All night I’d felt the beginnings of a panic attack…that lightness of head and tightness of chest, that feeling of being closed in no matter how wide-open the space, that sudden spasm of dread for things that shouldn’t be fearful.

Television didn’t help. I trembled too much to write. Pacing only made things worse. On the theory that fresh air might do the trick, I strolled all of five feet outside my front door to watch the cooling remnants of the sunset and watch Venus rise. It didn’t have the intended effect, especially not when one of the neighbors brought their unleashed rat-dog by. Having tiny, ceaselessly aggressive creatures about one’s ankles is only slightly less relaxing than the stoned twentysomething behind it who insists the squealing monster is friendly.

It wasn’t always like that. The last panic attack I could remember was at summer camp when I was fourteen; a violent tornadic storm blew in and I was convinced we were all going to die. We well might have too–a nearby housing development was ravaged by the twister that only brushed us. Compared to that, my house in the PM was a picture of safety and stability.

Maybe that’s what the rising bile in my throat was trying to tell me. It may be that, for the first time in my comfortable life, I felt suffocated by the very atmosphere I’d long sought to cultivate.