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Today is Panic Day, or is it?

I heard on the radio that today is Panic Day, a day to acknowledge the stress in our bodies, the stressors in society, the extreme panic that this Covid-19 in particular is inducing, whether you’re suffocating in your mask, or have lost a job, or are waiting for a Covid-19 test to come back clean, hopefully. I can go on, about panic brought on by the uncertainty of how to get through today, let alone the future.

So I googled Panic Day, only to find no reference at all to today being Panic Day in South Africa. I did learn, though, that International Panic Day falls on 18 June and coincidentally falls on the same day as International Picnic Day. Two paradoxical concepts – panic and having a picnic – are enough to escalate the panic… How the fuck is it possible to celebrate Picnic Day on the one day a year I can go postal on whatever it is that’s stressing me out?

Panic for me, hits in that ‘Fuck, what now?’ punch-in-the-gut moment. Any moment connected to an incident when the world seems to stop as my ordered, in-the-lines life, is suddenly an indecipherable scribble.

Long ago, my deceased husband Robert, in the fashion industry, had an order cancelled by the chain store, Edgars. Anyone in the fashion business will know how precarious the business was in the nineties, that China was starting to bring in cheaper goods, that many fashion manufactures here could not compete. And that just as one prayed to secure an order to produce 3000 bottle-green tracksuits, it was a disaster when those tracksuits were rejected on delivery because the thread was a shade darker than the dyed fabric. This happened. All our capital had gone into this order. We’d sourced the fabric locally, had crossed every T.

Yet we sat with those 3000 bottle-green tracksuits in our lounge, and a debt heavier than what our house had cost us and for which we were paying a hefty bond as back then interest rates had soared to over 20 percent. We had two little kids. I wasn’t working. These tracksuits were intended to make us rich!

When I saw our drained bank account, adrenalin shot through my fingers, I held my breath, I ran to the front door, grabbed the Animal Rescue tin (I’ve always had a tin around to drop in small change), hauled it off to the kitchen, dragged out the utensil drawer, clattering the contents on the linoleum (we hadn’t renovated and twenty years later I still have my lime-green and orange 70s kitchen), scrambled on my knees for the tin opener and prised off the lid of that tin. I poured out the money, counted out the cents and the one rand coins, and got to about R60 and thought, this won’t get me a plane ticket, but at least I can buy pizza and beer for supper.

This sounds ridiculous, but in the face of uncontrollable fear, this was all I could do, act unreasonably, flounder, wanting to flee. The word panic, in fact, comes from Pan, the Roman god of the wild, and of hunting, companion to the nymphs, half human, with the legs and horns of a goat, who would induce such fear in humans, when they crossed his path, that the petrified humans would run for their lives.

But just as I panic, I settle quickly and make a plan. My boer blood. I think this is when I first became a smous. Once I’d calmed down, I called every acquaintance, every friend, and suggested how sexy they’d look in a fleecy bottle-green track suit for the winter, and their kids would love them too, even if they had to grow into them. I sat at weekend markets, selling those bottle-green tracksuits. We lost money. Bottle-green didn’t seem to be an ‘in’ colour. The business did not survive. But we paid our debts. It took years. Robert reinvented himself as an illustrator.

I hope I learned something from that time. To have more empathy. That things change. That people suffer every day, from loss, and stress.

Now, if today is indeed panic Day, how can we alleviate our anxiety? Get the hair done? Try a massage? I tried the salon last week, but having my hair washed and blow dried while wearing that darn mask was not relaxing. All the steam, and the talk, of other patrons catching up on news, didn’t add to my comfort. I had a massage last week, but after half an hour hardly daring to breathe, lying face down with my face squished in that little hole, I won’t be doing that again too soon. Can’t sit on a beach with my picnic. Besides, it’s raining. Be with loved ones. That’s also difficult at this time.

Why am I writing this? Maybe to stand in solidarity with all those who are anxious, for whatever reason, whether it’s Panic Day or not. This too shall pass. None of us are alone. I’m sending out lots of virtual hugs.

(As for me, there’s always that little beta-blocker I can knock back, to ease the fluttering of the heart beat at the throat…)

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