Somewhere on the road from San Francisco to Los Angeles something goes wrong. I press my palms against the center console and the door. The heat swells in my ears, behind my eyes, in my chest. I check the pulse behind my ear.
My heart is beating faster and faster, my lungs feel small and stretched. I search the horizon for something, anything other than rolling hills and empty miles. My heart is collapsing and there’s nothing to cling on to. I beg for it to stop.
We pull into a gas station so I can hurl myself from the car, onto the ground so I can feel the gravel on my palms, so I can feel anything other than my pulse.
I have panic attacks. Or, rather, they have me: I’m always on alert, waiting for them to slip under my covers at night. And for a long time, that was OK. I could avoid my triggers. The whole litany of things that might set me off. I could avoid airplanes. And I could avoid long car trips. I could avoid movie theaters, roads with cliffs, roads with curves, rooftop parties, train platforms, and kitchen drawers full of knives. I could avoid all sorts of things. And life was fine, hopscotching from one experience to another. No one would miss me on that trip. No one would mind if I didn’t come. I was a panic ninja, fighting it quietly and secretly, until the world got in the way, a world called Ben.
I fell in love with an explorer, an adventurer, a 9-hour-flight, car-ride-across-country kind of guy. A man who keeps his knives on display. And there I was on the ground crying from a breezy drive down the coast after a lovely weekend. He pushed my hair back and gave me water. He bought me a chocolate bar and listened to me plead with no one for it to stop, for my heart to slow down. He sat with me in a show of solidarity, without really understanding, but kind enough just to be there with me, as he had done before and he would inevitably do again.
He showed me this kindness every time. On road trips, in airports, and even at home, when my brain would trick my body and my body would betray me, he would sit with me and acknowledge my hysteria with a calm and curious mind. Under his kind and hopeful gaze, I realized I had to try something new. My ways of coping didn’t work. While it was just me, I could fool myself into thinking they did, but now my life was shared, all my alibis had worn thin. After the car, the gravel, the chocolate, I made the resolution to deal with things differently. I would no longer take an unprescribed pill from my purse to pull me back to earth. Instead I’d try to acknowledge my thoughts with that same calm and curious mind: I decided to meditate.
It’s been some months since my journey began. And there have been relapses. There have been moments of darkness. But more importantly, there have been flights to far away places. There have been road trips uninterrupted. There have been trigger moments untriggered. And when I think of all the moments of kindness, of empathy and support that he’s given me, I find myself wondering what I could give in return?
But what I’ve given him is better than a present, than anything wrapped up in a box. What I gave him was a partner who could listen, someone who was actually there, not lost in hand-to-hand combat with her anxiety. By training my mind to let the thoughts stumble by on their own path, I’ve given him flights where he could sleep instead of calming me down, road trips we could drive straight through without stopping to check my equilibrium, and adventures more than 20 miles from a hospital. What I gave him was the freedom to love me and still love life.
The calm and clarity that meditation can bring a person affects everyone around them. By bringing meditation into your life, you bring it into every argument, every hard decision, and every opportunity for kindness and support. Maybe the kindest thing you can give to your partner is the best version of yourself.