Letter To A Panicker Whose World Is Quickly Shrinking

By Summer Beretsky

Letter To A Panicker Whose World Is Quickly Shrinking

“Just…just do it,” she said, looking me straight in the eye.

She wasn’t a Nike spokesperson: She was my therapist, circa 2004, warning me against the dangers of agoraphobia.

“Even if you feel panicky,” she said, “Just go. Go out with that friend or this one. Go to the store. No matter how your body feels, just keep going. Don’t cancel plans. It’ll get worse in the long run if you do.”

Wise words. Did I always heed them?


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Zoloft and Klonopin Sing A Frustrating Lullaby

By Summer Beretsky

Zoloft and Klonopin Sing A Frustrating LullabyIt’s no big secret or anything. Anxiety meds can make you sleepy. Like, really sleepy.

From my bottle of Zoloft, an SSRI used to treat my panic disorder: “May cause drowsiness.”

From my bottle of Klonopin, a benzodiazapine my doc has me using to counter the anxiety that sometimes occurs while titrating an SSRI upward: “May cause drowsiness.

Drowsiness achieved, people. Complete and utter drowsiness.

So, how can I cope?

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Breathe Easy This Weekend With A Simple Web App

By Summer Beretsky

Breathe Easy This Weekend With A Simple Web App Have you ever noticed your respiration rate increase during periods of heightened anxiety? It’s okay if you have — it’s completely normal and part of the body’s fight-or-flight reaction.

But what if you’re anxious about something that you can’t fight or flee from? Then, your quicker-than-usual rate of breathing becomes an annoyance at the least — and a panic trigger at worst.

Perhaps you’ve read about abdominal breathing in Edmund J. Bourne’s classic text, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Breathing retraining can help with panic and anxiety symptoms, he notes — and I agree. It can.

But perhaps, like me, you absolutely hated his 5/5/5 “Calming Breath Exercise” because, let’s face it, fellow panickers: holding your breath for 5 seconds between inhale & exhale is…uncomfortable, to say the least. Right? My body hates it!

For me, it raises my heart rate, and I still can’t quite understand why it’s so often recommended.

So, what else can we do?

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Video: Live Longer, Stay Healthier By Changing The Way You View Stress

By Summer Beretsky

Video: Live Longer, Stay Healthier By Changing The Way You View StressHow you think about stress matters — perhaps more than the stress itself.

That’s what Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal says in her super-inspiring TED talk, “How to make stress your friend”, which I wish I’d stumbled across well before today.

If you’ve ever suffered from stress — uhm, so, that should be all of you — you NEED to watch the video below.

Consider one of the most common physiological responses to stress: a rapid heartbeat. It’s uncomfortable at the least and downright frightening at the worst — especially for panickers like me.

Do you view your speedy heart as something dangerous? Something frightening? Something you ought to avoid?

Most of us probably do. But McGonigal urges us to re-frame our understanding of these physiological signs — to embrace them, in a way — because the science says it will help us to live longer.

In other words, learn to love your stress symptoms. Learn to use them for courage, energy, and strength.

Watch to find out how you can get started:

Photo: Meg Wills (Flickr)


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Lift The Burden By Changing “Should” To “Want”

By Summer Beretsky

Lift The Burden By Changing "Should" To "Want"There’s a lot of guilt involved in having an anxiety disorder. (If you, reader, have an anxiety disorder, you know exactly what I mean, right?)

For the rest of you, I’ll spell it out clearly: we feel guilty for not being able to keep up with household chores, everyday errands, or taking care of the kids. We feel guilty for giving our spouses or significant others more “blah” time than happy fun time.

More shaking, less adventure. More nausea, fewer vacations. More fear, less novelty.

And that guilt? It sucks.

We feel guilty for so many things: for not being able to grab a couple things at the big bright grocery store. For not being able to work a “normal” job with a “normal” schedule. For RSVPing for a friend’s wedding and then chickening out at the last minute because it’s a 3 hour drive and you feel too lightheaded to even drive down the street (and I’m still sorry about that, Melissa).

We feel guilty for not being able to do all the things we believe we “should” be able to do.

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Withdrawing From Celexa: Yeah, Um, That Didn’t Really Work

By Summer Beretsky

Withdrawing From Celexa: Yeah, Um, That Didn't Really WorkYears ago, before panic attacks became one of my defining characteristics, I decided I wanted to be one of those crunchy mothers-to-be who avoids all medication at all cost. I’d be growing a tiny human inside of me, after all. I vowed, early in my twenties, that even Tylenol wouldn’t even be allowed.

