Something I call panic occurs every time I see a spider, a bug gets on me, something terrifying awakes me from a dream. When I am overcome, because I can’t see around me, I feel enclosed with no immediately visible way of escape, trapped, claustrophobia, an irrational fear that surfaces no matter what I tell myself. Panic!
Walking along a moonlit street with branches swaying in the wind, I jump at every imagined sound. I look for pursuers, hurry my steps, arm myself with the keys in my fist. My heart pounds. Panic! I rush to my door, turn on the light, and only then do I feel safe.
I can approach a stage for a few words to an audience and become silenced with panic, forgetting every word I had practiced. Thank goodness the nightmares of having no notes and being naked has never, once happened.
But what about when something really serious happens?
My daughter broke her arm, her wrist at an unnatural angle, a bone sticking through the skin. Did I run around screaming, distraught, out of control, in panic? No. I made sure to avert my daughters eyes, tossed a clean towel over the entire mess, called for ice, and headed for the hospital. Calm. Cucumber cool.
When a brake line came loose and my brakes went out, while going down hill, did I panic? No. I identified a way to slow the car. I down shifted, braking with the engine. The roads were paved concrete, but I turned to go up a hill. I needed a place to coast to a stop and found an empty parking lot. It was only when the car was stopped, and I was safe that I started shaking. I had been on my way to an assignment, and called my editor saying I couldn’t attend the meeting. I called my husband (pre-cell phone days) from a pay phone, and he came to pick me up and sent a truck to get the car.
The feeling of panic doesn’t seem to depend upon the degree of actual danger. No, it isn’t actual danger that causes the feeling of panic. Taking action when faced with a true crisis, is called being good in a crisis. Some people lose their heads in a crisis.
So why do I think I am good in a crisis? I imagine horrible things that could happen in advance, and think of solutions. Even if a current crisis doesn’t match something I’ve thought of, I have at least had practice finding solutions.