“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” – Charles Dickens
This has been the happiest year of my life.
And yet… sometime in early March I spontaneously developed acute Panic Disorder. Funny thing is I’m not stressed, I’m not depressed, I pass all the stress tests, I’m happier and more contented than I’ve ever been. And yet…
Every day is a struggle. It is a fight to get up in the morning, a fight to go to work, to stay at work. I’m still not seeing friends much. Limiting social contacts to family and brief encounters with people.
The medication is finally starting to work. I’ve been popping tiny half tablets of Xanax just to walk a few blocks to get coffee. I make sure I have a mental laundry list of things to think about while I’m walking. I find not staring at my feet as I walk helps. But not always. But I can’t stop going on walks. Because that creates a precident, and suddenly I will panic about thinking about going on my walk to get my coffee.
And yet… panic still comes like a thief. It is like a shot of ice in my brain, I hyperventilate without breathing hard and my extremeties go cold. It feels like you’re dying.
My therapist says to just remember it is the “fight or flight” chemicals firing off in my brain. She says to think of the cave men fleeing from saber tooths.
But I think I’m dying. It’s an aneurism, a heart attack, my head is squeezing and ice is surging through my veins. Why won’t they give me a cat scan?
Mr. Kallisti hands me a paper bag and tells me to breath.
It works. It really works. I’m not dying, within minutes I feel better, but I clutch that bag for an hour. Breathing.
There’s no reason for this. I’m not fighting my treatment, I’m a good girl and doing everything I can. But they only thing that really seems to help are the drugs I’m not supposed to take very often for fear of addiction. And staring at the sky. That helps.
I quit drinking caffeine (“May I have one medium, lowfat, decaf iced latte please?” is my usual order at Peet’s) and most sugar. Good things but neither seemed to impact.
I’ve got excess adrenaline coursing through my veins from the moment I wake up in the morning. Feels like I took a handfull of Sudafed. But it has been six weeks on the anti-depressants (and I’m not depressed, dammint!) and I’m thinking, I’m hoping that they are finally starting to work.
I feel a bit more relaxed. Accept for the squeeze on my head, it feels like a headache without the pain. That never goes away.
Official info from WebMD (favorite destination of the neurotic):
Panic disorder consists of episodes of panic attacks, worry or fear of having another panic attack, and changing your behavior to accommodate that fear or worry (such as avoiding situations that trigger panic attacks). The symptoms of panic attacks come on suddenly, often unexpectedly, and the intensity usually peaks within 10 minutes. While most symptoms fade within 30 minutes, it may take up to an hour for all of the symptoms to go away completely.
Symptoms of a panic attack may include:
- Pounding heart.
- Chest pain.
- Choking feeling.
- Nausea or upset stomach.
- Shortness of breath or feeling “smothered.”
- Dizziness, shaking, or trembling.
- Numbness or tingling.
- Chills or hot flashes.
- Fear that you are going to die, lose control, or “go crazy.”
- Feelings of being detached from yourself or reality.
A first panic attack often comes on without warning during an ordinary activity like shopping or walking down the street. You may become confused and think you are “going crazy” or that something terrible is going to happen. You may feel a strong need to leave the area and go to a place that feels “safe,” such as your car or home. You may experience physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, a pounding heart, or chest pain. The intensity of these symptoms usually peaks within 10 minutes. It is common to think you are experiencing a heart attack and seek treatment in a hospital emergency room.
Panic attacks may be triggered by a specific action, such as drinking too much caffeine, or a situation, such as being in a large crowd. They may also develop suddenly without a known trigger. You may greatly fear having another panic attack (anticipatory anxiety) and avoid all social situations (agoraphobia); up to half of people with panic disorder also have agoraphobia.1 Isolating yourself and avoiding social situations can interfere with your ability to work and your relationships, especially with family members and close friends.
Panic disorder is usually chronic and may last a lifetime, but its symptoms can be controlled with treatment. Most people with panic disorder get better with treatment and are able to resume a normal lifestyle, although relapse can occur, especially if treatment is discontinued too soon.