I had a panic attack at eighteen. I remember it was a little 5 am and I was staring at the ceiling when it happened. Something spooky had awaken me, maybe 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 emerging from the sea; a cocktail of moving images brewed by my brain – fuzzy and violent. I remember waking up to a tight, almost suffocating knot around my chest. That was why I stared hard at the ceiling, hoping that somehow I could syphon the meaning of the dream from the ceiling’s dark silhouette, while I inhaled and exhaled lung-full doses of chilly air generated by the whirling fan above.
The knot seemed to be loosening with each puff of cold air I released, and the fog that hinders the thoughts of a freshly awakened human was clearing. With a blink that preceded the melting away of the final batch of fog, it started, the panic attack, fueled by the realization of what time it was. The knot resumed its fiendish enslavement of my breath, 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, I do not feel pain, but a crippling fear, a fear as great and intense as a tornado, and it was pulling me to its center and then spinning me like some flimsy rag. The realization was so simple and profound, and I almost wet myself (or did wet myself, I cannot remember which) when it sprang up in my head: ‘I am eighteen today’, a corrupted version of my voice translated it into words.
The fear it carried is identical to the one every human must have had when we are grown-up, pre-puberty toddlers, wondering about the future; except this fear was pure and sincere, and armed with the clichéd knowledge of ‘you are getting old, stupid’.
I thought of all my dreams and plans and strategic mapping I have acquired all over the years, and the little evidence to show for their existence, and 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, wash up and prepare for the ‘happy birthdays’ that would usher me into life as a de jure adult. I remember thinking, as the cold water splattered against my bristled skin, if it would ever be a happy life.
Now though, 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 germinated, festered and bore fruit in me (as evident in my many procrastination), float above me like a brooding demon, while I stare powerlessly at it. Now, it seems, I am cursed with the task of facing this fear that has mutated into something more sinister, of fighting it and accepting it. This mutation, I am sure, comes from its interaction with ‘hope’, another intense tornado that had germinated, blossomed and bore fruits in me (as evident in my many cover-up smiles).
Now, as I am about to cross the threshold and join the (previously envied, presently feared) club of the 20-somethings, I assume I would 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 twenty something without a university degree and a glaring hatred school, should I dropout and start my own business like Bill Gates did (even though he was younger)? Or stuff like that. Most times before, I would quickly scroll past these questions (maybe more from fear that I would be in their shoes than from disgust), and sometimes even risk a small laugh and call those who ask them lazy folks who cannot do shit (pardon my language) by themselves. But now, I realize the fear of the known past and unknown future mix with a scintillating hope for survival makes these questions as important as water is to the fishes. Now, I realize that those who ask such questions are not lazy folks who cannot do shit by themselves, but are humans like me, stricken with fear and hope like me, and like me, do not just want the answers but need someone to break into their minds and programmed the answers into my head. 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.