AN: Howdy! Yes, I named Perry's therapist after Thomas Sanders' Cartoon Therapy character, altough in this story Dr. Picani is just your normal, average therapist. Again, TW for Anxiety/Panic Attacks!
Lola Perry sat down, feeling herself sink into the grey, overly cushioned loveseat that faced an equally cushioned armchair sitting against the far wall of the small, sparsely decorated office. In the armchair sat Dr. Picani; a kind-eyed, grey-haired man who wore cable-knit sweaters and khakis, and who treated everyone with polite, soft-spoken respect. Perry had not known that Silas University offered mental health services until last semester, and she still couldn't believe that someone so… normal could be working at her university.
"So, Lola. When we left of last week we'd been talking a little bit about your anxiety."
She nodded, staring down at her hands clasped between her knees.
"How are you feeling today?"
"Oh, fine." She posited instinctively, before withdrawing back slightly.
"I mean, I… I've been doing well, for the most part. Aside for the, ah… the… you know… the panic attacks."
She nearly whispered those two final words, feeling her face begin to burn slightly. She sighed, moving her hands and resting them on her thighs carefully.
"B-But other than that I'm doing fine."
Dr. Picani nodded, jotting down something onto his legal pad.
"And how often would you say you experienced the symptoms of a panic attack since we last met?"
Perry breathed in sharply, eyes darting to the bookcase in the corner of the room. She held her breath for a second, letting it out and closing her eyes.
"Well, I…I don't think I had one yesterday. But…I think… I'm pretty sure I had at least four…maybe five. Five, or six, at the most"
"Can you think of any specific events or interactions that may have triggered these attacks?"
Perry thought back to when she accidentally summoned a vengeful fairy-god during her freshman year, and when her best friend was kidnapped by a fish-worshipping cult during sophomore year. Junior year had ended with her being possessed by an entirely different different vengeful god, and she had spent her senior year locked in her own mind while said god used her body to try and awaken hell on earth. Determined to finish her degree, Perry was currently in her final semester of classes; but the bearable worries and anxieties she'd always managed to live with now began to manifest into full-blown panic attacks. She'd wake up practically hyperventilating, afraid for her life. She'd be studying when her heart would begin racing uncontrollably and the words on the pages of her textbooks would begin to blur. She couldn't stop thinking, she couldn't stop worrying. She couldn't even enjoy cooking or cleaning anymore, because anytime she tried to do anything to relax her thoughts would begin to spiral.
Feeling a familiar tightness in her chest, Perry took a few deep breaths, hands grabbing an embroidered cushion sitting next to her and hugging it tightly.
"I…I can't really remember. I think…" She took a breath, "I think that I… I've been anxious forever but…but recently i-it's just been getting worse and…I-I don't know how to stop it."
Dr. Picani scribbled something down.
"You say that you've "been anxious forever". Has your anxiety every gotten to this point before?"
"No. I-I mean… It's usually been manageable and I-I've just been able to forget about it by baking or cleaning o-or whatever; but these panic attacks, I…th-they just come out of nowhere and-"
Her heart was echoing in her ears as she hugged the pillow tighter. Her breath hitched in her throat, and she began to feel lightheaded as she tried to focus on breathing.
You're going to die. You're going to be stuck, possessed by the Dean for the rest of your life. Maybe you're still possessed by the Dean and this is all just your imagination. LaFontaine will give up on you, if they haven't already. You'll never do anything extraordinary and you're going to waste your entire life panicking over everything. You'd better just commit yourself now. You can't possibly think that you'll do anything special in your life. You're worthless. You're helpless. You're-
"Lola, are you experiencing a panic attack right now?"
Dr. Picani's voice echoed in her ears, and when she managed to reply her own voice sounded as if she were underwater.
Her thoughts began spiraling once again, but Dr. Picani kept talking.
"I want you to listen to me, Lola. Can you do that?"
She nodded, knuckles white from gripping the embroidered pillow; which ironically had a blue-and-white sloth with the words "hang in there" stitched into it.
"I want you to look around my office, and I want you to pick five things that you see, and list them out for me."
Perry's eyes darted around the room, her hands shaking as she relaxed her grip on the pillow. She glanced at the bookshelf, eyes resting on a bobble-head of a cat wearing sunglasses.
