How To Have A Nervous Breakdown In Seven Easy Steps

Last night I discovered a previously heretofore unknown superpower: the ability to cause myself to have a panic attack while lying in bed, simply by using the power of my mind. In case you are looking for a hobby or superpowers of your, I have detailed the simple steps of this process for you below:

1. Start out as me.

I'll admit it -- my default condition is pretty much "bananapants crazy." One a relative stress scale of one to ten, where one is "dead" and ten is "having conversations with imaginary sparkly rainbow pegacorn ponies," my daily average is probably a 6½-7 to begin with. I'm your classic Type-A overworked overtired overstressed overscheduled overachiever. "Relax" is in my vocabulary, but not my daily schedule. It's only half a joke that I need to keep three calendars on my desk so I have enough time to get everything done. So I will grant you that maybe I am setting the bar a little high, in terms of your own personal ability to freak out on command, but I encourage you to stretch yourself a bit here.

2. Add cruddy weather.

I hate the fall. I swear that every year, my seasonal affective disorder starts manifesting a little earlier, and pretty soon we're going to hit the point where I'm only at 100% for 25 minutes out of one day in the middle of July. It's like my internal clock knows the very nanosecond that the Autumnal Equinox occurs, and a little switch clicks, and all of the sudden it's like I have PMS all the time or something, for six months. Depression is a bitch, and seasonal depression is even worse, because there's not much you can do about it when you live in the Northeast and the weather won't make up its damn mind. It's been unseasonably warm, and also rainy and foggy and generally swampy, and we can't tell whether to leave the air conditioner on or what, so I'm not sleeping so well to begin with. Lack of sleep makes the SAD worse. Plus, oh joy of joys, it's ragweed season - hello allergies!

3. Add general job dissatisfaction.

I don't talk much about work because it's not one of my Happy Places. Also, I don't want to get fired because of anything I might say. But I'm not entirely happy there right now, and for the foreseeable future, it's not getting any better. I am doing my best, but things are what they are, and I am not dealing with it as well as I would like. I worry about how I do my job, whether I'll still have a job next week, whether I care about having a job next week, etc. And, because I have some workaholic tendencies, I have severe difficulties leaving work at work. I bring things home with me -- not paperwork, but issues and conflicts and concerns. It's hard for me to shut it off. And it doesn't start when I walk in the door of the office, either: I basically stew in it for my whole drive in, and my whole drive home, and the whole time I am there, so I spend at least 12 hours a day steeped in a tea of discontent.

4. Add grad school.

I like school. I really do. I love learning and being on campus and spending time with other grad students in my program and professors and the smell of old books and the crackle of academic electricity. I pretty much hated being an undergrad -- that age between 18-22 was so awkward for me, and I wouldn't want those years back for all the money in the world -- but being a mid-life grad student is so awesome, because I get to experience all the things I did genuinely love about college without the hassle of the late-adolescent self-discovery and the mating rituals of undergrad life. BUT. My classes are at night, after a full day of work and at least an hour in the car (where, I might have mentioned, I was most likely still simmering over one drama or another that happened at work) and a dinner that does not involve having hilariously animated conversations with my husband and kid. I miss them. And learning can be exhausting, especially when you love your classes and you really throw yourself into them, which of course I am doing, because that's how I am, and that's the only way I know how to be.

5. Add political uncertainty.

I had class last night, so I didn't get to (have to?) watch the debate. I don't usually watch the debates anyway, because I already know who I'm voting by this point in a presidential election year, but I do flip around a little bit and check in on the Internet to see how everything is going, and suddenly the prospect of a Romney presidency seemed very real, and this right here was probably one of the keystones of my undoing. Because I had just come home from class where I am learning how to be a teacher, which is an occupation that Romney does not seem to appreciate. I mean, they're all about facts and knowledge and information and critical analysis and stuff. I remember when people like Mitt Romney would refer to people like me as the "intellectual elite," as if being an intellectual were some sort of disease. And to top it all off, many teachers are in unions, God forbid. I got scared at the prospect of trying to look for a teaching job under a President who wants to dismantle the Department of Education. So, like, about here is the point where I starting coming unglued, a little bit.

6. Add attempted travel plans.

I ... Christ on a cracker. I am trying to get to Chicago for my nephew's baptism, and I got the Christmas Club money this week, so I looked into flights. And the prices are scary, but then I remembered that one of the airlines owes me a credit for travel problems that we had last year when we went to Disneyland. So I checked on the voucher that they gave me, and their system says it's still good, so I tried to use it. And now my reservation is sitting out there in some sort of aviation reservation limbo, because one system says the credit is there and another one says the credit is expired and NOBODY WILL CALL ME BACK. And here is where I start coming unhinged. LOOK, JUST TELL ME WHAT IS GOING ON. I made the reservation on Tuesday. Ticket prices have already gone up since then. It should not take 48 hours for someone to get back to me about this. On top of it, I am frustrated because in trying to USE THE CREDIT THE AIRLINE GAVE ME, I have to recount the whole horrible story about what happened last year when they gave me the credit in the first place, and I get really really pissed off all over again. Last night I had myself so angry over this in the car on the way home from class that I was actually crying hot, angry tears.

7. Agitate.

So I basically had ALL THIS SHIT going on in my head last night when I went to bed, and I couldn't make it stop. I was just lying there, already stressed out to probably a 13 on that same 1-to-10 stress scale, and then I started getting twitchy. I couldn't keep my hands still. I started rolling around in bed, trying to stop the twitching in my feet. I was lying there in the dark and the quiet and I couldn't turn my brain off. I honestly don't think it's possible for a human being to be more tightly wound without being an actual Slinky (or at least double-jointed). I could literally feel my fight-or-flight response activate, feel the adrenaline flowing through my veins. I got tunnel vision. I hyperventilated. I probably swallowed a gallon of tears and post-nasal drip. And no matter how much I tried, no matter how much deep breathing and relaxing thoughts and yoga posing I did, I could not make it stop. I don't remember falling asleep, but I did not sleep well, and the fevered dreams I had were all about falling and running and impotent rage against the universe.

I want to say I'm fine now, but I know that I'm not. I'm at work and mostly functioning like a human being, but I've been on the verge of tears since I got here. I have knots in my neck and my back that I can't stretch out, and Tylenol and Advil are not touching them. I don't want to have too much caffeine because I'd like to sleep tonight, but of course I am tired and having trouble focusing. I have homework to do, and day-job work to finish. I have dinner to make and worksheets to do with my kid. I still haven't heard back from the airline, but I am mostly staying off Twitter right now because I just can't handle politics right now. I can't really handle anything, honestly, but I have to. So I am. On the outside, anyway. On the inside, I am all ...

Your move, Universe.