Friday, August 5 2022

panic attacks, gene and judes, and the duck derby

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Dear Journal,

Hey everybody - good morning. It's a beautiful day today, and I know it first hand after spending some quiet time outside in the hammock. Once I got past the awkward and embarrassing feeling of rolling my adult body into a hammock, it was pretty relaxing and tranquil. But these days it feels like relaxation always comes at a price - heading back into the quiet house, I found a steaming hot anger poop from Minnie. Breathe in - breathe out, right?

Sip. Yesterday was a tough day. All my coded language around my job "being a real grind lately" and "feeling like long days" masked the kind of work stress that came to a head yesterday when we were driving back from the city. I heard my phone ding, and the simple notification set off a panic attack. I couldn't formulate my words. I couldn't focus on road signs. I pulled over and let Marissa drive us the rest of the way home, and before I knew it I was back in bed. I couldn't even summon enough concentration to send my boss a quick message letting him know I wasn't feeling good and planned on laying down the rest of the day. Work hasn't been fun. I wish I could just spill my guts about it onto this page, but sometimes you can't freely talk about work without getting into trouble. The less said the better.

This only the third big panic attack I've had at this job. The first time it happened about five years ago while I was wrapping up a huge project. Halfway through a quick slack message to my colleague, the words on my screen morphed into strange shapes. I couldn't find any of the letters on my keyboard. I thought I was having a stroke, so I went to the hospital. The doctor asked some kind, empathetic questions my circumstances, and it didn't take him much probing to find that this work project had been consuming my thoughts, even off the clock.

I hate to believe that some things in your life can control your body, even if you're not thinking about them in that exact moment. Driving downtown with my family, I was in my happy place. We had a great time. Then a small notification sound - even before I registered what it was - made my body shut down in a panic.

It was a tough day, but I'm thankful to have Marissa. Panic attacks, fear, and anxiety have followed her around her whole life, and it's easier walking through something with someone who has already been there.

I'll try to move past yesterday now, because before my panic attack we had a lot of good things going for this week. On Wednesday, Marissa was supposed to drop off a painting in Chicago Heights. I watched her cross the kitchen, sit down at the computer, and punch the address into Google maps. "Aaand, it's an expressway party," she sighed.

To Marissa's relief, I suggested we all go together as a family. Marissa hates driving on expressways, but it's practically my favorite sport. And all Marissa has to pay in return is listening to me geek out over Chicago's interstate system, and maybe also let me take us somewhere new for lunch.

"We're going to Gene and Judes," I announced. "My Driver's Ed teacher made me take him here during one of our behind the wheel sessions."

An hour later, weaving in and out of medium midday traffic, we parked in front of the unassuming hot dog stand along the Des Plains river. Rodney went inside with me, clinging to my leg while he curiously studied the drab white interior. There were no chairs, no decorations, no signage - just a high standing table top where you could scarf your hot dog before getting back in the car, if you choose to do so.

I don't remember much about my first trip to Gene and Judes - I was too focused on not crashing Mr. Maddaloni's red jeep on the Eisenhower expressway. My second trip was a lot better. It's kind of a strange hot dog - a minimalist take on a Chicago dog that only affords you mustard, onions, relish, and sport peppers. But it was still kind of a neat experience.


They also pile all the fries on top of the hot dog, which we agreed was super silly. Here's a tip if you ever go - bring your own ketchup. They take the whole "real Chicagoans don't need ketchup on their hotdogs" trope pretty seriously, although it's not obvious what they expect you to put on all these fries.


There's a hot dog under there, I promise.

Yesterday we made our way downtown to watch the duck derby. After hearing the city would be dumping 50,000 ducks into the Chicago river for charity, we made it a priority to watch. Eating in the car, inching through the loop, parking in a garage, and running on foot back to the river, we had finally made it to the race.


"Oh, is that the finish line?" I asked, seeing a group of people standing on the bridge. "I thought they were gonna let the ducks go all the way down the river."


But even that was assuming too much, thinking they would let the ducks float for a whole block. It turns out they just dumped the batch off the Columbus bridge and immediately began scooping them up out of the river. And thanks to a set of untrimmed hedges by the river, it all happened just out of our view. We relocated to the other side of the river and saw half the ducks already bagged up on a dock.

So we drove all the way downtown to watch a duck race, and we missed the whole thing. But we were still in good spirits - it's hard to have a bad time walking along the cool, shimmering water of the Chicago river.


That's what I got today. Take care of your brains, watch your stress levels, and remember to save lots of work for Monday. Have a great Friday, everyone.