“But, I don’t want to be ‘that’ girl.”
“Amanda, anxiety is a medical condition – you have nothing to be ashamed of.”
This was a conversation I’ve had over and over with my doctor.
When did it start? Approximately 2008 … I had ‘spells’ I couldn’t explain. Couldn’t lay down – couldn’t breathe – felt out of body, but so very aware of every sensation, as negative as they were. I was scared, I wanted to sleep – I wanted it over! But couldn’t and had to wait it out.
To be fair – I was soon diagnosed with Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia, (Basically, I have an electrical misfire when it comes to my heart – so that makes a very real, and very scary condition hard to distinguish from an anxiety attack) but also with COPD after a random chest X-ray after a rapid heart beat sent me to the ER. They caught my lungs on that shot and shared that with my doctor.
My doctor shared that with me and I cried and cried.
I was that kid that every time I caught a cold, I’d end up with bronchitis. That, or walking pneumonia.
My lungs were enlarged.
OK. So, we deal with that.
I was put on Digoxin and Metoprolol.
That seemed to help for a while – but then I started having what I call ‘spells’.
Not just heart palpitations due to my heart condition – but debilitating full on attacks at random times.
Anxiety/panic attacks don’t come for me when I’m stressing out – they come when I least expect them and yes, I know the difference between ‘them’ and a heart episode.
I tried breathing patterns, I tried cooling my pulse points under running water – usually, just finding someone to sit with who wouldn’t ask me how I was would work. The spells would pass.
My doctor added Alprazalam to my regime.
THAT helped. Until it didn’t.
I would wake up in the middle of the night, certain I was having a heart attack. Chest pain, back pain, rapid heartbeat, out of body sensation, clammy palms, jaw pain, left arm pain – total and complete feeling of helplessness and impending doom.
It got to the point I couldn’t ‘walk it off’ (literally, and that’s something they say you should try.). I was too dizzy. I also couldn’t be horizontal, it made it worse. With blurred vision and terrified, I’d hit my knees and lean over either my couch or bed (if I was at home) and this agnostic prayed. And prayed HARD!
Usually these spells happen when they really shouldn’t. Watching a movie – sleeping – or just working and feeling happy.
No stress I was aware of.
Fast forward again.
For eight years I’ve been taking 2 Metoprolol, 1 Digoxin and two 1/2’s of Alprazalam per day.
I’ve learned to ‘deal’ with the bad times.
Past month, I’ve been getting goosebumps only on one area of my body. My left thigh. That concerned me. (Mostly because my house is in the 80’s and no, I hadn’t been watching a horror movie at the time.)
Also, my anxiety has upped, big time.
Yes, mostly it’s random. But, I do have triggers. Raised voices, my dog barking, a car too close behind me …
Then, a new symptom. I can feel completely fine at work or at home, but trying to run an errand? I suddenly feel complete and utter intestinal distress. An urgency that shouldn’t be there. Because my tummy was fine when I left.
I also can only be in ‘public’ for a short amount of time. I’ve left a cart at a grocery store quite a few times – unable to find my footing and having to abandon it.
Crowds? Oh goodness no. I can’t do crowds.
Add to that driving. Now, this is something note worthy because, NOW, I’m putting OTHERS in danger. I accidentally tried to change lanes one day and someone was in my blind spot – they honked. Since then, I’m terrified to change lanes. I also feel a LOT of pressure when I’m doing the speed limit and someone is behind me wanting to go faster.
Worst experience was trying to take my fiancé at the time to Vegas – the closer we got to ‘big’ traffic, the more symptoms. I literally couldn’t feel my hands, couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see – I had absolutely NO control over my body or what it was doing!! The first exit we found with a phone, we called a taxi for him to finish the trip for an absurd amount of cash.
Today – I shared all of this with my doctor.
Today – I received an additional prescription for buspirone (BuSpar) for generalized anxiety, OCD and panic.
It doesn’t work for everyone. I’m REALLY hoping I’m a good candidate! Mostly because it’s non-narcotic. I want OFF of Alprazalam.
I see my doctor again in a month and if it DOES work for me, I can be weaned off of Alprazalam – and I’m SO grateful!
Bottom line – Anxiety and panic attacks are no joke.
My son has spent hours with me telling me “You’re not in danger” and telling me to focus on things that ground me when I can’t even move.
Anxiety is crafty and unpredictable and terrifying.
But – If you’re going through this for the first time? You WILL be ok!
It feels like you’re going to die. It does. I don’t think people who don’t have it understand that.
I also don’t think people understand how legitimate the experience is.
Things to NOT tell a person going through it (from my experience, not a medical book.)
“You know it’s all in your head, you’re fine!”
“Just breathe.” (Although, there ARE some great breathing techniques that DO help.)
“You’re making this happen.”
If you wake up with a pounding heart and can’t feel your phalanges and can’t believe how helpless you feel – YOU try telling yourself to ‘just breathe’ – lol.
And, if you can’t relate. I’m SO glad. I AM SO GLAD. Because it’s fucking awful.
I’ll give you an example that maybe you CAN relate to.
Ever have to be at work and you have an excruciating toothache or earache that renders you unable to sleep? Yeah.
