Panic After Dark: Extreme Temperatures = Panic Trigger?
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.
As I booked it to the kitchen so I could grab an ice pack from the freezer, my heart rate shot up. First nausea, then the horrible hotness, and now an over-pumpy heart. I was sweating. My pajamas started sticking to my skin.
I pulled out the first ice pack I could find and then fell to my knees in front of the fridge. I pressed the ice back against my belly — an act that would probably shock anyone’s nervous system under normal circumstances, but bizarrely, it calmed mine — and laid forward into child’s pose on the kitchen floor.
This is just panic, I said to myself, and it’s not going to hurt me. It’s not going to hurt me. It’s not going to hurt me. I feel like I am going to pass out, but I am going to be fine.
The self-talk worked, and my heart rate slowed down. I pressed the ice pack against my forehead and my feed and my lower back. Then, I rolled over onto my back and stared up at the kitchen ceiling. I was cooler. I felt steadied.
Phew. Glad that’s over, I thought, not yet knowing that I’d jinxed myself.
A few seconds passed, and then the overwhelming heat returned.
This is just panic, I repeated to myself again, but this time, it was half-hearted. After all, why was it coming back? Did its return signal some type of medical problem? Should I be paying attention to my body or trying to dismiss its faulty signals?
I had no idea. This is the greatest struggle for us panickers: separating the signal from the noise.
I held the ice pack with both hands. I pressed it into my stomach. I held it on my feet and my thighs and my neck and nothing. It no longer helped.
I felt like someone had lit my inner core on fire.
Suddenly, after noticing the cold and clammy texture of my skin, I realized something: is this low blood sugar? My heart rate shot up again. I started shaking as I tried to navigate my way across the kitchen floor to the fridge, where I grabbed a mostly-empty bottle of orange juice and started chugging down its natural sugars. But was I doing any good? Was my assessment of “low blood sugar” correct? I had no idea. I just kept chugging, unable to think of any other possible solution.
I think time slows down during a panic attack. Naturally, it takes a few minutes for blood sugar to rise. But for me, at that moment, after ten seconds had passed with no sweet relief, I resigned myself to accepting the worst: I was going to pass out.
Check back tomorrow for the final part of this post.
Beretsky, S. (2012). Panic After Dark: Extreme Temperatures = Panic Trigger?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2012/11/panic-after-dark-extreme-temperatures-panic-trigger/