Oh, the naivete of my youth.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a med update, and that’s sort of been an intentional choice. Months ago, I started a short series about withdrawing from Celexa, an SSRI drug used to treat depression — but I’d been taking it off-label for panic disorder for about 2 years. I’m no stranger to SSRI withdrawal, so I was careful to perform a very slow taper.


Things were looking sort of bright  on about half my original dosage until I tried to go and pick up a crate a vegetables a mere 2 miles away from my home:

It was Tuesday, and I was driving my car to pick up my CSA share — a box full of veggies from a local farmer — just across the bridge from where I live.

Easy. Close. A simple task.

Agoraphobically, I’ve never really had a problem with bridges before. (And, architecturally, I’m fascinated by them!)

But on that day, in the middle of this unremarkable concrete bridge, I felt a small twinge of fear brewing in the basement of my stomach. Something felt wrong — indescribably and uncomfortably wrong.”

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This Soothing Video Of Baby’s First Bath Will Calm Your Nerves

By Summer Beretsky

This Soothing Video Of Baby's First Bath Will Calm Your NervesIt’s the end of a long week, isn’t it?

This week’s rap sheet includes sub-zero temperatures, frozen pipes, and a dead car battery.

Dearest polar vortex: you’re drunk. Go home.

But I’m not here to grumble about winter any longer — well, not in this blog post, at least — because this week, I found one of the most beautiful and therapeutic videos I’ve ever seen.

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Feeling Crappy About Winter, Part 2: Grumble Along With Me

By Summer Beretsky

Feeling Crappy About Winter, Part 2: Grumble Along With MeYesterday, I wrote this: a post about how it’s okay to feel crummy sometimes. It’s okay to feel crummy and to write about feeling crummy.

In a way, I was responding to commenter Reader547 when s/he left this message on a recent post about how I was feeling the post-holiday blues:

“While it is all too true that the lights come down and everything is put away in January, I feel the writer has no helpful perspective in her article on how people can think differently about it all! How about trying to view January as a “new start into the fresh and unknown future”?

Now, I’m back — to explain my rationale for refusing to tie a shiny bow around my woes.

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Feeling Crappy About Winter, Part 1: Drowning In All The Messiness

By Summer Beretsky

Feeling Crappy About Winter, Part 1: Drowning In All The MessinessI love my blog readers. (Hey, that’s you!)

I read each and every one of your comments — even though I don’t always reply to each one. Your comments are very meaningful to me — I empathize with your stories of shared suffering and shared recovery. I truly love reading them — they make me feel far less alone!

One recent comment on my blog post called “The Post-Holiday Slump: The Presence Of An Absence“, became a bit “stickier” than most — and I found myself thinking about it quite a bit over the past 24 hours.

The blog post was about how January and February basically suck and feel super dreary in comparison to the brightness and happiness of the Christmas season. Putting away the tree and the lights creates a weird void in not only my living room (where the tree stood), but also in my gut.

The commenter pointed out my lack of positivity.

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The Post-Holiday Slump: The Presence Of An Absence

By Summer Beretsky

The Post-Holiday Slump: The Presence Of An AbsenceSome people find the holidays to be depressing. And I can easily see why — there’s plenty of “family” this, “family” that, and if you’ve lost a loved one recently, the holidays can sting.

I, on the other hand, fall into the post-holiday slump.

I mean, let’s face it: the Christmas season is the most exciting part of winter, no? There are decorations and family and trees, and ornaments and lights and cookies –  and it’s early enough in the winter that people are still excited about snow.

Snow! Snow. It’s like this novel thing in December. All the kids are collectively hopeful for a white Christmas, and I don’t think most adults would mind (too) much.

You put up the tree, you put up the lights. You get single lines of Christmas songs stuck in your head for days (“…from Atlantic to Pacific; gee, the traffic is terrific…“)

You wrap the presents, perhaps in a single marathon-style sitting, bitching about the stupid Scotch tape getting stuck to the carpet or about how the paper is so damn thin that you can practically see the title of the book you’ve just wrapped right through the paper.

But still, you don’t mind. Something about life feels warm even though the world outdoors is bitter and cold.

Then, the 25th rolls around. And in the wink of Santa’s eye, it’s suddenly December 26th — just another day.

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