They were sitting at a restaurant, in a typical small Indian town. Here, everybody knows everybody, and if you are a young unmarried couple going out on dates, they know. The restaurant was flooded with a Sunday evening crowd, with a family of four sitting on the right and a newly married couple on the left. Sandwiched between the two, the two felt comfortable in each other’s company albeit slightly conscious of their surroundings. They had met on the time’s raging new app making the rounds in the town — Bumble. Every 24 year old was on it, moving from the age of first generation dating apps to the second.
Over the course of dinner, she enjoyed his company. Even though he was chubby his humor compensated for his rounded cheeks and slight belly. For a generation of women obsessed with finding a Chandler to her Monica, his pair of khaki shorts and gray sweatshirt were nothing short of an ideal date. In stark contrast to his casual demeanor, she wore a pencil fit skirt in a shade of deep blue, paired with a white shirt. She looked like she had walked straight out a successfully closed business meeting, with her 4 inch heels, broad shoulders and slim waist standing tall at 180 cm. Her chandler felt dwarfed in front of her. He remarked how he looked like a peasant in comparison while taking a large bite of his appetizer. She chuckled.
He wasn’t the first to draw such a comparison. She lit up every room she entered with her presence. Dressed to perfection, her gait threw an aura of a je ne sais quoi. She had to be perfect. She controlled her effortless casual look too. Concealing her porcelain skin, she refused to step out of the house without a face full of makeup, hiding her infinitesimal flaws. Her quest for constant perfection perhaps reflected her deep rooted insecurities of an imposter complex caused by her aura.
He kept taking large bites of food, as she almost snorted at his jokes, while picking bird sized portions off her plate. Commenting on wailing children and turning on-going situations into hilarious observations. She felt like she was at a stand-up. Suddenly, she felt a churn in the pit of her stomach. She dropped her fork. He looked up. Without a word, she quietly slipped out of the couch and briskly walked towards the washroom. He watched her walk away, confused and surprised by the sudden movement. Pulling the toilet seat up, she bent on her knees, and attempted to puke front face into the bowl. Nothing came out. She washed her hands, wiped her mouth and calmly walked back, feeling a little better. When she came back he asked her what happened. She simply shook her head. They continued talking, albeit she had mentally checked out.
Again, a tremor sprinted through her hands, moving involuntarily. Suddenly, her hands were shaking uncontrollably. She felt lightheaded before she could make sense of the situation. Now, it was impossible to identify the problem. She already felt out of control. Out of desperation she told her date that she wasn’t feeling good and asked to be taken back home. As soon as she stood up, she felt a wave of dizziness sweep through her entire body. He noticed it, dashing towards her side and holding her hand. She felt like someone had spiked her drink with alcohol or drugged her. By the time they were walking out, she was completely leaning on him for support. He was worried now. Carrying all of her weight, he paced towards his car, dragging her, quickly reaching out for the passenger door. He seated her immediately. As soon as he buckled her in, she began gasping for air, “I can’t breathe” she screamed. I couldn’t understand why her hands shook, or why her body wasn’t listening to her. She controlled everything. She could. She always had.
She mumbled something which she herself could hardly understand. The words coming out of her mouth were gibberish. He ran towards the driver’s door, gunning for the engine. As soon as the car started up, she shrieked, “STOP”. He was taken aback again running towards the passenger side, opening her door. She began shaking violently till. Some words formed out of her mouth. He could make out that she said, “Call the doctor”. As she shook, she had the first clear thought from the last ten minutes. Her heart was going to stop. In that moment of clarity, she felt nothing but regret – a life she wasn’t satisfied with, a life she could have lived better. It was all ending too soon. A wave of regret washed over her as she continued trembling and gasping for air.
Suddenly, two pairs of heavy arms lifted her out of the car and into an ambulance. Flashes of blue and red hurt her eyes as she struggled to realize her surroundings . Everything around her felt warped. It was as if her soul had left her body. She was witnessing herself from outside her physical self. Screaming words that nobody could comprehend, she suddenly found herself in an ambulance. There was another man next to her. She wondered why he was wearing white and calmly looking at her. He was trying to talk to her, but she could only respond in screams. She felt like she was getting sucked into the earth, boulders falling on me, crushing me under their weight. She passed out.
She found herself in the emergency room of a hospital. A nurse calmly walked into the emergency room and told her date to escort her back home, handing a file out to him. “So what happened?” she slurred at the nurse. After a series of blood tests and ECG and CT scans, what was the diagnosis? Diagnosis? not a heart attack?
Why were they letting her go? Was it not real? Had she conjured up the tremors, hallucinations, heart attack-like feeling in her head? She panicked again. Was she delusional? Her mind went down a rabbit hole. Like Alice in Wonderland, she wondered if her mind was playing dirty games with her. She wondered if she had encountered a rabbit and been tricked by him. Fear seeped in, as she wondered when she would be lured into having another potion. Without responding, the nurse helped pick her up and put her in a wheelchair. As she sat on the chair, she forcefully puked out her guts, dropping on the ground and holding onto the floor of the emergency room. She passed out in a sea of her vomit.
She woke up. It was afternoon. She was on a bed. It was her bed, her room. She was not in her pencil skirt anymore. She wondered what day it was. Dazed, she looked around. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except a file. A doctor’s file sat next to her bedside table. Carefully, she reached to pick it. She opened it. A series of test results filled pages and pages of the file. She couldn’t make any sense of it. Except wave forms. She recognised electrocardiograms. She flipped through the endless pages. At the end of the file a tiny piece of paper read one line:
“Diagnosis: Panic Attack”
This piece is a fictionalized retelling of true events.
Deep Dive is a weekly column written by Ashini Jagtiani exploring subjects that have revolutionised the socio-cultural fabric of society.