Panic Attacks; unfortunetly, something I am way too familiar with. Worst moments of my life. I seriously thought I was dying every time, then the thought of dying would just increase the intensity of the attack. Out of nowhere, minding my own business and BAM. My body would start to feel really warm – hot, and I’d feel really lightheaded, like pre-syncope (pre-fainting). My heart would start to race (I could feel it pounding in my chest; I could hear the rhythm echoing in my ears). I would find it difficult to swallow, and sometimes it was like I would forget, for a moment, how to breathe. My chest would start to tighten. The world around me wouldn’t feel as “real” (very wierd sensation to explain; it’s like I’m stick inside my body, looking through these windows – my eyes). I really thought I was going nuts. I was certainly losing control, to the point where it felt like my life was being sucked out of me. Then… the impending doom. The ultimate panic. That moment of “I’m about to die, my life is now over”. Tears would start to roll down my face. What seemed like forever was probably only a few minutes, maybe 10 mins at most. They would happen at random, never triggered by anything in particular. They would keep me awake at night. For some reason, they were always so much worse at night. I would have to get up out of bed and start pacing my room. If I laid down, I’d hear my hear pounding, my body would shake with each pound. I’d often check my pulse, just to see how crazy it was going, or to see if I was dead. Worst mistake ever. Feeling my pulse, or envisioning my heart stop pumping in my chest, would freak me the (beep) out of me. Impending doom would hit me again. What is worse then dying, if you think you are always dying?
To be honest, me typing out that last part made me feel a bit uneasy, a bit on edge. My pulse started to quicken. I closed my eyes, and I took a deep breath in…
Now I am back!
This happened for almost 6 or more months, my entire last year of nursing school. I was living in hell, so too speak. They started off gradually, one every 2 weeks, but increased to almost daily. I was living in complete fear – fearing when the next one might rip through me. Eventually it started to affect all aspects of my life. The only places I felt comfortable was at home with my head in my books, or at my boyfriend’s (now ex’s) home. I never really wanted to do anything or go anywhere, because I was deathly afraid of making an ASS of myself out in public (even around my own friends). I am surprised I made it through that last year of nursing school without having to pause my studies or repeat any course(s). (I’m very proud of myself).
I reached out to my doctor, and did a series of blood work and diagnostic tests (chest xray, ECG, cardiac holter monitor). To no surprise, all came back normal.
I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder.
My doctor advised against treatment in the form of medication. I know what you are thinking (WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD SHE NOT WANT TO TREAT YOU), but I agree with her reasoning based on the information I provided to her.
She felt the medication that is used to treat panic disorders, could really attack my ability to study. Plus panic attacks come and go so quickly, the attack would be over by the time the medication would kick in, and they aren’t the type of medications you want to take around the clock. They are sedating, and make you ‘too mellow’, and very addictive. Benzodiazepines are used on an “as need” basis (unless directed otherwise by your doctor). I was also against taking anti-depressants (at the time). So really my only option was to just ‘deal with it’, and I did.
Reflecting on that entire situation, I also don’t think I ever really told her exactly how bad it got, or all the dreadful details. Probably because I was scatter brained, and too quiet and timid – I didn’t know how to ‘speak up’. This is probably when the Social Anxiety, and Generalized Anxiety started.
I isolated myself so much that social situations made me feel incredibly uneasy. I didn’t want to hang out with my friends, and I even stopped showing up to family holiday gatherings.
The sad truth, I lost some of the ‘greatest’ friends due to my illness. Well childhood friends. BUT if they were truly meant to be in my life, they wouldn’t have gave up, they would still be here.
Hundreds of people will enter your life, lots more will exit. It will sometimes be a blessing, other times it will hurt. But everything happens for a reason, a life lesson. I have learned that as you get older you meet new people and start to build relationships based on similar interests, values, beliefs, and even mental illnesses (or mental wellness). The people in my life now have a very unique understanding of mental health, and can relate either on a personal (either they suffer from a disorder, or know someone close to them that does), or professional level. I find these ‘new’ friends can truly and deeply relate, and don’t take offense to my flare ups (moments where I isolate myself, and become MIA (missing in action) or non-existent; whatever you want to call it). I am truly blessed to have such amazing friends in my life, and I am so grateful for the friends I have yet to meet.
The great news is, I rarely get Panic Attacks anymore. Maybe one or two a year if I am unlucky. They pretty much vanished once I graduated from nursing school. I was able to spend all my energy on learning how to overcome those awful attacks on my own through relaxation, diet, and excerise.
I’ll be speaking more about treatment, and specific, yet simple, things you can do to help in another blog
Disclaimer: None of my information, education or personal stories are for diagnoses or treatment purposes. Mental Health Disorders are serious, and most of the time require help from a trained medical professional. If you think you suffer from one, and find you are having a really hard time coping…. please go speak to your doctor. Do not be afraid. Truly, they are only there to help you. It is very helpful to make a mood and thought diary, and write down everything you experience. When it is time to see your doctor, make some bullet points and some questions to ask to discuss with him or her. This will shed some of the anxiety. You can do it.
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