Retraining My Panicky Self: The Grocery Store is Not a Threat

I don't get along very well with grocery stores.

If you've ever struggled with agoraphobia -- or even just agoraphobic tendencies, as I like to call its watered-down sibling -- you know what I'm talking about.  And for those with panic disorder without agoraphobia, it's still not a walk in the park.

The bright lights.  The swarms of shoppers.  The long, tall aisles that leave you with nowhere to hide.

I could go on...and I will.  (Panic warning: there's some potentially triggering "worst-case scenario"-type stuff below.)


The Susquehanna River is Going to Flood & I’m Feeling Helpless

My hometown is currently being evacuated due to potentially catastrophic flooding.

What's better for someone with panic disorder?  Should I be thankful that I'm a good two hours away from the flood zone?  Perhaps.  I know that my life and my immediate property are safe.

But my heart rate sure isn't.

As I type, my dad and his fiance are doing laps between the basement and the second floor of my childhood home. They're moving boxes of books, photos, and whatever furniture they could up to the 2nd floor of the house.  My dad is in his 60's.

Although I'm thankful to be in a safe place, I feel guilty that I can't be there to help.

Back in 1972, Hurricane Agnes dumped a whopping 18 inches of rain on the Wyoming Valley in Luzerne County, PA.  The Susquehanna River spilled over its banks and gushed well over a full mile to the house that is now owned by my father. It filled the entire basement with ruddy water and leveled off at about the 5-foot mark on the first floor.

The entire valley was devastated. Put simply, everyone lost everything.


From Anxiety to ‘Flow’ in Genealogy Research

Have you ever immersed yourself so deeply in a task that you don't notice the world around you? Maybe you forget to eat a meal (because you honestly didn't even notice that you were hungry!). Or, maybe you convince yourself that you've only been working for about twenty minutes...and then you notice the clock. Five hours have passed. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls this flow.
I found myself in flow today.

I'm the amateur genealogist of the Beretsky family. My grandmother was a fantastic record-keeper and left behind half a dozen photo albums and scrapbooks with newspaper clippings of engagement announcements and obituaries.  I started peeking through some of these albums over the weekend and, within minutes, I got bit by the family history bug. Hard.

Before I could even finish breakfast this morning, I poured over all of the photos and documents.  I signed up for one (okay, two) of those genealogy websites. I scribbled notes on paper and drew arrows and deciphered old Polish surnames and poked through dozens of census documents. I made phone calls to a few living relatives. I sorted out lineages. I attached photographs to names. I met three other people on the internet who are researching the same ancestors.

And then, I looked up.  It was 5 p.m.!


Lessons From Our Pets: Self-Care and Relaxation

As I type, a cat named Knuckles is doing a figure 8 around my ankles. Earlier, he took a nap by the sliding glass doors at my future in-laws' house. Then, he ran into the kitchen and furiously rolled around on a small green rug in front of the sink.
He's also famous for curling up on paper -- newspaper, computer paper, wrapping paper -- and napping there.  I don't know what's so comfortable about it.  The last time I took a nap on a bed of paper was in grad school, in the library, on a wide splay of photocopied research studies from various communication periodicals.  The text starts always starts to blur around my second hour of reading, but a quick nap can reset my brain and my tired eyeballs.
In the time it took to write the above paragraphs, Knuckles has resigned from ankle-circling and settled into sleep mode (or, as I like to call it, "kitteh deactivated" mode) on a soft couch cushion behind me.
This cat has got a pretty good life.  He was born outdoors and my future mother-in-law and father-in-law (MIL and FIL for short!) coaxed him indoors once per day for a bowl of cat food.  Soon, Knuckles began to wait by their back door and meow incessantly when he wanted to escape the wild jungle of their suburban street.  He's been alive for about three winters now and could have easily died in the cold weather if he hadn't warmed up to MIL and FIL.


College Students: Is That Blank Word Document Making You Anxious Yet?

No matter what your major, you're going to find yourself staring at a blank Word document someday soon.  And the blank Word document will stare right back at you, disdainfully, waiting for you to finally sputter out a few words.
Starting from scratch and staring at that blank page is one of the most frustrating parts of writing a paper in college.  (This just in: it's also one of the most frustrating parts of writing a blog post 5 years after finishing college.)  It's always made me anxious: what if writer's block kicks in hardcore and I can't write anything?  What if I get a 0 on the assignment?  What'll happen to my grades?  What'll happen to my scholarships?!
So, just in time for the beginning of the fall semester, here are a few ways go from blank page to "Okay, at least I started!":


Why Didn’t I Panic During the Earthquake?

So, you're probably tired of hearing the word "earthquake" by now.
Well, me too.  But this is an anxiety blog, and Tuesday's earthquake undoubtedly shook our collective nerves, so bypassing the topic completely would be a seismic error. (Oh, and please don't find fault in my shaky puns.)
Ahem.  Okay, enough of that.
So, where were you when it happened?  Were you anxious?  I personally know two people who were (at least temporarily) convinced that the earthquake was an internal medical condition.  One woman I know thought she was having a stroke (she was doing paperwork on her desk at the time and everything looked all wobbly and distorted), and a friend from college with a history of vertigo thought she was getting a severe dizzy spell.
I can't imagine how many people have similar stories about how the earthquake, an external condition, tricked their body into believing that something was fouling up on the inside.  (Sounds a bit like the way some panic attacks operate, no?)


Where Does the Word “Anxiety” Come From?

Here on this blog (and on PsychCentral in general), we throw around a lot of the same words.  Words like "anxiety," "panic,""agoraphobia."  And words like "spiritual," "cope," and "medicine."
You may know what those words mean, but do you know where they came from?
I participated in the #mhsm chat on Twitter last Wednesday night, and the topic was spirituality and mental health.  Now, let me make this clear: I'm agnostic on the whole God vs. No God debate and I reject religion.  It's just not for me.  But I'll play around with the concept of spirituality once in awhile.
And sometimes, when I explain to others that I am agnostic, irreligious, and spiritual, I get some funny looks.  Looks that say, "Hey!  Spiritual doesn't go along with those other two words!  Violation!"


The Month(s) After My General Practitioner Prescribed Paxil

(Note: This is the third post in a short series in which I recount my first experiences with Paxil. Posts one and two can be found here and here.)
Two or three weeks into my Paxil treatment and I'd only had two or three panic attacks.  Amazing, right? That's a big step up from having daily ones.
Well, maybe they became so few & far between because I didn't have time to panic: I slept for 12+ hours every night during the first few weeks on Paxil.
Time passes pretty damn quickly when you're asleep more than you're awake.


The Day (After) My General Practitioner Prescribed Paxil

(Note: This is the second post in a short series in which I recount my first experiences with Paxil. The first post can be found here.)
I was a junior in college, panic was making a daily appearance, and I was relying on Xanax for each attack.  So, when my doctor prescribed Paxil, I accepted it with open arms.  But in the long run, all I got was a big hug from Big Pharma.
It started off innocently enough. My


The Day My General Practitioner Prescribed Paxil

I found myself reading this news story the other day and furiously nodding my head during the intro: "Nearly 80 percent of all prescriptions for antidepressants are written by non-psychiatrist providers."
Me! That's me; I got my first Paxil script from a general practitioner. I fall within that category. My Paxil prescription was part of that 80%.
And I didn't really know what I was getting into -- mentally, physically, OR financially.
Let's go back to that fateful day.