Monday, November 6, 2006

Panic with no disco involved

Around four years ago I woke up to my heart beating about 120 beats per minute and sweating a cold, clammy, not at all nice sweat. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was going to die which quickly turned into an "Oh my God I'm actually going to die," but I couldn't find the thing that hurt that would kill me. Chest? Ok in there, except the heart rate. Liver/stomach/abdomen? Nothing hurt. And yet I was convinced beyond reason that I was going to die so I called 911 and went and laid on my bed and waited for them to get there or the icey hand of death, whichever came first. When the EMTs arrived they took one look at me and said two words:

"Panic attack."

I couldn't believe them. I was 17 and a happy senior in high school. What the hell did I have to panic about? I soon learned that it didn't work that way.

My heart would be the first thing. It would palpitate once or multiple times. Then I'd know what was about to happen and my hands would get clammy. My breathing would quicken. At this point, I'd try to talk myself out of it. "You're fine," I'd tell myself. "This is nothing you can't handle." And then I'd be sweating all over. My vision would get blurry. I'd start to hyperventilate and get dizzy. "No," I would say, "you're just freaking out." At that point, I'd be convinced that I was dying. I'd look for a way out... get up and jump up and down just to know I still could, make a fist so hard it hurt, just to feel it... anything to convince myself I wasn't going to snuff it. If I could do these things and feel these things, I couldn't be dying.

I decided to ignore these weekly occurrences. I would hide in bathrooms during school or try to walk it off while I was at home. They blossomed into twice weekly occurrences, and finally to every day. Let me re-emphasize that. Every day, I thought I was going to die because that's what you think even though you know you won't. Every. Day. They wouldn't all be huge, but they'd exist. I was remarkable at outwardly keeping my shit together. That went on for a year, and I learned to live with it.

It wasn't until I started calling out of work every other day and leaving early that I realized I maybe might kind of have some kind of maybe sort of half problem. Yeah. I am stubborn. But when I was driving home one day and wave after wave of panic came over me, bigger than the biggest ones I'd ever had and I almost killed myself and someone else, I decided that something had to change.

I figured it was subconscious angst. I changed my diet. I started exercising. I did yoga. I did all the things they tell you to do to de-stress. I even picked up knitting (a hobby I continue today). Nope! Nothing. Once a day, I still thought I was going to die.

I became a hypochondriac. I insisted that there was something physically wrong with me and saw at least 15 specialists for multiple tests. All were negative. No cancer, no brain tumors, no heart problems, no diabetes, no adrenal/hormone/thyroid issues. I was so bucking healthy and it pissed me off so much. What was the problem?

It wasn't until I went to my physician's office and saw one of the women who was not my usual doctor that I heard the words that would change how I looked at mental issues:

"Panic disorder."

Not just "attack" anymore, kids. Disorder. DSM-IV classified disorder. Me? I had never been disorderly in my life. Still, it made more sense than anything else I'd heard/imagined. We started the medication.

Within 3 months, they dissipated almost entirely. Once in a great while I'd get a feeling of anxiety in my chest, but it would never bloom into that terrible place that defied any logical thinking. I was on the medication for 2 years and then weaned off it. We waited six months and I didn't have another one after that. Everything was fine. I never even got that wave of anxiety that comes for no reason. Again, these panic attacks happened for no. Reason. I never got one while doing anything even mildly stressful.

Anyway, I've been off the medication for over a year and haven't felt so much as a twinge. Until today! That's right. Panic at the workplace! Molly was great and went for a walk with me to clear out some of the adrenaline and keep my mind off itself and I did feel a bit better.

But I can't get rid of that feeling in my stomach - the one saying that this isn't over.

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