I’ve mentioned that I occasionally suffer from panic attacks. The most recent ones I’ve experienced have occurred when I’ve been travelling. I have taken literally hundreds of flights in my life (my family moved around a lot when I was a kid), but for some reason about 3 years ago I developed a fear of flying. Go figure. Now any time I get on a plane I have to take lots of drugs (legal ones!) so that I don’t start freaking out as soon as we take off. I have also had random panic attacks on the subway. I think it has something to do with being in an enclosed space underground. Makes sense, I suppose, and I’m sure it’s not uncommon. Anyway, when I moved to my neighborhood a few years ago I started taking a new route to work which involves crossing the Bloor Street Viaduct every morning. It’s a beautiful bridge, and you get a pretty cool view of the city, but the first few times I was on the subway crossing over it I started to get those very bad panicky feelings. I also have a fear of heights which undoubtedly played into it. I felt disconnected from my body, like I was floating away – and when that happens I honestly feel like I’m about to die. Sounds totally melodramatic, I know, but seriously — it seems so real.
Anyway, I realized pretty quickly that I was going to be in big trouble if I couldn’t handle taking the subway across this fucking bridge every morning. There are alternate routes to work, of course, but I didn’t want to give in to those kinds of avoidance behaviors. That would only strengthen the power of the panic attacks. I knew I had to take charge and be decisive! No time for cowardice.
The next few times that I crossed the bridge, I forced myself to stand right up next to the glass, looking down at the river and trails below. I was shaking at first, scared, because I could feel the panic rising. But after about a week, a funny thing happened. I started to like the sense of vertigo that I got from staring out over the bridge. Now, it is the thing that I enjoy the most on my way to work. I always move to the window when we get to the crossing, and allow the feeling of disorientation to take a hold of me. I’m not scared of it at all any more — in fact, it’s kind of a thrill.