Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Little Advice on Panic Attacks

Don’t have them. And while the mechanics of panic attacks aren’t well understood, as are most brain chemical imbalance disorders or how various medications work on them, let me tell you first hand, they suck.

I suffered from clinical depression for most of my married life. I knew it wasn’t normal for a social, generally upbeat, positive person like me to have immense difficulty just managing to get out of bed in the morning. There were days when I would take the kids to school and sit on the sofa the rest of the day until I had to go back and get them at 2:30. Sometimes I would sleep. Sometimes I would just sit there. No TV, no radio, no noise. I’d turn off the phone. I didn’t even think. My mind was just sort of shut off, like it had overloaded or something.

My panic attacks originally started when I was about 25, but they escalated after I got married. I was a bag of jumbled nerves on the verge of panic every day. Every day. Every day I was in fight or flight (or the new "chew" or "stew") response mode. And the stress would have killed me if my son hadn’t dialed 911 that day I had a heart attack. So take heed, those of you in abusive relationships. Your life may be in danger in more ways than you can imagine.

Grand mal panic attacks are the flip side of depression. While depression “turns you mentally off”, panic puts your system in revved up overdrive. I was in the grocery store one time and actually had to leave the cart of food and go home because I thought I was dying. The place was closing in around me, I was getting tunnel vision, my heart was racing, I was sweaty, cold, jittery. I was sure I was going to die. Panic attacks woke me in the middle of the night, kept me from sleeping, sometimes kept me from going out of the house. I had them in the car, in restaurants, at work. Unless you’ve had them, there’s no describing how debilitating they are. You think you are going insane.

Eventually, I started opening up to my doctor, my counselor, my friends. The years of counseling and medication, along with my freedom, did the trick for me. I still suffer from panic attacks, which we know from previously discussing Dr. Donald and all my friends in the local ER, but they are better controlled and milder. Also, understanding what is happening to you is imperative in handling them.

Panic attacks are extremely difficult to explain to those who never experienced them and like all “mental disorders” are looked upon with some mistrust. My favorite is calling into work after a night in the ER, zoned out on anti-anxiety medications.

“I won’t be in today. I was in the ER all last night.”


“Uh, well, I really didn’t feel well and I thought I had better get checked out.”

“What was wrong?"

"Uh, I had a panic attack.”


Doesn’t have the same huumph as say, “I cut my arm off in a tree-sawing accident” or “I ended up with double pneumonia and blood squirting out of my nose”. Basically, when you say “I had a panic attack” people think you’re just nuts.

But I think things are changing. At least I can hope so.

Now I’m not suggesting that any one thing…divorce, meds, counseling…is better than another to make your life livable again. I’m saying you need to find what is going to help you save your own life and begin enjoying who you are, who you have, and where you are going. When you are depressed, life has no meaning. Especially your own. You need to hold onto something and fight for yourself. You are important to so many.

My only advice? Hang onto friends, hang onto your family, hang onto your career, hang onto Barry Manilow, hang onto Star Trek, hang onto whatever you need to, get medical advice….and don’t give up. Remember, you are worth it.

If you forget…come back. I’ll remind you.

1 comment:

colleen said...

Been there and done that. I think my major episode with this (at the age of 19 and before their were drugs to treat it) was related to Hashimoto's thyroid. Read Solved the Riddle of Illness.