My First Online - Melanie Shawn

Chapter One

“Welcome home!” Katie said sardonically to herself as she sat, eyes closed, in her rental car on the side of Highway 90. She had a paper bag pressed tightly against her mouth and a mantra running through her brain on repeat.

You can breathe. Just breathe. Breathe in and out slowly. You can breathe.

Katie had been back in Illinois for less than two hours and here she was, smack dab in the middle of her first panic attack in eight years. She gripped the steering wheel hard, tried to soothe her racing heart, to anchor herself to reality. She forced her movements to be slow and deliberate.

'This seems to be working, albeit slowly,' she assured herself. When the overpriced therapist who had taught her the breathing exercise and suggested the mantra had laid out his plan, Katie had wanted to roll her eyes. She had wanted to tell him that he clearly had no flipping idea what a panic attack really felt like if he thought that repeating a little magic spell about breathing inside of her head was going to have any effect at all. She had wanted to tell him that panic attacks didn't feel like nervousness, for God's sake, or butterflies that you could just calm with the power of your flipping mind. They felt like having a heart attack, like you were dying, and have you ever heard of someone having a heart attack curing themselves by simply telling themselves to BREATHE?

Of course, Katie hadn't said any of those things, she had smiled politely, practiced with the bag and kept her judgment of his professional aptitude (i.e., that he was a total quack!) entirely to herself.

Still, since she hadn't had a panic attack in the past eight years, she hadn't ever gotten to test out the technique and prove his quackitude with rock solid evidence. Now that she was in the middle of one, and the exercise actually seemed to be working?

Well, I'll move his status down to 'Jury's Still Out on the Level of His Quackosity' but I'm not nominating him for the Nobel Prize just yet, Katie thought cynically.

The panic attack was subsiding, but Katie was still feeling some of the physical symptoms. Her head felt as if it were floating away, her fingers were tingling as if they were being stabbed by a thousand tiny needles, and she was being bombarded by an obnoxiously loud ringing sound. She forced herself to anchor to the sensation of the paper bag around her mouth to ground her in reality, and repeated the mantra (which, she had to admit, was kind of growing on her...)

You can breathe. Just breathe. Breathe in and out slowly. You can breathe.

Slowly, bit by bit, she drifted back to the present and into her body. She closed her eyes to appreciate the little sensations that she was now aware of - the leather of the seat pressed cold against her back...the icy breeze from the air conditioning blowing refreshingly on her face.

She was aware of the weight of her chest rising and falling. Her arms felt heavy. Lowering them to her sides, Katie was vaguely aware that the paper bag had slipped from her hand and landed on the console beside her.

Her breathing had returned to normal, and the ringing sound in her head had grown sporadic. She searched her memory in an attempt to identify if ‘sporadic ringing in the head’ was a normal side effect post-panic attack. She hated that these horrible attacks used to occur with such frequency that she actually HAD a personal database of experiences to check her symptoms against.

Nope, she concluded, the sporadic ringing is new.

Turning her head to take in her surroundings, she saw cars whizzing by on the interstate. She squinted against the glare of the sun, which was shining brightly down on the pavement and bouncing off of the car windshields speeding by.

Katie retrieved the paper bag and folded it up, returning it to her purse. She didn't LOVE the thought that she might need to keep it handy for future use, but better safe than sorry. I mean, let's be real, she told herself. You're twenty minutes off the plane and barely starting down the highway toward Harper's Crossing and you had a panic attack. You really think you're getting through the rest of the weekend unscathed?

As she placed the paper bag inside her gigantic 'in case of emergency' carry-on bag, she discovered the source of the ringing.

She felt like an idiot.