Panic Attacks and Sleepless Nights (Part IV – Picking Up the Pieces)

I wish I could say I conquered midnight panic attacks.  Or that I learned how to manage them.

The truth is, they persisted the entire semester, and I just tolerated them.  It wasn’t healthy. I have a high tolerance for pain, which isn’t always a good thing.  In many situations, including this one, most people would have thrown in the towel within a couple of weeks.  I truly don’t know which is better.

The four sleepless months took a toll on me mentally, physically and emotionally.  It was sort of a microcosm for my experience with law school and law generally.

Do I get some sense of satisfaction as I drudge my way through some of these things?  Sure.  There is some masochistic part of me that says “hey, the challenge was real and you stood up to it.”

But then the subtle rhythm and the raspy vocals of Bob Dylan fade in, pressing me with that ever-present question – “How many roads must a man walk down….Before you can call him a man???”

I wish it weren’t rhetorical.  I wish I could answer: “Like three, maybe four.”  Wouldn’t that be nice!?!  And I wish that the end of that semester ended that road filled with panic attacks.

Part of the solace I took throughout that period was my knowledge that it was finite.  That road actually had an end.  The external pressures causing this mental anguish that, in turn, caused the midnight madness, weren’t permanent.  If they were, I believe at some point I would have had to tap out.  But because I knew that it would all be over…that the pain would stop – so to speak – come the Summer, I was able to get through it.

But my road, as a person, goes on.  Now Green Day chimes in…”I walk a lonely road…the only one that I have ever known…”  After that, I never loaded up my schedule in the same way.  A man must know his limitations.  Or learn them. I imagine I learned some law that semester, but I also realized a new depth of anxiety I hadn’t known existed.

My sleep schedule returned to normal.  For people who suffer with midnight panic attacks on a regular basis, I empathize.  It was one of the hardest things I ever went through. It was like a car with a ruptured fuel tank, constantly draining, and always running on fumes.  It’s no way to live.

For me, sleep issues haven’t simply disappeared. I view that semester as a sort of trauma.  I worry that the problem could return,  Once in a while, it does.  If I have an important assignment at work – something new or especially critical to a case – I sometimes awake with a startle.  My heart begins its fluttering and an episode begins.  But I tell myself: “Look, you only have to do things like this once in a while.  You’re life isn’t threatened.  If you fail…If you suck…If you embarrass yourself…Who cares?!?  Let yourself sleep.  You deserve it.”

It works for now.  Maybe it’s because I only have things that make me insanely anxious once in a while in this period of my life. I can’t tell you that I wouldn’t go right back into that miserable cycle if I were back in the same circumstances of that semester.  So I don’t have an answer really.

Maybe the takeaway is that sometimes you will go through extremely difficult challenges.  If they are just temporary, it may be worth suffering through the misery.  Maybe that should be a signal that perhaps something internal needs tending to.

If they are permanent, perhaps you need a more fundamental change.

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