Think About Lemons.

I remember my first time like it was yesterday.  I was 22.

I was out on a date with my not-yet-husband to see Bob Mould at Irving Plaza in Manhattan.  We were really excited for the show since the venue was perfect for getting right up front by the stage.  We stood outside until the doors opened, having arrived early since the show was standing room only.

Once inside though, something inside of me went terribly wrong.  My shoulders and arms began to ache and my knees felt week.  I could feel my eyeballs start to sweat as chills raced down my spine.  I made a detour to the ladies room and it was all downhill from there.

When I finally emerged after what felt like an eternity, my not-yet-husband was quite concerned.  I told him we needed to leave but I couldn’t explain why.  I couldn’t see 2 inches in front of me and I had suddenly gotten the worst migraine of my life.  My stomach, now completely empty, continued to cramp and cause me to double over.  I was shaking, burning up and freezing at the same time.  I thought I was dying, but I couldn’t fathom the idea of finding an emergency room.  I just wanted to get home.

I stayed in bed for days.  Every time I ate I got sick.  Every time I set foot outside, I was so afraid I’d get sick that I would go right back home.  I made it to a doctor who couldn’t tell me what was wrong.  He was convinced I had been drunk or pregnant and gave me an antibiotic that clearly wasn’t going to help my condition.  I went back to work, but wouldn’t engage in any social activities.

When I finally felt well enough to get back to my therapist, she asked why I hadn’t come to see her sooner.  She was certain I’d had my first panic attack and without any treatment I was having smaller ones ever since.  I was referred to a psychiatrist who prescribed medication.  I stayed on the medicine for months, but it never really solved my problem.  Therapy was great, but not much help when I was out in the world and about to melt down.

Someone suggested aromatherapy.  I learned that citrus smells, particularly lemon, can be helpful when battling anxiety.  I purchased a small tube with lemon essential oil that I carried with me everywhere I went.  When I started feeling anxious, I’d grab my tube and concentrate on the smell of lemons.  The deep breathing helped me relax and the feelings would pass.

For years I carried around that tube of lemon oil.  I learned to apply it to tissues, so when I was out at a client I could pretend I had frequent allergy attacks.  It was in my purse at my wedding and all through out the process of planning the wedding.  It was with me for the mundane activities that seemed to cause me great stress such as trying new restaurants, going out with friends and grocery shopping.

I stayed out of New York City as much as possible, as I was not looking forward to revisiting the scene of the crime.  But one night, an event came up and I had no excuse not to go.  Being afraid of going out didn’t seem rational or like something I wanted to explain.  And with my terrible luck, that also happened to be the night I forgot my lemon tube.

We ventured down into the subway.  Between the noise, the heat and the smell I was certain my next big panic attack was imminent.  I took deep breaths, but not too deep because it was a NYC subway after all.

Think about lemons, I told myself.

I kept breathing and before I knew it, we were back off the train and heading back up to the street level.  I managed to make it to the venue in one piece, but after sitting down in the crowded audience, my anxiety flared once again.  My shoulders and chest started collapsing, my legs went dead and my stomach turned over on itself.  I couldn’t get out of that room quickly and I couldn’t sit there.  It was starting to seem like I was never going to be able to leave the house again.

Think about lemons.  Take a deep breath and think about lemons.

It worked.  I calmed down.  I ended up enjoying the show, stand up comedy.  Laughing all night, I forgot to feel terrible and be afraid.

I don’t carry the tube anymore.  It dried up and I never bought a new one.

Whenever things get crazy, a room gets too full or I don’t know what to expect, I think about lemons.  I think of their crisp smell, their sweetness and tanginess.  I think about taking a deep breath, inhaling the aroma and feeling it pass through my nose and straight to my brain.  My pulse slows, my stomach stops churning and my arms and legs don’t feel so numb.  The dizziness subsides and I can make it through a few more minutes.

The anxiety never subsided completely.  I merely keep it at bay.

This weekend I have plans to meet friends at a bar for someone’s birthday.  Our friends’ band will be playing.  I’ve been to this bar to see this band before.  I don’t have a sitter lined up yet.  I don’t know what time we’re going or what we’ll eat for dinner before hand.  What if there’s no where to sit? What if we get there too early?  Or too late?  What if there are too many people I don’t know?

I need to stop thinking about the details.

I need to think about lemons.


Linking up with the Yeah Write Challenge grid.

