I’ve had only one panic attack. It happened in the fall of 2008, during a period when my wife and I were graduate students in English. I was walking across a sunny quad, wearing an actual tweed jacket, thinking about all the papers that I had to grade, when suddenly a wave of fear washed over me. Its origin wasn’t at all mysterious: I had no workable plan for my life. There were almost no jobs for new English professors, and the search for work would likely send me and my wife to different parts of the country. How would we ever build a life together, or start a family? Intellectually, I had known for years that we were approaching our future in an unrealistic way—but now the problem registered as a physical assault, contained in the brightness of the sun and the stirring of the air. Oh, my God, I thought. What am I going to do? Breathing hard, I paced up and down the path, preparing to throw up. It took a few minutes for these sensations to pass; eventually, the sound of the chapel bell steadied me, and I sat on a bench, drained and disturbed.
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