Friday, November 21, 2008


Panic Attacks
Have you ever had one? I remember when and where I was when I had my first one. I was 31 and driving to a hair appointment. I never drove my beater Honda on the freeway. The excuse was that it was old and might break down. Now I realize I had a fear of driving. I don't know why. I had one fender bender in High School but never anything major.

So I was taking the back roads out to Tiger Mountain in Issaquah. I had just turned left on to Eastlake Sammamish Road. You know right by the Fred Meyer? WHAMMO! I thought I was going to die. The back of head, hands and face went numb. My vision tunneled down to a pinpoint. I couldn't breathe and my heart beat very very fast. Now I know I probably was so fearful of driving that I hyperventilated, at the time I had no idea. I just thought I was going to die.

I don't like to draw attention to myself. So there were no histrionics. I just kept repeating "you're okay you're okay you're okay" until I got to my appointmentand then I was okay...or so I thought. What happened was that I became afraid of the next attack. I've read since that some can have one attack and not have another but some worry excessively about it happening again. THAT doesn't help because of course you worry yourself into another one. Over and over and over again.

You wonder where it will be? Who will be around? If you like to be strictly in control (like me) will I be able to control myself? So you start avoiding places where you don't feel you can escape quickly. My big thing was driving. I couldn't do it. There had to be a shoulder, or an exit or a way out. See panic attacks are like your "fight or flight" is broken. You feel a need to flee...all the time. So your world shrinks. I think I was somewhat agoraphobic for a time. My only saving grace was that I was poor. I had to go to work.

After a three day long panic...horrible, I finally went to the doctor about 4 months after that first panic. They gave me Xanax. Ahhh sweet relief. I understand downer addicts completely. Eventually I ended up on Paxil but it killed my sex life, the mind was willing but the flesh unresponsive. Made me gain 7o pounds in about six months. I slept almost constantly, ground my teeth...well it was awful.

We switched to Wellbutrin and I was horribly sad. I cried over Kodak commercials. Celexa worked the best but I still felt like a slug. Eventually it was decided I couldn't take an everyday antidepressant and my doctor put me on Clonazepam to take only when the anxiety was particularly high. It worked for me and eventually I didn't need it at all.

I credit Lola for forcing me to interact and get out everyday as well as inspiring a career change as the final catalyst to change. I think I was ultimately very self centered. I mean that in the way that I was thinking and worrying too much about me. When I got her I started to think less about me and more about other things.

I am so glad that chapter in my life is over


4 comments:

Neo said...

wow, that is really something, I mean, I'm glad you are off the medicine and all, I have heard of panic attacks but never really talked about them with anyone that had the experience.
I am on a medicine to control epilepsy and the side effects are minimal, my "episodes" are not the wild thrashing or granmaul, I just sorta space out for about a minute. I do sorta know about the worry and lose control feeling.

dog grrrrl said...

Yeah for me the cure was worse than the problem. I often say I'd rather be crazy and skinny than fat and sane (ok not really)but I know those drugs work wonders for other people. I think Eric will tell you they saved his life.

Travis said...

I have a very close friend who became unable to fly. He travels extensively and has for most of his life and then one day he just couldn't get on an air plane. It was absolutely awful. He missed very important events (the wedding of another dear friend) and yet he couldn't get it under control. He started worrying about it so much it took control of the rest of his life as well...we would speak and it was like I was talking to a zombie or a shell of my friend at best.

finally he went to the doctor and I can't remember what he's on, but it has changed his life...literally. The panic is completely gone, he is under control, he's able to fly and just live his life.

Melissa - you are brave to share this experience. There are so many people who live with things like this and feel so alone or don't reach out for help.

I've always said we go to the dentist when our teeth hurt, isn't our mind more important? Seek professional help, it isn't a sign of failure...its a sign of success.

dog grrrrl said...

I don't feel brave just matter of fact. I tried so hard at the time to hide it from everyone and now I wonder why.

Ultimately for me I think the cure was what we in the dog world call "flooding" exposure over and over to what scares you until it doesn't anymore. Admittedly not for everyone but since it seems medication isn't for me the best way. I just forced myself to confront it. Medicating made me not feel at all. If I had continued I wouldn't have solved anything