27 Responses to “Think About Lemons.”

  1. How scary to have these panic attacks! Thank goodness for lemons. Another thing I miss about CA – we had a Meyer lemon tree in our backyard! I hope you have a great anxiety-free time this weekend!

    • I’m getting better in that I know they’re coming and I can stop them before they are out of control like that first one. Still not a pleasant experience. When I move to California, I better get a lemon tree, that’s all I’m saying.

  2. IASoupMama says:

    I hate that anxious feeling. Mine mostly appears as a digestive system in fast-forward, but occasionally I have a full-blown panic attack. I rely on the relaxation techniques I learned in acting classes, have never tried the lemon thing.

    I hope you have a super time this weekend, too!

    • I think the digestive issues are the worst because those are, um, harder to hide, if you will. People can’t see when I can’t breathe so that’s easier to pretend isn’t happening!

  3. Panic attacks like this are so scary, I totally understand. So glad for you that you found a way to keep them under control. Glad you found lemons.

  4. christie says:

    Did you think about lemons during BlogHer, because that was sort of overwhelming! This was a great description of anxiety. I kept thinking you were going to say you were allergic to lemons. So well written. Hope you’re having a great week!

    • I am doing all right this week thank you, I hope you are too. Remember when we were at dinner at that deli and I didn’t shut up the whole time? Yeah, I almost lost it in the deli. I should have taped a lemon to my face the way I felt at BlogHer.

  5. As an anxiety sufferer, I can really relate to this. I was trying to smell lemons while I read it. So glad you have a “tool” in your tool belt. And I hope you have a wonderfully fun weekend! xo

  6. What an awesome story.
    Anxiety suck and I am so glad that you found a tool that works/worked for you!

  7. Stacey says:

    Anxiety is such a difficult thing to deal with. I have dealt with it from time to time and my 5 year old daughter struggles with it as well. I am glad that you found something to focus on that will help you work through the anxiety. It really can be crippling.

    • It really does make it difficult to think rationally and make “normal” decisions. I hope your daughter is ok. My son is a worrier, but I don’t think he has anxiety exactly. It does concern me though with him. Aromatherapy might be good for the little ones though, a way to teach them to calm themselves non-medicinally.

  8. Oh god I’m having flashbacks to Harry Potter World. I’ve never tried an aroma, but my daughter has a peppermint essential oil she uses for calm.

    • I’ve read some people find peppermint helpful. I tried that for my headaches, it didn’t help me for that. I never tried it for anxiety or anything like that. I wonder how much of it is about shifting focus and regulation breathing, etc. to calm the body overall. Frankly I don’t care, as long as I can keep it together!

      I’m glad I went to Disney before this all started because I’m pretty sure I’d freak out there at this point. Travel is very anxiety provoking for me :(

  9. From Tracie says:

    Panic and anxiety are so hard. I deal with them. But I have never heard about the lemons – I might need to get a bottle with some lemon essential oil and try it. Thanks for that.

    It is wonderful that you are in a place where you can remember and concentrate on the lemons and it helps. That is a blessing.

  10. Varda says:

    Wonderful description of acute panic and anxiety. I’m so glad you found your lemon cure – and that mental lemons work as well as real ones!

  11. Gia says:

    Ooooof anxiety is sucky and panic attacks sound horrible! Bleh.

  12. Deb says:

    This is a beautiful post with a wonderful tool to help with panic attacks. Really great way to handle a difficult problem. Way to go….loved it!

  13. wow – i had no idea how strong panic attacks were. crazy. i’m glad you’ve been able to keep them at bay. i like the visual lemon. i can see it in my head. it’s calming. :)

  14. Great descriptions of anxiety – wow! I relate to the feeling of overwhelm and sensory overload and I’m happy to hear you’ve found such a calming visual. I never heard of aromatherapy for anxiety – thanks for the heads up. I’m off to buy me some lemons!

  15. Vanessa says:

    I love the smell of citrus so I can see where it would be calming. Hope you have a great weekend.

  16. Gina says:

    I love the smell of lemons and I’m so glad you can use the mental picturing, too. I was anxious reading your story because I could imagine how you were feeling. I hope this event goes well for you on the weekend.

  17. Jester Queen says:

    I love the way you transferred the smell into a thought powerful enough to evoke a positive emotion.

  18. Azara says:

    I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this! I will dwfinitely give it a try. Good luck with your event.

  19. Azara says:

    *definitely* One finger typing strikes again.

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