Thursday, October 09, 2008

Attacking Anxiety

Most of you don't know this about me but I suffer from anxiety attacks. Sometimes I get into my Jeep and sit in the drivers seat and I think "Yep, this is it. I could drive this car and die". It sounds totally crazy, I know. It sounds crazy because it is crazy. There is no rational reason for me to think this, but there I am thinking about death and dying and whether or not I should drive my car because I can't tell if it's a gut feeling I should go with or a false chemical reaction in my brain. The worst panic attack I ever had was on a plane. There was a storm, we were on code orange alert, it was night and there was a lot of turbulence. It really freaked me out. I thought the plane was either going to go down or a terrorist was going to turn it around and attack DC again. The girl next to me helped me calm down. When we got off the plane she said she was seriously thinking of asking to have me sedated because I was hyperventilating and freaking out so much.

But this behavior doesn't happen all the time.

It happens usually in times of stress. Regular exercise seems to help it from happening. I've read articles on causes. Some say it is a magnesium deficiency, but they really don't know what causes them. Sometimes there is no trigger for me. I will just be sitting there and all of a sudden I feel like I am going to die or that I am going crazy. I even had one once in Sunday School. This is the point I realized it really was not a warning gut feeling, that this was really all in my head. Can you imagine realizing this? That you are making stuff up in your head?

Having a panic attack is overwhelming It's a fear filled feeling. Your heart races, palms get sweaty, you start to hyperventilate, your mind cannot stop thinking of your inevitable end and you really feel like you are losing it. The only thing that makes it go away at the time it is happening is talking myself out of it. I have to repeatedly tell myself this is all in my head, this is not real.

I don't like admitting I do this. It makes me sound crazy. I like to think of myself as normally a very sound, grounded person. It's embarrassing to admit I do this. I don't really quite know why I am admitting it now, but I think in doing this I can help others realize they are not alone and also confront my fear by admitting my weakness.

It started about the time my little brother passed away. This may be why I focus on my own death. I've always had a feeling I would live a very long time. But when he died it was a big shock to the very core of me. A shock I don't think I ever truly got over. So once in a while I seem to think I am dying. The rapid heart beating at the time of the occurrence does not seem to help. I've actually been afraid I would bring on a heart attack and die. But, after much research, apparently no one has ever died from a panic attack.

I remember the first time this happened I was in the Holocaust Museum at the National Mall in Washington, DC. I had a weird feeling going in. All the images were just too much to take. Then I made the mistake of watching the videos. The real life videos that actually showed the horrendous experiments Nazi's performed on Jews as they watched them die of poison and suffocation, just for kicks. They actually show people dying. It overwhelmed me and I had to get out of there. I felt like I was suffocating. The security guard saw me running for the door and asked me what I was doing. I ignored him. I had to get out! This was actually a little before my brother's death. Then he passed away so suddenly and it's been about death ever since.

I don't take pills, though I know people who do for this. I don't see someone to talk about it. I just deal with it. I exercise. I try to remember to take my vitamins. I talk myself out of it. I talk to other people about it. We tell each other it's all in our heads. And after 10 to 15 minutes it's over and we realize we are not going to die.

5 comments:

SJ said...

My post sounds like I am always havin an aniety attack. I should note I actually have not had one for a good two or three months.

mj said...

SJ, this sort of thing actually happens to me every so often, too (like maybe a few times a year to an extreme extent, though more often do I find my mind starting to go down that path and I am able to stop it). A few months ago when I got on the back of Chris' motorcycle (which is now sold, unrelatedly) for a trip to Ocean City, I started freaking out about how I was going to be unable to talk or listen to anything besides air for the next four hours and I could think of nothing else. I was literally terrified of the possibility of going crazy in the ensuing time. I really tried to calm down, but eventually I had him drop me off at the last metro station on our way out of the city. Then I took the metro all the way home, got in my car, and drove to the OC to meet him. Luckily, that is the only time this panic has actually altered my plans.

Like you, I consider myself to be quite sane and am often considered a calming influence to others and voice of reason, etc. But, hey, we all have issues.

Anyway, my therapist husband assures me that this kind of occasional behavior, while obviously diagnosable, is both somewhat common and can be self-treatable (like what you already do). Certainly if you want to talk to a professional about it, it can't hurt, but if you are satisfied that you are able to deal with it in a way that does not affect your normal life (you know, working, having fun, running errands, etc.) than you are doing fine. If it does start to affect your normal life, then you might want to consider some help.

This might be a little cheesy and sunday school, but I have honestly found myself (when I have access to them) to be able to calm down a LOT faster when I read scriptures.

SJ said...

Ya I know what you mean, it sounds weird to admit but I feel a lot better when I am being good (which is definitely not always), but its like a safe calming influence that everything is fine when I am actually reading scriptures, going to church every sunday, etc.

SJ said...

Oh ya, and sorry for the horrible spelling in my first comment- woops!

Karen said...

This is actually pretty common. I've had a few, and my husband has them fairly often. He's 10x more sane than me! We've noticed that sugar (even moderate amounts) can set him off, and of course caffeine does too. (I had to ban him from Mountain Dew.:) Exercise helps a TON for both of us too. Every other person I talk to lately has had a least a couple. I could go on for a while about everything I've read/done for panic attacks, but I won't. :) Btw, I love reading your blog!