Archives for Analysis
The other day, I wrote about how I woke up in the middle of the night at about 3:50 am. My left leg was completely numb -- and, amusingly, the full-blown panic attack that followed did not begin as I was limping around my living room with a pins-and-needles leg. The panic only started after my leg had returned to normal. In my last post, I explained how the panic rose (and so did my subjective temperature!). I left off here: there I lay, on my kitchen floor, with cold and clammy skin and a paralyzing fear of losing consciousness. Was it low blood sugar? Was it some other frightening medical problem? Or was it just panic? Just thinking about the prospect of possibly passing out after not being able to bring my blood sugar up (and was it even blood sugar problem? I'll never know; it was only a guess, anyway) convinced me to run to the bathroom, full speed, in case of vomit. I collapsed on the bathroom floor, shaking, feeling only mildly safer to be positioned in front of an acceptable vomit-receptacle. You know, just in case. Just in case. But of course, I'd left my ice pack in the kitchen...and, the baseboard heater was chugging along, right next to the toilet. The heat was unbearable. It took all my strength to lift myself off of the floor, burst into the bedroom, fall onto the bed, and ask my husband for help. Why didn't I ask for help to begin with? Well, see, that's the thing about panic attacks: I want to be able to "come down" from them myself. If I always rely on my husband, or a friend, or someone else, then what happens when I'm driving in my car all alone on a country road and begin to panic in an area with no cell phone reception? If I'm used to relying on someone else to calm me down, I'm screwed. If I can rely on myself, then I can probably cope no matter what the circumstance. Right?
Yesterday, I wrote about how I woke up in the middle of the night at about 3:50 am. The reason for my mid-night wakeup? I'd fallen asleep on the floor in an odd position, and my leg was completely numb. I'm not sure if the numb leg triggered the panic. Surely, there's some level of fear involved when you can't feel a part of your body. (Note to self: this is why I'm scared to death of getting an epidural. No, I'm not pregnant -- not yet, at least -- but the idea of a numb lower body on delivery day is already plaguing my mind.) But no matter what the cause, my body and mind went absolutely haywire just minutes later at 4 am -- after my leg had returned to its normal, non-numb, non-prickly-feeling state. First, I started feeling a little nauseous. Perhaps that's not out of the ordinary, really, given that I'd gotten through a migraine the previous day. (Migraines often cart along nausea as a travel buddy.) So, I sat down on my living room floor and tried to ride it out. But then, sitting in the dark and listening to the click and hiss of our baseboard radiators, I got inexplicably hot. Not "sitting outside on a sunny day" hot. Not "the thermostat is turned up too high" hot. I felt hot enough to pass out and/or melt.
Well, I thought last night at 4:30 am, at least tomorrow's Panic About Anxiety blog post just wrote itself. But let's rewind a a couple of hours first, shall we? I had a hard time falling asleep last night. I don't know why, but I don't often question it. It happens. It's no big deal. What I do know is this: laying in my bed while tossing and turning never seems to help. If I can't sleep, I like to change locations until I'm sleepy enough to return to bed. So at about 2 a.m., Netflix kept me company as I lay curled up with a soft blanket on my living room floor. I fell asleep to TLC's My Strange Addiction. (Who in the hell watches that before bed, you might ask? Well, for context, I was watching an episode about a woman who was addicted to sleeping with her hair dryer every night. So, um, it was sleep-related programming. Sort of.) I fell asleep on the living room floor wrapped up burrito-style in my blanket. It was oddly comfortable. Until 3:50 am rolled around.
(Note: this post is part of a series about navigating my way through the 10 Rules for Coping with Panic, which is a nifty little list I keep in my wallet. To read the introduction to this series, check out this post: Coping with Panic: Why I Can’t, and Why I Can.) Well, we're halfway through the list now. And, in theory, we're halfway through a panic attack. We've reached the point in the list of 10 Rules where panic begins to subside. Here's Rule #6: Notice when it fades. Notice that once you stop adding to it with frightening thoughts, the fear starts to fade by itself. WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT? Think about the last time you panicked. How did you get through the situation? Did you focus on the uncomfortable sensations, or did you grab your phone and start texting your symptoms away? Did you sit and wait it out, or did you run off to find a Sudoku book for distraction? Did you pay attention to the dizziness and the lightheadedness, or did you turn on the television so you could focus on something else?
