beach view

Liniment + Harbor.

It was late June in 2010, and my father-in-law had taken Mr. Magpie and I out to Tyson’s II for lunch at Lebanese Taverna and suit shopping for Mr. Magpie’s work wardrobe. The morning had started auspiciously — it was a bright, hot summer Sunday in D.C. that was startlingly absent of the usual malaise of Potomac River humidity, and we had celebrated my 26th birthday in Georgetown with a band of friends the night before. A week earlier, we had learned that Mr. Magpie had been recruited by Groupon for a new “City CEO” role they’d just rolled out that was tailor-made for candidates like my husband: recent MBA grads with prior consulting experience. We were beginning to prepare for a move to Chicago and I had managed to parlay my role at a start-up non-profit into a largely virtual position, with a commitment to travel back to DC for a couple days at a time every two weeks or so. It felt as though Good, Big Things were happening for us, as though we were on the brink of adventure and reward, as though Adult Plans were falling into place. Yet as that particular morning progressed, I felt myself grow increasingly ill at ease. I found myself strangely withdrawn on the ride to the mall. I kept telling myself to clip back into conversation, but my attention would drift, addled and wayward. I could not eat the meal in front of me at the restaurant, either. Strangely, I found not only the food but the mechanics of eating unpleasant, a sensation alien to me. I sipped my water and pushed a tabbouleh salad around my plate. I struggled to engage in conversation as lunch progressed — odd, too, as conversation between the three of us has always flowed easily, especially as my father-in-law is an excellent conversationalist and an easy laugh. I felt out of sorts but could not discern the source of my discomfort. After lunch, we browsed the suits in one of the boutiques, and I pretended to study the leather goods just to steady and preoccupy myself. We then traipsed through Neiman’s on our way out. Mr. Magpie idled in front of a tie stand and I briefly contemplated calling my mother. I could not figure out what was going on, but I was alarmed by my mounting edginess and I knew that hearing her voice would offer either clarity or comfort. Embarrassed that I might be overheard and not wanting to draw attention to myself, I soldiered on in silence. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I felt dizzy and out of breath. Then, as we navigated onto the Dulles Toll Road, I observed in horror as my hands went numb, and then it seemed as though a brick materialized on top of my chest — I could not breathe. I was mortified at the thought of alarming my father-in-law but I knew something was horribly wrong. I had a vague sensation of increasing escalation, as though every symptom was worsening and I was being hurtled towards some other thing, and that thing seemed to be death.

“Landon, Landon –” I said, suddenly, finally, interrupting their conversation. “I can’t breathe, I can’t feel my hands –” I was crying, and panicking, and everything was intensifying by the second. The next ten minutes were a otherworldly blur of feeling entirely out of control of my own body — arms, neck, limbs tingling and numb — and trying desperately to focus on Mr. Magpie, who had turned all the way around in the front seat to console me and hold my hands as my father-in-law navigated toward the nearest hospital. I remember Mr. Magpie calling my parents, and it felt as though his voice was at the end of a long tunnel: “Hi there — we aren’t sure what’s going on, but we’re taking Jen to the E.R.” And on the other end, loud enough that I could hear, my mother said simply and immediately: “We’re on our way.” I will never forget the brevity or simplicity of that overheard exchange, the way my mother asked no questions. She and my father dropped everything and ran to me, just as my father-in-law had unflinchingly, wordlessly rerouted to the hospital. When we stopped at the emergency room door, I must have been fumbling with my seat belt, because my father-in-law jumped out and unclipped it for me and put his arms around me to guide me inside.

About an hour later, a doctor informed me that I had suffered a panic attack. She told me that the next time I felt similarly, I should go to a quiet room, lay down, and think about a scene that brings me peace — waves at the beach, a babbling brook in the woods.

I felt equal parts relieved and mortified. It had felt as though I was — there is no other way to put it — going to die, and yet my symptoms were entirely spurred on by my inarticulate anxiety over the imminent move and changes to my life. I had embroiled not only my parents but my parents-in-law in my inner drama; it was as if I had projected my private stress out over a loudspeaker. “Come one, come all! Come see how scared I am to make this change! To leave the only home I’ve ever known! To live a plane ride away from my parents!” I expected and dreaded that they would all tiptoe around me in the weeks to come, exchanging sidelong glances, treating me with kid gloves. Much to their credit, none of this came to fruition. Instead, they all reassured me and were quick to bat away my apologies for the chaos of that afternoon. My mother was particularly attentive, insisting I stay in their guest bedroom that night, sitting with me, distracting me, and then asking me, as she smoothed down the coverlet: “I have to ask, Jennifer, are you having doubts about this move?” In short, I realized, as the words tumbled out between us, I had been blind to feel I was alone in my worries, or that I could or should navigate them in solitude. I was — am — surrounded by a husband and four parents and four siblings — all of whom called and sent me loving texts and one of whom delayed a plane ride to sit with me in the ER waiting room that afternoon — who will drop anything on any given Sunday to spring to my side.

