Hakuba 47 in Nagano prefecture. Mid-morning, last Saturday. All around me was soft, relatively new snow. The sky was blue with puffs of white clouds in the distance. The air was crisp as a light breeze gently wafted across the piste. The sun was out, tenderly warming my face in the cold surroundings. It was quiet but for the sound of skis and snow boards going past me.
It sounds like a perfect skiing moment but at the precise instant when I cursorily noticed all these wonderful things, I was motionless, overwhelmed with fear, at the side of a ski run on what would have been an ideal ski morning. I knew from experience that I was having a panic attack.
What caused me to panic?
I do not know.
By the time I arrived at that spot, my husband and I had already skied a few runs. We decided to take a break at our regular café at the bottom of Hakuba 47. To reach the café, we skied down a red run (similar to a blue square in the US), which I’ve done several times before.
When I started down this run, I had no problem at all. The snow conditions were nothing short of fantastic. But close to the end of the run, I skied into the mountain and stopped at the rightmost edge of the slope. That’s where I remained for the next several long and agonizing minutes. For no reason that I was consciously aware of, dread descended upon me without warning and held me in place. I was rooted to the spot and could not get myself to move.
“Am I having a low?”
My first thought was that my blood glucose plunged, a thought I quickly dismissed. Although it was conceivable that I may have been having a hypoglycemic episode, everything told me that the likelihood was minimal. I am only on a relatively low dose of metformin, which as far as I know doesn’t cause one’s blood glucose to take a nose dive. I had eaten breakfast and had no alcohol (alcohol comes after skiing). I had not been skiing long that morning which could have theoretically used up all my available blood sugar. I was not experiencing disorientation, light headedness, blurry vision, dizziness or other symptoms associated with hypoglycemia. Anyway, much as I intensely detest diabetes, it is not the cause of all my problems. Diabetes had nothing to do with it.
From experience on black runs and moguls, I knew I was having a panic attack. Knowing, however, did not ease the anxiety. I was still rooted to that one spot.
Nothing precipitated it. I didn’t fall on that slope. I did not have a near collision with anyone. I was having fun and was looking forward to coffee. The café was literally just a couple of minutes away.
My husband, who was on the opposite side of the run, became alarmed and skied over to me.
He: What’s wrong?
Me: I’m terrified.
He: Of what?
Me: I do not know. [Then after a few seconds] I’m afraid of the sound of the boards and skis.
Me: I do not know.
He: There’s no one behind you now.
Me: I’m scared of the sound of my skis.
Shshshishshsh. Shshshishshsh. Shshshishshsh. The sounds seem to come from all around me. Even the sounds coming from my skis when I tried to move frightened me. And I did not, still do not, know why.
I can understand why I previously froze on steep black runs and nasty moguls. But the slope I was on was neither. In fact, all my favorite conditions were on that slope that morning. It was not that steep. That portion of the run was short, so I could have rested at the bottom before proceeding to the final section. It was wide so there was no fear of skiing off the edge or bumping into anyone. The snow was packed, and the surface was slightly icy but not a shiny, slippery big block of ice. The surface resembled a matte finish on a photograph (as opposed to a glossy finish). I prefer this type of slope because I edge more and therefore feel that I’m in control. Thus, there was no reason for me to freeze like a deer caught in the headlights.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I moved. I had little choice. I had to come down at some point. Walking down in ski boots is almost impossible. I could have skied down on my butt but I’ve done this several years before down a black run, and I had no desire to repeat that humiliating scene. The only viable option was to ski.
The whole time I stood there until I finally moved, I was giving myself a much needed pep talk. I’ve done this many times before. Look at that kid zoom by. I know how to ski, I know how to turn, and I know how to stop. I know how to fall and I know how to get up. I know how to ski. The café is just a few meters away. I can get down this slope and rest at that flat surface. I know how to ski. Over and over again, until I finally got tired of my monologue. My husband echoed much of what I told myself but he knew enough not to overdo it.
After our coffee break, my husband quietly asked if I wanted to do the run again. A flicker of hesitation appeared but I quickly swatted it away. Gotta get back on that horse quickly. This second time I zoomed down with no problem whatsoever.
I’ve spent the past few days analyzing what triggered that panic attack. I thought I had my confidence back after our trip to Hokkaido. Clearly, I was mistaken. My husband says that it’s just a simple case of self-preservation, that at the back of my mind I haven’t fully mentally recovered from breaking my leg on an icy surface. He’s probably right. Over time, I should get over the trauma of a broken leg.
I hope he’s right. He usually is.