a stranger will react to self-identification. I told her I worked for a Jewish organization, and she must’ve sensed my hesitation. “You can tell me,” she said, without looking up from my chart, “I’m Jewish, it’s fine.” At the end of the visit, as she watched me roll my sleeve down over the spot where she’d drawn blood, she offhandedly grinned. “Anxiety passes, I promise.” I nodded mutely. “For people like us”, she continued, “It’s in our nature to be worried.” People like us. The floor opened up and devoured me, and I showed all my teeth as she trundled me off to the psychiatric nurse.