When You Need Some Space

When I was a youngster, I used to suffer from occasional panic attacks. If you've never experienced one, I hope you never will. They aren't something you can explain in any tangible way, but when you are in the middle of one, it's like the end of the world. You are... locked in.

I remember one of the attacks I had because it was when my Grandpa and I went fishing, and I wrote it up in my journal. It was also a turning point for me and was the beginning of my way out of the panic.

We hiked up to the lake, where we always went. It was a beautiful summer day, and it was quiet and peaceful, with the occasional bird chirping and dragonfly buzzing. We cast in our lines and sat on the bank, cracking open a ginger-ale and unwrapping the sandwiches we brought along. And then we did what we always really went up there for, to spend some time together and talk. He told me about whatever project he had going the previous week, and then I began telling him about an important school project I was working on, and then it started to overtake me. Another panic attack that I dreaded so much.

I was suddenly someplace else. A dark grey place in my mind, and it was smothering me. I tried to stand up because I thought that would shake me out of it, but it never did. Then I felt my Grandpa's hand on my shoulder, and he gently pulled me back to the ground. He wrapped his arms around me and held me tight, and then I didn't feel like I was falling anymore.

I remember he was slowly rocking us back and forth as he spoke to me. "Close your eyes, Peter."

"No, I can't. It's too dark." My hands were gripping his arm tightly.

"Please... just close your eyes now and imagine the biggest open meadow you've ever seen."

I squeezed my eyes shut tight, and in my mind, I saw a vast valley with no trees or anything slowly form out of the darkness and grow brighter. Just miles and miles of green grass and open rolling hills. "Do you see it?" he asked.

I was shaking, and it was difficult to speak, but I choked out the words, "I see it, Grandpa."

"Good boy, now in your mind, stand there and put your arms out by your side and just breathe. Let the air fill your lungs until they feel like big balloons. That's it. Now let it out slowly, and then take another deep breath." He was gently rubbing my upper back as he spoke to me.

I saw myself taking deep breaths in the meadow, and I realized that I was taking the breaths along with my imaginary self, and I started to feel a little better.

"Now, Peter, he said, run as fast as you can across that meadow and feel how vast, open, and free it is. You can't feel closed in there because there's nothing between you and the meadow."

I imagined myself laughing and running and jumping across the green hills, and I felt free again. By this time, the panic attack was subsiding, and I sat up. "Thanks, Grandpa. I'm alright now." He handed me a can of ginger-ale. I wiped the cold can across my forehead. I cracked it open and took a long drink.

"Peter. Is this about what I think it is? Because of what happened, are you trying to do everything perfectly again?"

I remember I didn't look at him. I'm not sure why. For whatever reason, I felt embarrassed. Kids get funny ideas. Sometimes they think what adults do is their fault. Maybe they weren't good enough, or maybe they can't do things perfectly enough. That's how I felt. I took on the blame for things that went down, and I had become a perfectionist because of it. Nothing I did was good enough in my mind. I could never get it perfect, but if I could get it perfect, they'd want me again, that's what I thought. I tried and tried, and it was causing me to panic.

I didn't say anything because he already knew what it was. Grandpa shook his head. "You have to let it go. We talked about this, and I thought you understood. How can you think it was your fault? You were so young." He picked up a smooth rock and squeezed it in his hand. "Adults don't always do what's right or what they should, even if we did everything to try and guide her proper." He stood up and threw the rock in the water. He looked back at me. "Don't you know how much your Grandma and I love you?"

"I know, Grandpa."

"I don't think you do, Peter." Grandpa suddenly looked sad. I didn't like him to look sad. "I know things didn't work out like they should have, but I'm not going to pretend that you aren't the best thing that could have happened to Grandma and me. We love having you here and would be lost without you. It's a joy being able to spend every day with you. Most Grandparents just get to see their grandkids now and then, but we get to spend every precious day with you."

He came back over and sat next to me on the bank. "I'm sorry, Peter. This whole thing is all mine and your Grandmother's fault. If we had done a better job with your Mom, things would have worked out better for you."

"No! It was not your fault, Grandpa. Please don't say that. It's like you said. People sometimes do bad stuff, right?" I grabbed his arm.

He looked at me and smiled. "Are you sure? Then why don't you believe me when I tell you it wasn't your fault?"

I stared at him for a few moments, flabbergasted, because I knew what he had just done. I put my head in my hands and giggled. "You did it to me again, Grandpa."

"I only told you the truth, Peter. I will always tell you the truth, no matter what, because I love you more than you can know." And then he hugged me, and we went to check our fishing poles. We rarely ever caught anything, but it didn't matter at all.

It took some time for me to fully accept everything he told me, but by the time I entered middle school, the panic attacks were behind me.

My Grandfather is no longer with us, but yet, he's still with me every day. He taught me so much, and I find myself using his wisdom in everything I do. Today would have been his birthday, and when I saw this photo, it reminded me of him and this story. I thought it would be a nice remembrance of him, and I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for reading it. =]:)

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