It’s sort of like that. ALL you want to do is have relief and relax, but your body DOES NOT cooperate!!!!!!!
You have NO control.
So – I’ll try this new medicine and let you know, let’s see how my experience goes. I already made the mistake of ‘googling’ and reading user reviews.
No wonder I’m a bundle of nerves. LOL!
Because, I’m tired. And I’m tired of going through this … I’m willing to try anything. I’ll be a Guinea Pig.
“You’re not in danger … try to breathe with me. I’m proud of you – you’re going to come through this.”
Those were the words I listened to as I struggled to my knees and bent over the couch, clutching at it as air snatching fear hit me wave after wave. My heart pounding – on the verge of fainting. Mouthing “please, please, please” to some power greater than me. “Please – no.”
My vision blurred in and out. My arm tingled. Palms sweat.
“It’s going to be ok.”
And, nearly an hour after it had begun, it was okay.
That was my panic attack yesterday. They come out of the blue. This one in particular while I was merely laying on the couch watching a television show.
The one who talked me through it? The one who held my hand and stayed calm when I could not? My son.
I know all the tips mentioned above by heart – but ironically, since I do also have a very real heart condition, these ‘spells’ as we refer to them in my home are exacerbated by that knowledge. It’s hard to tell yourself ‘everything is going to be ok’ when at the same time, your brain is saying, ‘but what if this time it’s not?’
I was exhausted and grateful. And slept, after finally being able to assume a horizontal position again. The thing about panic attacks, your whole body gets the equivalent of ‘restless leg syndrome’ and staying put only amplifies the experience. Rocking helps if you can’t get up and walk. And if you’re feeling dizzy, pacing probably isn’t the best idea.
I know why this one occurred however. I had stayed up far too late spending time with … My past. We’ll leave it at that.
Got up at my usual time yesterday morning and woke Nic. We went to run errands. Oil change (that turned out I didn’t need) a car wash that I wasn’t able to have as they were having electrical issues. Then lunch with Nic.
That was the good part.
I love spending time with him.
We had so much more on the agenda – but after lunch, neither of us felt up to continuing.
We came home and resolved to finish our errands today.
The house was pretty clean and that’s when I decided to catch up on a few recorded shows.
AND that’s when it hit.
I tried to ride it out, realized this was a big one and managed to reach my iPad and send Nic a message asking him to come and sit with me.
And I want to thank him for going above and beyond. And caring so much.
As for my past – I’m going to leave it there.
I’m going to stay in the moment and seek healthy, positive and calm things.
It sounds so important and jet-setty doesn’t it?
“Oh my goodness I still have to pack for my business trip.”
“I’ll be out-of-town those days … you know … on my business trip.”
I was given my hotel reservations – my rental car reservation and the company credit card.
Was still feeling pretty grown-up and important at that point.
I then shared what car was reserved for me with my mom – who, after showing some interest and googling it – found an article that mentioned there was really only enough room to put habitrail tubes in the trunk. Yeah … the hamster kind. And yes, the car review really, truly said that.
I did not care. As long as it ran, was newer and safer than mine, and I wasn’t paying for it, I was going to love it. Even if it came with a box of live hamsters that had to accompany me on my ‘business trip’.
I did insist on GPS though.
I am VERY geographically challenged. And I have no interest in becoming less geographically challenged. I only have so much memory left, I don’t need to take up remaining brain space with such things.
It’s not likely I’m going to be on a high-speed chase advising dispatch that the perp is now ‘headed South Easterly on Main Street’ now am I? Is ‘Easterly’ even a word? This is how geographically challenged I am – I don’t even know how to speak the language.
I would learn how to say sentences with ‘unsub’ in them if it meant possibly meeting up with Shemar Moore or Matthew Gray Gubler though …
I packed light. dressy clothes for the office and the dinner I was invited to after work, 3 pairs of underwear, a fresh top for the drive home and the jeans I had on me for the drive.
I said goodbye to Nic (who wasn’t that bothered that I would be gone for two nights) and to Butters (who did appear bothered that I was leaving.) This has helped me decide who is in my will immensely.
*Actual Butters face morning of departure
What a sad little wrinkled manatee eh?
The first couple of hours in the trip went well. GPS didn’t have much to do as the first leg of the trip is pretty much one road.
Then – I hit ‘real’ freeways.
How do I make this clear? How to even find the words to adequately sum up the emotions that hit me like a sledgehammer?
1) 3 pairs of underwear may not have been enough.
2) There is no such thing as ‘letting’ someone in/over. You want over, you have to aggressively slam yourself into your chosen area as if you’re in some sort of bizarre automobile mosh pit.
3) Going the speed limit in the slow lane is apparently not allowed. All lanes are subject to the anarchy that is Southern California. The people have decided that ‘flow of traffic’ is the only speed and ‘flow’ is a nice word for ‘very fast angry rush’
I am from a town that slows for burros. I am from a town that considers having to wait for 4 cars to pass before you can turn onto a main road from a side road, ‘rush hour’.
This was to continue for two hours.
