Earlier this month, HBO’s “Girls” ended its second season with Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) incapacitated by anxiety-induced Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, her ebook on the lost generation of 20-somethings looking more and more unlikely; I read the first few chapters of Phillip Lopate’s new book “To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction” and Lopate’s thoughts on a writer’s obsessions; and I started to have a panic attack at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., during a promotional screening of Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color.”
It had been three medicated years since the last one, but I knew immediately what was happening. There is the initial trigger: a jolt, a kick, you’re aware that your breathing is a little unusual, or that your body isn’t reacting the way that it should. You extend your breathing to see if that will slow your heart, but your body is shifting, moving, trying to find a comfortable position. You become obsessed with the thought of relaxing. You notice that you wore really tight socks. You need to be composed, and stay composed. The thing you fear most is embarrassment. As soon as your conscious mind forms the words “panic attack,” it is over: that thought will metastasize, it will be the only thing in your brain. “Don’t pass out” becomes a hopeless mantra, and you lose consciousness.
Or: you realize what is happening. You grab your coat, leave, try to find somewhere quiet to settle down. Your head is a weird combination of heavy and light, your vision blurs. Outside the theater I propped myself up on one of those green plastic boxes where they dispense brochures for the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. But I need to sit down, and the only thing I see are the snow-wet steps leading to the Anthropologie on the second floor of the Design Research Building at 48 Brattle Street. I’m not sure how long I sat on the steps, relaxing. Two girls passed me: one only said excuse me; one asked me if the store was closed. There was an ambulance almost exactly in front of the theater. If it was there before, I didn’t notice. I wondered if they watched me keel over on the plastic box, and if they thought to help. By then I was feeling closer to normal. Those thoughts meant that I was close to normal. I pulled out my phone, saw there was a bus coming, and left. I’ll have to go back in April to see the movie.
I never wanted to write about “Girls” because so much has been written about “Girls.” By now it’s even cliché to start a piece on “Girls” by apologizing for adding to the pile of writing on “Girls.” But I also had nothing to add. The only thing I ever wanted to say about “Girls” was that the media debate over its Whiteness was really a proxy for the general lack of diversity on TV, and even a proxy for the fact that middle-class college graduates still cloister themselves in racially homogenous social groups. But that idea was taken before an editor could respond to my pitch.