I ask this question not only for the benefit of my readers...but for the benefit of myself. How do you cope with the sting of having a panic attack after a long period of panic-free living? I'm not really talking about short-term coping mechanisms here. I'm not talking about breathing exercises or anything like that. Instead, I'm talking about the big stuff -- how do you deal with feeling let down? How do you deal with suddenly feeling so out of control after a long period of feeling relatively in control? How do you go back to believing that you've only hit a small bump in the road and not a gigantic pothole? What goes up must come down, they say, and in the back of my mind I've always known that I'd have another "big one" eventually. I'd been doing so well -- grocery shopping, leaving my apartment for hours at a time, and pushing the boundaries of my "safe radius," as I like to call it. Fellow agoraphobes, you know what I mean. But yesterday was different.
This week, I'm reaching back in time for help with panic disorder and agoraphobia. Nah, there's no flux capacitor in my bag of goodies -- just a book. (But a good one. So far.) Dr. Claire Weekes begins her 1972 book, Peace from Nervous Suffering, by acknowledging three pitfalls that can lead to what she calls "nervous illness." Ha, wait. Nervous illness. You don't hear THAT kind of phrase tossed around too much these days. It's worth pausing here to mention that some of her language is, well, charming. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure when the phrase "panic disorder" was coined and when it entered the DSM as a diagnosable disorder -- perhaps not by the time '72 rolled around. So, instead of referring to "panic disorder," "generalized anxiety," or any other common phrases, Weekes speaks about "nervous illness." Half of me thinks that her outdated terminology is comforting -- after all, doesn't an "illness" sound more temporary and more curable than a "disorder"? But the other half of me itches to call a spade a spade: the word "nervous" is leagues away from true "panic", after all.
Do you remember your very first panic attack? Was it years ago, or was it yesterday? I definitely remember mine (even though it was years ago!). I was a college sophomore, living in a ivory-colored cell block of a dorm room. It was well past midnight on a weeknight and my roommate was fast asleep. Within just a few minutes of climbing into my extra-long bed and unplugging the Christmas lights that lit our room, I suddenly felt like I couldn't feel half of my body. My heart started to race. I became flushed and lightheaded. It felt like adrenaline had flushed out my entire bloodstream. I thought I was having a stroke.
Earlier this week, I ended up inadvertently live-tweeting my attempt to overcome a bout of agoraphobia. I tried to go to Target. All I needed to do was drive there, walk to the pharmacy area, and transfer a prescription. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? But the second I pulled into a space in the parking lot, I had a problem. I don't have a smartphone. Yes, technology-obsessed me. I have a clunky Samsung with a slide-down keyboard, but I can still tweet via text message -- but I can't receive any incoming tweets. I tweet into the great void. It was raining, and I was feeling panicked. The sky was dark. Target's front doors, let alone the pharmacy counter itself, were uncomfortably far away. For a few minutes, I sat in silence with the car running, unsure if I should even attempt to walk inside or if I should play it safe and drive away. Then, I ran through the rain to the front door.
Last week, I wrote about how certain mental health-related quips and jokes can sometimes be hurtful. Comments like "take a chill pill" run the gamut from innocuous to downright insulting -- depending on who is delivering the phrase, who is receiving it, and the context of the communication act. So, to counter all of that, here's my favorite piece of panic attack-related humor. Today, I erupted in giggles when I re-watched one of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches called "Group Therapy". In the following scene, Penelope (a peppy gal who compulsively one-ups everyone with ridiculous tales, played by Kristen Wiig) disrupts a group therapy session led by actor and episode host Neil Patrick Harris. I won't ruin the fun by explaining the scene any further. Just watch it before reading on!
Today at my 9-to-5 office job, I started feeling a little queasy. I was staring at one of the 7 or 8 gigantic Excel spreadsheets that I had open on my desktop. The tiny little rows and columns started to shift, overlap, and blend together into a distorted lattice of alphanumerical dizziness. Probably just eye fatigue, really. But coupled with the uncomfortably ill-feeling belly, it felt like a red-alert warning. Something is wrong with your body!, the warning cried. You're going to puke and you can't see straight! Danger! Danger!