Friday, August 7, 2009

Mammoth Cave...way down deep

So, apparently my camera has disappeared into the ethers. I will have to tell you about my Mammoth Cave experience sans the absolutely beautiful picture that Gregory took of Marie in "Fat Man's Misery."

We decided to take a day trip with the in-laws to Mammoth Cave this past Saturday. I was so excited and so was Marie! It had been more than 10 years since I had last been to Mammoth Cave and Marie loved the caves at Spring Mill, so why not visit the largest cave system in the entire world! When we arrived, we bought tickets for the next available tour. We had 3 hours to visit all the campy places in Cave City. Big Mike's Rock Store had a mystery house tour reminiscent of "House of 1,000 Corpses" so there was no way in hell we were doing that! We found a store loaded with 50 years worth of collected junk, including several pictures of the owner with Johnny Cash. The owner half admitted that the store was full of 50 years of junk adding that every once in a while he sells something (the $500 rusted cast-iron Indian at the front of the store would have me believe otherwise). Cool old man, cool store. It would probably be nice to "shoot the shit" with this guy a la Uncle Joe at the shop.

Okay, so back to Mammoth Cave. We meet up with the 60 other folks joining us on the tour and the tour guide begins to tell us all about the tour. Basically if you are morbidly obese, have heart conditions or are claustrophobic, you do not want to go on this tour. Okay..... he didn't mention if you happen to be suffering from Postpartum Depression, have an insane amount of panic and anxiety flowing through your body at any given do not want to go on this ride!

Why did this not occur to me??? Hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth, surrounded by millions of years of rock formations, squeezing through tight spaces created by rock walls - ancient panic, ancient misery rose up around me and I could not figure out a way to make my body believe that I would not be inside Mammoth Cave when after nearly 200 years of public tours, the caves collapse! It hasn't happened in over 200 years, but it would happen to me. Because I am cursed!

My husband was trying with all his heart to help me calm down - to help me see that really, I was totally safe. I would be inside the Earth Mother, where hundreds of years ago native peoples explored the cave with only burning sticks of bamboo to guide them. I would be "in the cave," just like when I was pregnant (more about that in another post). Bless his heart...

The tingling sensation began right between my shoulder blades, sending waves of panic out to the tips of my fingers. Before I knew it, my body had forgotten how to breathe and I felt exactly as if I were climbing the steps to the gallows. Now, the rational part of my brain knew that I wasn't in any danger because I was perfectly willing to allow my husband and three year old daughter to descend right into the mouth of the cave. But the ancient, reptilian part of my brain responsible for saving me and my family from saber-toothed tigers would have me believe otherwise. So the ancient part of my brain wins because I am currently not capable of overriding it with the rational part of my brain. Sometimes I can. This particular day, there was no way in hell I was getting out of this panic attack.

My normal method for overriding the reptiles is to take very deep breaths. I feel my abdomen filling up with air - I feel the air moving past my nostrils - I feel the air traveling down my throat and filling up my lungs, way down deep, with air - glorious air. Then I tell myself exactly what I'm doing, where I'm at, what I feel around me, what I smell around me, what I see around me, etc. So, in essence, I'm trying to orient myself to what is actually happening in the present moment. But on this day instead feeling my body resting on my cool, soft but firm bed, in my very own home, surrounded by soft blankets, my head on a soft supportive pillow, my body giving way to total relaxation, smelling lavender wafting through the air - I was walking down a paved path, heading straight for the confines of the deep, dark, hard and sometimes unkind, Mother Earth. The ancient part of my brain said to me, "You will not be spared unless you run like hell from this place!" So, that's what I did. Ran like hell - crying and fumbling all the way past the next tour of 60 people to enter the death cave. But, mind you, I had managed to tell my 3 year old daughter to have fun - in the cave of death (I didn't actually say that part).

The ancient part of my brain won that day. And having a panic attack is like an earthquake - there are always little tremors afterward. This entire week I have been battling waves of anxiety and depression. I get the anxiety to calm down and the depression kicks in - the depression melts away and the anxiety returns - vicious cycle.

Maybe I would have been an excellent cave woman... no saber-toothed tiger would ever catch me!


  1. You provide such a vivid and accurate description of the feelings of a panic attack. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Have you thought about seeing a homeopathic doctor? I love my rememdy.