Dancing with Psychologists: The Creepiness of Graveyards

Yesterday I had a kind of large, well not really, well maybe yes really, panic attack. For me, panic attacks are more behavioral than physical experiences; I may text people (and sometimes Twitter) frantically, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I’m scared, something is horribly wrong, I don’t know what it is, help help help, I’m going crazy,” but I actually don’t realize it’s a panic attack at first. It’s just this sudden slide into inexplicable fear.

On top of the panic attacks, memories will come. Memories actually always do come, but thanks to the Abilify, I’ve been able to file them away… when I’m not having a panic attack. As it turns out, if memories slip on during a panic attack, they regain much of their vividness from before the Abilify.

Today I had two panic attacks, one right after the other. I didn’t spam people because I knew what it was, not that this made it any easier to deal with. I could deal with them better than before, but only in that I didn’t physically curl up into a ball. Just mentally.

So today I saw my bartender and told him about the panic attacks. And he asked me what I thought might have precipitated them. I told him it couldn’t possibly be my birthday. Even if I’ve had horrible birthdays, there’s no reason to be scared. Yessiree. It totally doesn’t make sense that my upcoming birthday or the memories it brings would be in any way involved.

You do the math.

We talked about this some more, and he came up with this analogy for how I was dealing with holidays and special days with bad memories attached: I whistle as I walk through the graveyard.

The reason that you whistle when you walk through a graveyard is so that you focus on whistling the tune and not on the fact that you’re in a graveyard and there are dead people decomposing all around you. Unfortunately the method doesn’t work, because even though you’re concentrating on the tune, your mind knows it’s in a graveyard. And acts accordingly when you stumble into a tombstone or, gods forbid, the statue of an angel.

The proper way to deal with a graveyard is to walk through it while being fully aware that you’re in a graveyard. Look at the grass spread through the graves, note the trees scattered here and there, touch the cold surface of a tombstone. This is traumatic all by itself, but the goal is to go through the experience enough times (many, many times) until you’re desensitized.

“Does this mean I have to talk about specifics of various events, over and over?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, so patiently, as if he hadn’t said it fifty times before, as if he hadn’t sat here with me last year saying almost exactly the same thing for the same reasons.

War stories are really specific, of course. Stories of any stripe have to be about a specific series of events, else they’re just essays.

So I tried. It’s like trying to look at a Lovecraftian horror, my memories; they slip through my hands like unclean fish, and the very act of putting them into words is like a blasphemy. I tried to dig into my past, but went shallower and shallower as memories disappeared into the depths. (But if they disappear because they don’t want me to look at them, why do they leap out at me when I’m vulnerable?)

I don’t want to write about what I told him here now, except to say that my birthday dinner conversations with my father was like having dinner with the Norwegian terrorist in a talkative mood. Maybe I’ll write about the car keys incident later.

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2 thoughts on “Dancing with Psychologists: The Creepiness of Graveyards

  1. I would have to make another analogy, because I LIKE graveyards; I was raised in New England, and they start taking us to them for historical purposes when our ages are still in the single digits. My parents have a brass rubbing of an Elizabethan tombstone that has hung in their house since I was five, and it’s probably the one thing I’ll fight my brother for once they’re gone, if he decides he wants it. (It’s got a very romantic verse on it.)

    But buried memories, not just buried people? Yeah, there are weeping angels and unquiet ghosts and possibly even some batrachian horrors there, for me as well. *hugs*

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