"A-A bobblehead. A cat bobblehead." Her eyes began searching again, looking between Dr. Picani's desk and the bookshelf.
"A stapler. A desk. Your legal pad." Breathing less heavily, her eyes glanced down at the floor.
"A-And my shoes."
"Good. Now, I want you to list four things that you can feel."
"Th-This pillow." Perry gestured to it with her chin, still gripping it tightly.
"Um. M-My heartbeat. The couch cushions…My feet on the floor."
Perry felt her breathing begin to slow slightly, although her heartbeat still hammered in her ears.
"Name three things you can hear."
Dr. Picani got to his feet, walking over to his desk as Perry continued the exercise.
"Um…m-my heartbeat, again."
She felt her heart rate begin to rise again, looking around the room to try and pinpoint two more sounds. Taking a shaky breath, she closed her eyes, focusing on the rhythm of her breathing. Her breathing slowed, and she began to listen.
"Th-The clock, on your wall."
Perry opened her eyes, and she took a deep breath, feeling calmer.
"And birds outside."
Dr. Picani sat down, placing a small basket of what looked like completely miscellaneous items on the coffee table between him and Perry.
"This one is a bit more difficult. Name two things you can smell."
Perry looked pensive for a moment, before Dr. Picani handed the basket over to her. Perry took it, and looked down at the collection of not-so-random items; travel bottles of various lotions, stress-balls, lip balms, scented markers, tins of putty and single-wrapped pieces of gum and candy.
"They're free to take."
Perry nodded, rummaging through the basket before pulling out a small bottle of vanilla-scented lotion and a cherry lip gloss. She put the basket on the table, before opening the lotion and rubbing it on her hands.
"Um, this lotion." She held up the bottle momentarily, and then placed it on the table and opening the lip gloss; applying it to her lips.
"And the lip gloss."
Dr. Picani nodded.
"And finally, one thing you can taste."
Perry lit up.
"Oh, the lip gloss again." She nodded, taking a deep breath and letting it out. She still felt shaky, and her hands ached from clutching the throw pillow- but her head was clearer, and she wasn't hyperventilating anymore.
She took another breath, and Dr. Picani jotted something down before looking at her.
"How do you feel?"
Perry sighed, taking a moment to collect her thoughts.
"I… I feel a little better. I think it definitely helped to talk myself though it, because it reminded me that I'm not actually dying or anything."
"It's going to take time, Lola. I definitely recommend putting together a bag of items that you can use to ground yourself when you find yourself in the middle of another panic attack, something that you can have on you at all times. But what you did right now, that's a huge step. You can repeat this exercise anytime you feel an episode coming on- the important thing to remember is that you have control over your anxiety, and every time you practice the exercise we just did it will become more and more of an instinct until you don't even have to think about it."
Perry nodded, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her cardigan as she felt her shoulders finally relax. She was safe, she was going to be okay. She wasn't dying, or possessed by an evil god, or in danger of summoning an evil fairy-god. The relief came crashing over her like a tidal wave, and Dr. Picani soon placed a box of tissues on the table.
"Crying is a natural release, Lola. It's completely normal to need that release, especially given what you've just gone through."
She nodded, taking one of the tissues and wiping at the tears that were streaming down her face.
"I-I just…I wish I c-could just be n-normal."
Dr. Picani sat back in his chair.
"Well, quite frankly, I don't really think anyone's really completely normal." He smiled.
"And Lola, anxiety is extremely common. Numbers of people struggle with it on a daily basis, and it is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of."
Perry half-smiled, taking her used tissues and shoving them into the pocket of her cardigan.
"Well, I think that's about all the time we have for today." Dr. Picani got to his feet, taking the basket and tissues back to his desk.
"Lola, I'm immensely proud of you. What you did today was a huge step in learning to cope with your anxiety."
"Thank you." She got to her feet, her legs a little wobbly, but strong enough to get her back to her dorm.
"Same time next week?"
Dr. Picani nodded.
"Of course. Take it easy. You did a lot of work today."
"Thanks. A-And I will."
She smiled, pulling her cardigan around herself as she began the walk back to her dorm.