Marina Gomberg fights panic… and wins

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marina Gomberg.

OK, it’s day infinity of this pandemic and my queen Michelle Obama and I are really starting to feel it. She’s got some “low-grade depression” and I’ve got some of that, too.
But can I tell you what’s really getting me lately? The anxiety. Not just heavy worries about the world — those are pretty rational and expected right now. I am talking unhinged, feral, sit-right-down anxiety.
And it’s outrageous because this pandemic-election-racial movement is already a level 10 without any mental health add-ons. Ain’t nobody got time for those, as the kids say. Or used to say (what year is it?).
Sometimes I think it’s weird that we keep being expected to survive all of this. Like, how? And while they’re brief, I have moments when I half expect to evaporate from the pressure and heat of it all.
Last week included one of those times.
We had gotten some curbside pickup ice cream from our neighborhood fave, Normal, and were back at home eating our feelings when our 4-year-old son started coughing.
My wife, Elenor, and I made eyes immediately because Harvey has a severe tree nut allergy (had there been some cross contamination in his ice cream?) and was this a sign of anaphylaxis? Spines straightened.
Probably in an attempt to not spontaneously combust, we kept cool, sat back and told him to slow down and take a drink of water. Silly kiddo.
But my adrenal glands had perked up like a dog’s ears. Adrenaline at the ready!
The cough didn’t quite respond to our cue to wrap it up, though. It wasn’t bad or getting worse. Just not gone.
After a few minutes and no real signs of an allergic reaction, my mind calmed a little, downshifted from immediate threat to semi-immediate threat and wandered over to Corona Land. (Hi, again — been a couple days since I’ve been here. I like what you’ve done to the place.)
Had he somehow gotten COVID-19?
Like cue cards, my brain started flashing images of him struggling to breathe. Panic. Hospital. Tubes. From cough to ventilator in under a second. That should have been my first sign something was coming.
But the coughing stopped (it was probably just from inhaling the ice cream, which is my preferred method of enjoying it, too) and he ended up going to bed happy and healthy.

I, on the other hand, noticed the whomping of my heart as I finally put my head on the pillow. What the what? I could feel it in my ears, and OMG was it beating irregularly? It was. It was totally irregular. Something was wrong.
But as quickly as I first noticed it, it stopped. Wait, it stopped entirely.
I couldn’t feel anything. My heart had stopped. I thought.
I hope that if I ever experience actual cardiac arrest, I will have the good sense to wake up my wife. But whatever shred of sanity I was clinging to in that moment told me I was having a panic — not heart — attack and didn’t think freaking her out would help.
I have medicine for moments like this, actually, but it was in another room which made it on the other side of the world, so, see ya never, pals. I was on my own.
Like levees breaking in my limbs, blood rushed to my stomach in a whoosh. I thought I was going to reexperience my ice cream. Great.
I know you’re supposed to focus on your breathing when you have anxiety, but I gotta say that sometimes that feels like a hoax. A distraction. Not actually a cure.
But then I remembered this thing about breathing my mom had recently read. It said anxious rapid breathing actually fills our bodies with too much oxygen and described the physiological ramifications of not allowing the carbon dioxide to do its important work.
I couldn’t remember the specifics, but I clung to that idea and pictured it: little oxygen molecules making space for their counterpart buddies with each shaky slow breath. I did that for two eternities.
I woke up a couple hours later with my fingers pressed to my carotid artery, and I was reassured by my own calm lub-dub, lub-dub. I smiled.
Holy crap, I helped myself through a visceral and intense panic attack, and unwound myself without intervention.
And that’s my triumph — another thing I did when I didn’t think I could do another thing!
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.
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