Monday, February 20, 2012

Panic! At My Body - Part 2

Please excuse my little intermission - I intended to write all of this at once, but then I ran out of time and knew that if I saved it as a draft I would never, ever hit publish.

Okay, so I left off at my little post-baby breakdown. That was definitely more intense than my previous episodes, and for a couple of weeks afterwards I'd occasionally wake up from a dead sleep to find my heart racing and arms tingling. I decided it was time to find a family physician I actually liked and have her run the bloodwork they recommeded at my last ER visit (an entire year earlier). My new doctor was nice enough, but she also thought anxiety was the most likely culprit for someone my age, family history of heart and autoimmune disease notwithstanding. Then again, she also freaked out over my cholesterol levels despite the fact that I was holding a 2 week old baby and was still breastfeeding, so she clearly didn't know what she was talking about. I made a mental note to look for a more competent doctor, and went back to normal life.

At that point, when I was being completely honest with myself, I was about 50-50 as to whether it was anxiety or heart issues (which is about 50% more than I was after the first two episodes). I couldn't really ignore the fact that there was now a mental freakout component to my symptoms, which had been completely absent before.

Cut to 6 months later, as I was getting ready for PJs @ TJ's. I am always a bit of a stressball when I am about to go on a trip. I go into full Type A mode, and am unable to rest until my bags are packed, the house is clean, outfits are laid out, bills are paid, etc. etc. etc. This time was no different, but I was running WAY behind because Lucy had been sick all week and I am insanely sleep deprived. I decided to take a little sleep break and finish up in the morning before my flight. Almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, adrenaline started coursing through my veins. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't just relax and go to sleep. I knew that no matter how tired I was, the only way to make my heart stop racing and my body stop fidgeting was to just get up and finish packing.

After I packed, I was able to fall asleep while watching TV. I thought everything was normal again until I was on the runway, about to take off. HMMMMM. Heart racing, fidgety body, feelings of panic...fuck.

And repeat for the next 3 flights. Heart problems don't really save themselves for specific situations like being on an airplane.

The weirdest part about this panic / anxiety business, for me, is that I STILL don't consider myself an anxious person, at least not in my head. It's purely physiological, for the most part. I'm not afraid of flying - I have flown lots of times before and am usually super excited to go on my trip. But, for whatever reason, my body has decided that it is now super sensitive to adrenaline, and randomly clicks into full on fight or flight mode at the slightest provocation. So I'm sitting there, minding my own business, and then my body experiences this rush of chemicals and starts freaking out. And only then does my mind start to join in - the only thing that really makes me anxious is my anxiety itself. SO WEIRD.

But check this out - I am not a unique and beautiful panicky snowflake. 6 million Americans suffer from panic disorder (a type of anxiety disorder that describes my symptoms to a scary degree):

Panic disorder is a real illness that can be successfully treated. It is characterized by sudden attacks of terror, usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweatiness, weakness, faintness, or dizziness. During these attacks, people with panic disorder may flush or feel chilled; their hands may tingle or feel numb; and they may experience nausea, chest pain, or smothering sensations. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom, or a fear of losing control.

A fear of one’s own unexplained physical symptoms is also a symptom of panic disorder. People having panic attacks sometimes believe they are having heart attacks, losing their minds, or on the verge of death. They can’t predict when or where an attack will occur, and between episodes many worry intensely and dread the next attack.

Panic attacks can occur at any time, even during sleep. An attack usually peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer.

Since getting back from my trip, I went back to my doctor (who actually acknowledged her mistake about the cholesterol, so I guess she's a keeper). She was all ready to give me something to take all of the time, but then I mentioned that I normally go at least 3-4 months with no issues at all. So now I have medication I can take on an as-needed basis.

It was IMMENSELY helpful talking to other people about anxiety. Their experiences were definitely completely different than mine, but the similarities really helped me get to the place where I needed to be to ask for help. I think just knowing that I have something I can take if I want to will help me chill out. I also think that I will feel infinitely better if a certain baby will start SLEEPING THROUGH THE DAMN NIGHT, but that is neither here nor there.

