The Lighter Side of Panic

Any one of you out there with an anxiety disorder should be able to relate to this story.

Background: I have PTSD, which means I spend a good portion of my day anticipating death and destruction. This is occasionally hilarious.

Sr. Olives and I were home alone at our in-law’s house for a few hours, so we decided to play Mario Kart on the Wii.

At one point during the game, the dog ran into the guest bedroom. The dog has recently had surgery and has one of those giant cone collars around her neck, so she can’t see anything and has been wreaking havoc wherever she goes (more so than usual.)

Anyway, she runs into the bedroom and there’s a loud crash. My logical brain thinks, ‘‘The clumsy dog just knocked something over.’’ But my amydgala is screaming, ‘‘Eeeee! Someone just broke in! Doom! Doooooom!’’

My husband saw the panic on my face, rolled his eyes and said, ‘‘It’s the dog.’’ He then walked into the bedroom and shooed the dog back into the hall, grumbling about what a PIA she is.

‘‘Whew,’’ thinks my rational brain. ‘‘Crisis averted. He’s right. Just the dog. I got a little carried away there.’’

But as Sr. Olives came toward me, his ear caught the customary ‘‘Bing. Bing. Bing’’ that signalled the race about to start, with (gasp!) nobody to man the controls!

So he rushed forward toward his own controller, waved his hands toward me, and with gleeful urgency, yelped, ‘‘Go, go, go!’’

I dutifully dropped my controller, jumped to my feet and bolted toward the door. I paused just in time to hear him say, through peals of laughter, ‘‘No, don’t go out the door! Go play the game!’’

You see, my amygdala, with its shrill voice of terror, had managed to pierce my rational defenses and ignore every shred of evidence that my husband wasn’t panicking. Nevermind the casual way he’d moved away from the door, or the amused expression on his face as he came toward me-- his words could mean nothing other than, ‘‘THERE’S SOMEONE IN THE HOUSE AND WE HAVE TO GET OUT NOW OR WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!’’

I skittered to a stop, looked around in confusion, and as soon as the true meaning of his words hit me, I fell to the floor in hysterical laughter. Oh man, we laughed until there was no more sound to come out. I have to wonder how fascinating it is to live with me sometimes.

So, my fellow high-strung Dopers… what hilarious ways have you scared the shit out of yourself lately?

Fellow sufferer. Everytime I heard a loud noise I expect doom, death and destruction, or at the very least a crippled airplane crashing through the ceiling. I’m also afraid to cross busy streets.

Edit: Did I mention nuclear bombs?

Been there. I’m not that bad anymore, but there was a time. Planes, nuclear bombs, exploding suns and even weirder. I think the official psych lingo is fear of ‘‘catastrophic world devastation.’’ I had no idea such a thing existed, I just thought I was a freak. It wasn’t until I outed myself to my therapist that I learned it’s quite common. Nothing helped my anxiety more than learning that thousands of people have the same irrational fears, to the point that they show up routinely in textbooks. I then made it a point to arm myself with facts and statistical probabilities to assuage my fears.

My fears are a lot more run-of-the-mill now, but equally pervasive. I worry a lot about people breaking in, rape, torture, murder, car crashes, etc. When I’m on planes, I remind myself that I was in more peril on the car ride there (of course, that only reinforces my fear of cars, lulz.) I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

I once got so worked up that my husband bought into my fear. My cat knocked over a stack of boxes in the living room one morning trying to get at another cat outside the window. He was making the most god-awful noise I thought someone had hurt him. I crouched against the bedroom door with my cell phone ready to hit 911 and was trembling like a leaf. My husband insisted on going out to check, and he came back into the bedroom, wide-eyed, and said, ‘‘There’s a weird creature in our living room on the windowsill. I’m going to go outside and look through the window to get a better look.’’

Well, turns out it was the cat. My husband could only see the puffed-up tail from his vantage point and for some reason assumed it was a raccoon or something rather than our cat. This is funny because I peeked out the bedroom door and saw the same thing he did, and thought, ‘‘I see the cat, but I don’t see the creature. Where the hell is it?’’

