I had a panic attack at eighteen. I remember it was almost dawn and I was staring at the ceiling when it happened. Something spooky had awaken me. Maybe it was a hand grazing slightly over the hair on my legs, or some adventurous cockroach lost somewhere in my shirt, either way, my eyes opened suddenly as though it was some creature rising from a raging sea. I remember waking up to a tight, almost suffocating knot around my chest. That was why I stared hard at the ceiling. Trying siphon what had spooked me, while I inhaled and exhaled lung-full doses of the damp air.
The knot seemed to loosen with each puff air I arrested into my nostrils, and my mind was gradually clearing. Just then, the panic attack started, fueled by a realization that crept slowly into my head. The knot resumed its enslavement of my chest, and my pupils must have been dilated like Sam Winchester’s from Supernatural, when he saw his mother (or was it his girlfriend?) suspended up in the ceiling, enclosed in a raging inferno. Unlike Sam though, I did not feel pain. What I felt was a crippling cyclone of fear spinning me about like some flimsy rag. The realization was so simple that I almost or did wet myself (I cannot remember which) when came. ‘I am eighteen today’, a version of my voice that did not belong to me whispered.
The fear is identical to the ones we had when we were grown-up, pre-puberty toddlers looking into the dark, endless vacuum called the future. Except this fear was pure, sincere, and armed with the clichéd knowledge of ‘you are getting old, stupid’.
I thought of all my dreams; of all the plans scribbled on every paper I could find, and the little evidence to show for their existence. I thought of what my parents will think of the third of their jewels becoming an adult and I cried, succumbing to the fear, letting it soak deep into the dark trenches of my soul as my tears soaked deep into the pillow it descended on. Minutes (or an eternity) later, I managed, with my tear-soured eye and fear-soaked heart to stagger into the bathroom. To wash up and prepare for the ‘Happy Birthdays’ that would usher me into life as an adult. I remember thinking, as the cold water splattered against my skin, if birthdays were worth celebrating.
Three years later, it seems I do not have the luxury of waking up and realizing I am a de facto adult and let the fear that had festered and bore fruits in me (as evident in my many procrastination), float above me like a brooding demon, while I stare powerlessly at it. Now, I am cursed with the task of facing this fear that has mutated into something more sinister; to fight it and to accept it. This mutation, I am sure, comes from its interaction with ‘hope’, another seed that has blossomed and bore fruits in me (as evident in my many cover-up smiles).
Now, I am about to cross the threshold and join the (previously envied, presently feared) club of the 20-somethings. I assume I will ask questions on Quora such as: I am a 20-something with a wild sex drive and a laughable sex life, how can I balance both, that is, my sex drive and sex life? Or I am a 20-something without a university degree and I hate school, should I dropout and start my own business like Bill Gates did? Or stuff like that. Before, I would laugh at questions like that. I would tag those who ask such question ‘lazy folks who cannot do shit (pardon my language) by themselves’.
Now, I realize the fear of the known past and unknown future makes those questions relevant. I realize that the people who ask such questions are not lazy folks, but are humans like me. They stricken with fear and teased with hope like me. And like me, they do not just want the answers. They need someone to break into their minds and program the answers into their heads. I know this because I am almost (or already) a proud member of the non-exclusive club of the 20-somethings and I still have a panic attack.