The day after I thought I might drown, I got back in the lake and swam the 1.2-mile course. I feared that if I left it, if I left Lake Placid without doing the famed loop, I'd have created a hang up. One that would loom like a giant stop sign in front of the rest of my life, forcing me to avoid doing the activities I love.
Mirror Lake is beautiful, only slightly less so than Walden Pond which is heavenly. Sunlight streams through the surface and blinks off a long, metal cable that runs the length of the swim course. My hands churned champagne bubbles as they sliced through water, though not the millions that rise like magic in Walden. Surrounded by tree-covered mountains, it's breathtaking every time you rise to breathe.
The water was just as cold, maybe colder actually, but the sun was shining, hard. There were more swimmers and the giant numbered Ironman buoys were up. Both gave me comfort and confidence. I realized my panic the day before likely had more to do with fear than cold. I got tripped up on my mind. But not this time. Not entirely, anyway. I walked out of the water after 40 minutes and sat on the beach, thrilled to have the monkey off my back.
Later, I rode my bike out of town to test the Ironman bike course. It's a 56-mile loop (which the athletes do twice) through scenic towns and open expanses that includes an infamous 5-mile descent not for the nervous. Kent topped 50 mph on it last year, 43 mph this year because it was wet. I thought I'd just ride the brakes and whatever, how bad can it be, I told Kent as I maneuvered my bike out of the hotel room.
Panic ensued nearly straightaway as I hugged the narrow shoulder against a low rock wall, the only barrier between me and the deadly plunge to an (exquisite) hanging lake below. I feathered my brakes down the entire goddam descent and stopped once to gather my wits for good measure. I didn't go a lick over 20 mph because I was too filled with terror. I'm not talking fear, I'm talking terror!
I cursed every ugly word I could muster and pronounced the descent unfun. The rest of the ride, though? Sheer joy.
I'm not used to this level of panic, not doing things I enjoy. As I rode, I thought, I'm all for conquering fears, I just wish I didn't have so many. And why does it seem like I have so many more these days?
It wasn't until the drive home from Lake Placid, when I suffered multiple panic attacks including a doozy of one as I was driving the Garden State Parkway that I realized this was chemical. Something was going on in my brain, you know? I pulled into a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike and turned the driving over to Kent.
A few years ago, when my anxiety wires first tripped toward the extreme and I was diagnosed with premature menopause, I started taking estrogen as well as a regimen of supplements designed to stop the panic: fish oil, B12 and D3. I forgot all of the supplements on this trip. Maybe that's why the anxiety was peaking again.
That's what I thought until I woke this morning for yoga class and realized it was dark -- at 5:30. We're losing light already, summer is fading into autumn and in years past, I've noticed my anxiety levels tick up as the light fades and the season changes. It usually happens more toward the end of August, but it makes as much sense as anything else I can think of. Amazing, isn't it? That our bodies can be so tuned to the world around us. Now, I just need to find a solution. One that allows me to swim, bike and drive safely down a damn highway.