So for a split second I was more rational than he was.


I seldom find myself driving at night without benefit of street lights. So, back in November or so, I was driving along a country road and realized that I was about to hit an enormous tree trunk lying across the road.

Panic ensued.

Turned out to be a differently-colored section of the road.

Men do not have the luxury of running away and screaming everytime there is a loud noise. We have to suffer silently.

I blame society.

I only start thinking about doom and death when it’s quiet.

It’s too quiet.


Feel better?

Damn, you beat me to it.

Someone once asked Viktor Frankl what it was like to live through the Holocaust. He responded along the lines of, ‘‘It’s like someone sneaking up behind you and shouting, ‘‘Boo!’’ Every single minute for the rest of your life.’’

About twice a week I scare my husband a good foot or two into the air. This is accompanied by him emitting a feral shriek that sends the cats fleeing in terror. I have never done this intentionally, but everything I do to prevent the panic (singing, knocking on doors, waving to him as I approach) makes it worse.

I startle easy. Someone appearing (in my own house when I know 100% people are home) from a door or in the hallway or whatever will make me jump a bit and usually say “shit!” It’s really annoying.

My first instinct when someone knocks on my front door is to run into another room (while my husband answers.) What’s funny is my cat is just as cowardly as I am, so I’m usually running in after him. Thus all the members of the household flee besides my daring husband, who bravely answers the door.

Oh! Until I read this just now I thought I was a freak too! I’ve mentioned it to about three therapists/psychiatrists and not one of them ever told me that freaking out over such things was even heard of, let alone not uncommon! In my group therapy everyone else had much more “normal” things that they were anxious about. I felt pretty dumb telling them I was afraid the moon was going to crash into the earth/that the sun was going to go supernova/of meteors/of gamma ray bursts, etc. Especially seeing as I have an MS in physics and know the probabilities.

Wow, ignorance fought, plus, I feel much better now. :slight_smile:

When I was in (I think) fourth grade, I read a story in our reading book about the Paricutin volcano. This story made it sound like this volcano had just popped up one day in an area that had no other volcanoes (that’s not actually true, it’s part of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, though I didn’t know that at the time). I got very scared that this small mound of dirt in our backyard was going to erupt into a volcano. We lived in Maryland- I found out later that the last volcanoes there went off something like 200 million years ago, but I didn’t know that at the time, either.

I love Wikipedia. If I get scared of something like a volcano now, I can go look up on Wikipedia whether it’s likely to happen where I am, and how likely it is. That takes a lot of the fear out of it, at least for me.

I still startle easily, though. And I do NOT like it when something startles me.

I can get used to some noises. I think the cats actually make me less nervous about unexplained noises in the house. Now, I can think “it’s the cats”, rather than immediately jumping to “it’s a burglar, we’re gonna die”.

For anybody who’s scared of asteroid impacts, supernovae, or gamma ray bursts, I have some numbers for you from Phil Plait’s book Death from the Skies. The lifetime chance of dying in an asteroid impact is 1 in 700,000, for a supernova it’s 1 in 10 million, and for a gamma ray burst it’s 1 in 14 million.

Just last night, Mr. Neville and I were discussing supernovae, actually. We’re getting a new high-efficiency boiler to replace the 80s-vintage one that came with the house. The old one has a pilot light, and the new one has an electronic ignition. I pointed out that if a solar flare or nearby supernova (or I guess a power outage) knocked out our electricity, our old boiler would still have worked, but our new one won’t. Fortunately, we have gas-powered fireplaces that don’t use electricity. They can heat the downstairs area of the house up to 90 degrees if left on all night- we did that once when the pilot light on the old boiler went out. You want to know that you have an alternative, if there’s a supernova- bad enough to die of radiation poisoning without being cold, too.

Speaking of our old boiler, some of you would NOT have liked living in my house for the past two months. When the plumbers came out to re-light our pilot light the last time it went out, they turned it up very high. The boiler has been making a very loud WHUMP every time it turns on. I had gotten used to it, but it was scary the first few times.