Recently, I was watching an old episode of one of my absolute favorite shows of all time. Naturally a show about the therapeutic process and functional and dysfunctional relationships alike: In Treatment. If you haven't seen the fabulous series, this was an HBO original series that spanned three marvelous seasons from 2008 to 2011. Really every element of this series hit all the nails on their heads...well most nails on most heads, I always have at least one partial bone to partially pick. But I digress. So int his recent viewing, I was on the episode wherein Paul (read: Irish calm-but-yet-very-troubled handsome Dr. Westin) finds himself finally in the house of one of his former patients with whom he was madly and passionately infatuated. Lauuuuura. If you've seen the show, you'll recall the rationale behind my prolonged spelling. Yes, beautiful troubled sex-loving innocent dove patient Laura. And yes, I say infatuated and not in love purposely. But again I digress. In this episode, Paul has just come from chez Laura to the doorstep of his brilliant therapist, the incomparable Gina, played by none other than divinely wonderful Dianne Wiest. Paul shares with her, through what is evident shame and humiliation, that when it came down to that moment in the bedroom with Laura, only half clothed in her beautiful body and aura, Paul "just couldn’t do it." "What, you mean you couldn't perform?" "I...I had a fucking panic attack, a “classic textbook panic attack.” With this information, Gina pauses, she ponders, .
When Paul was faced with the very situation in which he had imagined, the moment of his dreams, he did nothing but panic. Unconsciously yes. Unpurposely no. He shamefully recounts to Gina what occurred embarrassed and clearly horrified. In her calm as only an amazing therapist could have manner, she speaks to him softly and confidently, “Paul, you know, that panic attack was you. It was the best of you. You had that panic attack in order to save yourself from a situation you knew was wrong but which you wanted so badly you had to have a panic attack to save yourself from it. Take credit for what you did.”
I have seen this episode likely around 6 times total yet in watching it this time, this moment struck me acutely. The human essence is not always overtly understandable...even those amongst us who supposedly hone the keenest sense of human behavior and thought processes, motivators behind actions, Paul, the wonderful universal therapist, in a moment of personal plight, desire mixed together into one fatal potion, even Paul did not consciously recognize his action. I love Gina's take on the situation -- Paul's panic attack was the best of him and while not overtly recongized as being the key player in the moment, it saved him from himself and from a potentially dangerous and ill fitted scenario play out.
Now, why am I taking the time on this arbitrary episode of a show from nearly a decade ago? Well, after being struck by this just a couple days ago, then coming down with a virus nastier than the worst panic attack you could experience, I told a good friend this morning of my sickness. "How was your weekend, dear friend?" "Well," I retort, "I got somehow suddenly and violently ill Friday and have been sick ever since." My sweet wise friend is just that -- she is kind beyond comprension and other worldly wise. "My dear Rachel, you are right, your body had enough, it knew it had to shut down and to take you down with it in order to get some respite and rest. So, it did."
She said this to me factually and confidently this morning, no hesitation or ponderence included -- her words were fact and boy were they accurate.
The sequence of this beautiful deep episode, followed in cadence by violent illness on my part, to my dear friend's woefully wise words. I say all this to say--the mind body connection is real. While not always tangible, while sometimes easy to push aside, an exercise at which we are ALL scarily skilled in these interesting times, the connection is true and real and despite the ability we have honed to separate the two entities at times, it will not disconnect. Psychosomaticism is one thing, yes, and a topic for a whole other blog post entirely, but the mind body connection is another.
Paul's overwhelming desire for Laura was too much for him to handle, he went to her because he had to. In the end, his body saved him. Don't Paul, I know you think you want this but in the true depths of yourself, we both know you don't, it coaxed him with its shortness of breath and sweaty palms. Oxymoronical yes, false no. The calming reassurance of a panic attack. But actually yes, just that. While Paul possessed not the ability to tear himself away, the real Paul did. And he came to the rescue -- Paul saved himself, an act both admirable and miraculous from psychological and personal perspectives (say that three times fast!).
Like Paul, my own personal overdrive toward the relentless pursuit of perfection, in work, in life, in the world... I seem to lack the ability to put it on pause. (Unpurposeful alliteration continues!). I go and go and run and run, work and write and speak and do...run some more, wash it all down with a swig or three... life times three, life on speed. On occasion, I see myself with the perspective of an outsider and have the momentary, slow down, honey, take it easy, "done is better than perfect"...yada yada bang bang and all that jazz. But just like Paul, when it comes down to those moments, my overt conscious self simply cannot seem to rest. I feel sick? Oh well, off to work and gym and plans we go. I am exhausted? Onto the next activity....and on and on and so forth.
The recent weeks, however, have proven too much for me to go on like that. I have been down and out and up and down. So when on Friday my body seemed to instantly and suddenly shut down, it was a Paul-in-the-bedroom-panic-attack moment, er, many moments. My body just simply had to shut down in order to allow me a break. For had it not I would still be raging forward, up to here in acid, toxins, overspoken, overflowing and undone. It knew, though, it couldn't take that anymore. So, like dear CL mused, it shut it itself down and taped itself up, protested current status and silently protested until I had no choice. I gave in. I was violently ill for half a day, and when that passed, there was nothing left but up. I could not drink an ounce, eat a shroud of anything but clear clean fresh liquids...my body essentially created a new start for me without giving me a choice. Again. (But I won't get into that now). So now here I am, on day 3 of rest, of clean eating and drinking, clear minding and mending, and for once and perhaps only, grateful for sickness and for the indescribable miracle of the human mind and body.
"That panic attack was yours Paul."
"That sickness is mine, Rachel."
Own what you did. "If everything were conscious, we therapists wouldn't have anything to do."
Sometimes we have to give ourselves credit for more than we actually understand. And right now, I'm just fine with that.
Thank you, body, for reacting and taking responsibility for me when I didn't and couldn't do it myself. I appreciate it and I appreciate you.
"Thanks for the save." <3 p="">
3><3 p="">I love you always, Grandma.3>