Every once in a while, I would find cars to stay behind that seemed to have some common sense – and only going 70. I stayed behind my chosen escorts only to eventually lose them to their exits. Noooooooooo!
I seriously felt abandoned! My blurred, tired, wide eyes followed the direction of the cars as that Jurassic Park line came to my mind:
Only there was no ‘us’. Just me. Me and my trusty, though quiet, GPS.
4 anxiety attacks, one very almost accident and about a gallon of sweat later – GPS finally spoke and announced I could exit.
Then turn right. Then turn right. Then … ‘You have arrived at your destination’.
After shakily grabbing my luggage and business trip folder – I walked on shaky legs to the lobby of the hotel.
I saw nothing but the counter I could grab onto.
I pushed my reservation at the front desk employee and managed to get my last name out of my mouth.
I was tired, still traumatized and unable to focus on anything with any degree of accuracy when she gave me the run down of amenities and mentioned that should I want to work out, Golds Gym was free to use, just present my hotel card.
This woke the amused part of me up a tad … I don’t ‘work out’ and after that drive, the hilarity of the offer gave me enough energy to move the car to a spot closer to my room and ascend the stairs.
Of course the first thing I did was enter the free WIFI code and let people know that I had arrived.
Of course the second thing I did was take photos of the room.
I unpacked and after resting for a bit, was brave enough to get back in the car to seek supplies. I stocked the fridge with dinner and breakfast items. I was not leaving that room for anything other than my day in the SoCal (I speak that language now) branch.
That night, as I lay in bed, my skin exposed to the linen (I forgot to pack pajamas) I remembered every news show I’d seen on hotel bed bugs. So before I closed my tired eyes – I checked.
The bed was clear.
I would love to end this with ‘so I slept tight, and no bed bugs were there to bite’. But that’s not how it ended.
I slept loosely – with the neighbor above me who I lovingly named ‘stompy’, the neighbor next to me who talked loudly and blew his nose in the shower who I called ‘connecting door guy’ and the myriad of guests that strode by – their voices and steps echoing metallically in the wee hours of the morning.
And of course, the constant lullabye of the freeway.
Having said all of that I will end with, as insane as the ‘trip’ part of my business trip was, the day in the office made it all worth while.
I am however, insisting that should I need to go again, it will be when teleportation has been invented and perfected.
It’s official. I’m neurotic. (as I notice the hair in my eye in the above picture)
I Googled it, so it must be true. Plus, it described me to a T on the following:
- The tendency to restrict oneself, to be satisfied with very little or to remain inconspicuous: Grows out of normal need to move cautiously, delay gratification
- An insistence of self-sufficiency and independence which does not allow one to ask for help or commit to relationship: Grows out of a normal need for autonomy and self-sufficiency.
Anxiety, self-sufficiency, OCD and having to over analyze every little thing, yup, that’s me.
Good news is – it’s not a mental illness and it’s treatable. basically, ‘get over it’. Okay, so maybe they suggested therapy to help with that. But, there is hope.
Seriously everything I do, from driving beyond 5 miles in the car to being faced with something unexpected, results in a physical reaction akin to readying myself to open a can of Pillsbury dough.
I have had a reprieve from most of my anxiety, by not interacting with people outside of work. I have to push myself to do anything that involves making eye contact with others. Funny thing is though, when I am out there, I’m that kid who just waltzes up to another kid they don’t know and introduces themselves. It’s mental. Okay, I’m mental.
So before I turn into this:
It’s time to assess myself.
I don’t think it’s a secret that my kryptonite is ‘relationships’ (of the romantic variety.) *shudder*
I’m talking, full on – fight or flight response to the THOUGHT of it. I want you in my house, but gone when I want to be alone. I want you in my life, but don’t tell me how I should be living it. I want you to find me attractive, but don’t look at me or make me feel like a piece of meat.
Because there is a really good chance that my neurosis in this area will end up truly leading me to my cat lady future.
This is how I see those relationship petals … nothing is black and white. Except how I want things. Those are very black and white, and don’t you bring a grey crayon anywhere near me.
I’ve found a balance that doesn’t give me panic attacks. It’s called being alone.
But recently, I’ve had my balance tilted. Thankfully, these days, when off-center, I stop to look at what is causing it. I’m a lot more open to the possibility that I (gasp) could be wrong.
I emailed my best friend and she assured me, she was not about to co-sign my bullshit. She heard me out – as she always does and about 100 emails later, I could have published my analyses as a thesis.
I think I convinced myself to some degree that I was doing the humanitarian thing by not getting involved with anyone. I KNOW I’m a mess. Who puts themselves out there knowing they’re a train wreck? I have my good qualities too – but don’t think it’s fair to subject someone to my hang ups and neuroses. I’ve hurt too many people already.
So if I’m going to even consider changing my cat lady plans – I have to start to work on myself. That’s the bottom line. Because even if Prince Charming showed up, with a box of Good and Plenty’s (my favorite) in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other – I’d find something wrong with him.
People keep saying, “when you meet the right guy, it will be different.” But, I really think in this case: It’s not you, it’s me is the truth of the matter.
And I’m all for truth.
Just better be EXACTLY the way the ever-changing image of it is in my head, or else.