When I started getting panic attacks just over 15 years ago, they were rarely discussed and the general public certainly did not understand what they really were. Most people thought it was a symptom of crazy people or an exaggerated expression of being stressed out. The Sopranos shed some light on panic as Tony suffered several attacks during the season. And since then it has been talked about more and more.
As much as panic attacks are mentioned or read about or depicted on television, there is still no way to understand them if one has not had the experience. Of course, some people are better than others at attempting to understand or sympathize. Although some still think you can just snap out of it. Oh, to be able to snap out of it. How magnificent that would be. “Hey! Shit for brains!! Just get over it already!!”
I started getting panic attacks shortly after watching my father die. I have written much about this before, so excuse me for repeating myself. I didn’t know what was happening to me and I was scared as hell. To make it even more confusing, I was also experiencing a heart arrhythmia called SVT (supraventricular tachycardia) which was discounted as “just panic/anxiety” for well over a decade. I also experience PVCs and PACs. And unlike most people, I feel every shitty one of them.
I went to the ER and Doctor several times with a racing heart or complaints about my heart. I was always patted on the head, given a valium and told to see a shrink. And I did. I was willing to do ANYthing to stop those feelings. And by feelings I do not just mean emotion. I am talking about very real physical symptoms that were, at times, unbearable.
It was an awful cycle. The panic triggered the SVT and the SVT triggered the panic. I was a medication guinea pig for years. And some of the antidepressants I was prescribed likely worsened the heart condition.
When I was about 27, I finally learned how to ride the panic wave. I couldn’t stop the attack but with certain techniques (different for everyone…mine were baths, journaling, watching comedies, walking and most of all – talking to someone who was calming to me). Also, benzodiazapines helped considerably. I had finally convinced myself that there was NOTHING physically wrong with me. I thought I had a pretty good handle on it.
At 28, that all went straight to shit. I talk about some of it HERE. Long story short…my heart – out of fucking nowhere – jumped to around 130 bpm. I drove to the ER (stupid) where my heart rate sustained this high rate for several hours. It finally came down with a dose of beta blocker (which I have taken every day since). I had some tests, saw a cardiologist (more than one) and was diagnosed with SVT. It wasn’t all in my head after all. And after that my anxiety and panic really took over.
The next year, I had Cassidy and things got worse. I had a real reason to fear death now and I obsessed about it. I was petrified I would die leaving her alone in the house. I would imagine the most horrible scenes. I went to a new shrink who finally talked me into taking a daily anxiety med. It was a Godsend. It gave me my life back. Yes, I am tired most of the time and also depressed (common side effects). It doesn’t really help the fucked up thinking that creates my daily general anxiety. But the panic attacks virtually disappeared. And to me, it was all worth it.
I have been taking this medication since that time and it has basically been doing its job. But once in a while, an attack will sneak through the gate and scare the piss outta me. Especially if I am having an arrhythmia flare up.
Last night, one of the bastards snuck up on me. First real, full panic attack in such a long time – so much so that I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Nope. In my mind, I was having a pulmonary embolism.
I was having dull aches in the front of my thigh for most of the day on Sunday. I had no idea why. Tried to ignore it. Then last night I was just sitting here, completely calm, eating my salad and watching a cooking show and suddenly felt like I wasn’t getting enough air. I wasn’t breathing heavy or weird that I could tell. Just felt kind of short of breath. Then my heart started to race and I got light-headed. I quickly took my nightly doses of aspirin, beta blocker and klonopin. I immediately thought – blood clot.
I grabbed the phone in case I needed to call 911. I tried to breathe calmly and went out side to get some fresh air. I tried calling my mom but she was busy and then called Charlie who just said the usual, “You’re fine.”
I talked to a couple of people online – a paramedic friend and a two other friends through private message. Then my mom called back and I talked to her for a while as I finally started to calm down a little. Still shaky (uncontrollably, as though I was freezing) and scared, I was relieved when my friend, Kelly, called. Talking to her helped a lot and I felt much better. I was exhausted (as I always would be after an attack) as well as angry and sad, but okay.
I must say that there really isn’t anything as valuable as a someone who you can talk to while going through a panic attack. I haven’t had many of these people in all of these years…but the few I have had – fucking priceless. Maureen, Kevin and a couple of others (and now, Kelly) throughout the years have been wonderful. I truly couldn’t thank them enough.
So…this really all ties into my fear of death. And yea, I know I talk about this a lot. But I have really struggled to beat this and talking about it helps. And maybe it can help someone else. I want to go into this more, but this blog has gotten long enough. Tomorrow I will write more about that.
In the meantime, thanks for listening and I hope you have a swell night.