Thankfully, I have not had a panic attack since. There have been a few high-stress moments where I have felt the early symptoms that preceded my episode flare up, but I have learned how to manage those warning signs and take quiet time to recenter. In that sense, as hokey as it sounded to me as I laid on an ER gurney that afternoon, the attending doctor’s advice has proven true. When the world starts spinning, I must find a quiet place, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. And, despite the fact I’d been circumspect in the face of the doctor’s advice, it has helped to imagine a place that has brought me peace: a flat stretch of the Rio Grande trail in Aspen that traces the Roaring Fork River, where the Aspen trees make that unique whispering sound as the wind blows through them, and the sky burns azure above, and the air is thin and cleansing, and it is easy to find God. My sister and I walked that trail with one another, soul to soul, making plans and laughing. Also: the stretch of white beach behind Turtle Inn in Placencia, Belize, at five o’clock on any given day of the week, but especially during the week of my honeymoon there in 2009. The sun setting, the breeze of the Caribbean Sea, the crash of waves, the vacation feeling of having nowhere to go and nothing to do but celebrate my own presence in that sandy haven, the reassurance of my husband’s familiar form next to me. And also — the guest bedroom in my parents’ home where I stay when I am visiting them, a room wallpapered in green that is surrounded by tall trees whose positioning afford the impression that I am sleeping in a tree-house. It is quiet, secluded — but not so much that I can’t hear the sound of my parents’ feet on the stairs when ascending to bed, or the faint murmur of their conversation when they are downstairs. The head of the bed rests against a wall that abuts my mother’s study, where she often sits and clicks through email and reads my blog and clips coupons and her presence there, doing these perfunctory and mom-like things so close to where I sleep, is a balm.

All of these places — marked by nature, proximity to God, and the people I love — are liniment and harbor to an ailing spirit.

Post-Scripts.

+Another look at the move from D.C. to Chicago all those years ago — this one breaks my heart.

+On gaining a sense of perspective.

+Funny to think that our imminent return to D.C. will close a loop of stressful moves between three big and wonderful cities. May this upcoming move be much simpler than the last few…ahem and ahem.

+The strange feeling of being between apartments.

+Everyone’s favorite $25 leggings, in a great sage green color.

+Tory Burch is offering 25% off purchases of $200+ and 30% off purchases of $500+. Compelling time to buy this gorgeous gingham suit or this sweet dress.

+A great, simple $12 bath rug for a gracious coastal vibe.

+Have heard great things about Mother’s Hustler style of denim — apparently super comfortable and flattering. Any evangelists out there?

+More great denim finds for spring, to which I would also add this fun $128 jacket as we transition toward spring.

+A girlfriend of mine sent mini a personalized little straw tote as a part of her birthday gift this year! I then found this great Etsy shop that offers a similar style at a great price. Personalize a bunch to distribute as gifts throughout the year!

+How amazing are these wall decals for a nursery or little playspace? Get a wallpaper look for a fraction of the price.

+Speaking of nurseries, swooning over this mirror for a little girl’s room.

+More recent nursery and little girl room finds here.

+New items added to the TBBC sale section, including cute floral jammies (size up) and sweet jon jons.

+These brackets are a clever way to showcase special objects.

+Melamine plates in a chinoiserie print are always welcome in my book.

+Speaking of melamine dinnerware, I included this set on one of my gift guides this year and so many of you loved it! I think it would be a great housewarming gift, too, for a sibling or close friend whose style you understand.

+Fun dress with a Liberty-esque print.

+More Liberty finds.

+People rave about these performance-fabric sweatpants as being very flattering.

+Mini has been wearing this lightweight puffer on the warmer days of late in (you guessed it — her favorite –) blue.

6 Comments

  1. Oh Jen, I am so sorry you had to experience that. I first had one when I was 17, at home, and had no idea what was happening. And like most people, thought I was going to die. I was shaking so badly that I had to crawl on my hands and knees to the bathroom, to attempt to splash cold water on my face. I weakly called out to my mom, before realizing I was home alone.
    I’ve only a few ones since then, and even though I technically knew that in some ways they were no less scary than the first time. And it’s so difficult to explain to someone what it’s like! (what’s so scary? nothing! everything!!).
    I’m so happy you weren’t alone, and haven’t had one since. Thank you for sharing this, your candor and beautiful writing truly brought tears to my eyes. xo

    1. Thank you so much, Jessica – you nailed it. It is such a horrifying experience. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through it as well!

      Thank you for sharing!

      xx

  2. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Jen (it sounds, very literally, petrifying). But oh, aren’t we lucky to have such harbors! We had some sobering health news recently and the prospect of telling my mother filled me with dread, because I did not want her concern (she, who notices every scrape and bruise on her rough & tumble grandchildren). Instead, she responded with poise and pragmatic support, because of course, she knows me, and knew that was what I needed. Basically, her version of your mother’s “We’ll be right there.”
    On a lighter note — the word “liniment” reminds me of Susan Baker, the wonderfully buoyant housekeeper in Rilla of Ingleside.

    1. Hi Claire – I love your comment and re-read it a couple of times because it really captures the beauty of a mother’s knowing her own children, when to push and when to fall back, how to love. It’s so true.

      I am so sorry for your recent health news, Claire. Wishing you an uneventful recovery and if not that, peace with what comes. Cheering you on!

      Thank you also (!) for celebrating that word with me. Liniment. Funny, as I tried a couple of variations there, and even substituted balm for half a day. But I love the way liniment felt there and love that word in general.

      xox

  3. Panic attacks are so scary – the first time I had one I legitimately thought I was dying! Thank you for writing so beautifully about your experience.

    I love your description of your guest bedroom at my parents house. It reminds me of how much I treasure the sounds of my mom getting ready in the morning when I stay with them – it’s so comforting!

    1. Hi Molly — I’m so sorry you’ve gone through the same experience! It was horrifying, especially not knowing what was going on. Thank you for sharing your experience here.

      Yes, so comforting to be around the familiarity of sounds and movements in my parents’ home! Just the best. I feel the same way about the home of my parents-in-law, too. There are even specific floorboard creaks that give me comfort and “break in” the morning!

      xx

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