You may be wondering where the whole "anxiety = weak" attitude came from. First, let me clarify that it's not like I would ever hear that someone else has anxiety and instantly judge them or feel superior or think of them any differently than I did before I knew they had anxiety. However, I will say that it's hard for me to not judge myself as being weak for having anxiety. In fact, if you have been reading carefully, you may notice that I had to kind of rewrite my definition of anxiety for me to accept this truth about myself. I am still not an anxious person, it's just that I experience these physiological reactions that I couldn't control any more than, say, the color of my hair (without hair dye, that is). I guess I'm still working on accepting things.

I think a lot of this has to do with my family. We are all very, VERY good at keeping up appearances. It's kind of like my random crap bins - if you must be messy or imperfect, compartmentalize / containerize it so that no one else knows. No one else can ever see that your life is anything less than perfect.

Needless to say, it's been very hard for me to talk about this here. However, I think that it's SO MUCH BETTER than keeping it all in. I don't really have anyone outside of family to talk to about this, but the internet is full of awesome people who are open about their experiences and it makes me feel NORMAL, and like I am still STRONG, I just have a new quirk that makes me me.

To everyone who has left supportive comments or sent nice emails, it really means a lot to me. Thank you!!!


Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

I just want to give you a big hug for this. For dealing with this anxiety for SO LONG and for being strong enough to talk about it. You are so right: This has nothing to do with how strong and capable you are. It's just another little part of you. But I completely get how hard it must be to face it and talk about it and well, thank you for sharing this.

Swistle said...

I think as-needed medications are the best inventions ever. I don't like it when doctors want someone on medication constantly for something that happens once every few months, or frequently for a week and then not at all for awhile; that seems like taking ibuprofen three times a day every day just in case there's a headache. As-needed is excellent for periodic issues.

d e v a n said...

thank you for sharing! I'm going back to my doctor this week and plan to ask to switch to an "as needed" drug because I think I'm ready to stop the daily medication.

Elise said...

Laura, I'm so glad that you were able to find a solution that worked for you! I understand your hesitation to call it anxiety--I still struggle with the idea that I might have had a form of PTSD (notice how I still hedge that quite a bit?). Naming it does not mean you are weak, naming it diminishes its power and shows how amazingly strong you actually are. I'm praying that the medication works exactly the way you want it to and anxiety becomes a thing of your past.

M said...

Oh I'm sorry I missed reading this earlier. I am SO glad you found something that can help you on an as-needed basis. I think it really is the best bet, especially since they come on so fast and only happen occasionally. I know it was hard to talk about, but I'm glad you did, and I'm sure it is such a relief to get it all out in the open. I'm sure you will help someone who is dealing with something similar.

Hillary said...

I haven't had a panic attack ... but my sister and mom both do and I think I've been right on the verge. It's all much like your situation. We don't consider ourselves anxious, etc., but there are bodies are, telling us what's up. My sister notoriously will be going through a major crisis, insisting she's fine -- except for the raging hives all over her body.

Navigating the Mothership said...

I have also never experienced a panic attack, but I have been dealing with anxiety recently - maybe for the first time in my life, but maybe not. I always thought of myself as more prone to being depressed (in a sleepy, high functioning kind of way), but maybe it's always been more of a mix. Certainly my extended family struggles with anxiety (OMFG understatement!) But it's great that you are able to get some stuff figured out and really beginning to connect the dots between brain and body. That's such a hard thing to do in our culture and in general.


Wiz said...

Thanks for sharing. Oh how I get this! I definitely have anxiety about things too. But I also have a TEMPER! I could probably use some medication but just wont see anyone because I dont want to be "weak." I have always been independent and thing help from anyone would make me weak. But I dont look at others and think they are weak because they have help. I am jealous of your blog meetup. It looks like so much fun.