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Autofiction: Softly Panicking

Panic is a curious sensation. It flowers in the stomach as if some ghastly plant beast has had its wicked way with you when you weren’t looking. I can feel that unfurling of petals, each exquisitely sharp glassy knife slicing through my calm and reason. Its bloom is entirely internal and it raises my heart rate, makes my fingers vibrate and breathing shudder. Its a hot flowering and its heat infects my mind which revolts at the sickly internal sensation, sending thoughts in a scattered shower; unfocussed; leaping.

Will stillness help? A deliberate peace to action, soothe the mind with inaction, bring the whole body to rest, relaxed and yet solid against the petalled intrusion. The flower beats against it, seeking a weak point to thrust its tendrils through, tearing open the fault and escaping. The slightest deviation from immobility permits it, the least distraction of sound or light gives it room to grow.

I can breathe, deep steady breaths that begin and end at the flower’s bud – bending and contracting around the panic – gifting it extra room and then crushing it. It is too strong; the will to life and existence of the flower overwhelms the rhythmic tides and it is carried forward on the crest of breath. Breath hastens in response, thrusting the panic throughout the body and into the mind.

Neither tactic works, both only hasten the flower’s prickling growth and set the panic rising up my body (never down; I don’t know why it won’t bloom into my thighs). As it spreads, a cancerous ivy growth that digs its claws into my chest and face, I can feel the rise of heat, fear and anxiety ready to burst out in a glorious colourful wail of despair. My mind is consumed by the busy business of synthesising panic out of nothing but uncontrollable internal sensations. It is the same gnawing hollow horror that rises up in me as the sun goes down and possesses me in the evenings.

Perhaps it is those quiet times that permit this growth in me, the downtime; the peace – and I, foolish and unwitting have a cynical harbinger seeded inside that sprouts dismay and despair as soon as all is well.

All I can do is act. I can allow myself to be consumed and constrained in jaw-clenched stress (truthfully pulling away from it is harder, but I allow myself the illusion of strength), and become ever stiller, ever more tearful as the awful thing takes root in my chest and constricts me in body in mind. Or I can do something. Action slows its spread; distraction tugs its roots out one by one. Decisions, once made, are strength – poisoning the soil that allows the flowering panic to flourish. It can be hard to choose to do anything at all.

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