Anxiety and Panic: More Than Just Nerves

I haven't wanted to write this post.  I'm very reluctant to share my struggle but I feel like I have to tell the truth.

I suffer from anxiety and panic disorder.  I used to think it was just my nerves but it's a very real condition that affects my life in many ways.

Right now my mind is screaming, Delete! Delete! Delete!  Do not admit this!

Yesterday, I shared a post on Facebook about wanting to run away from my life sometimes. There's no other way to describe it.  I genuinely love my husband, my children and my job.  I'm grateful to be alive.  But there are moments when I am overcome by anxiety, unable to think rationally.  My instincts tell me to run.  The urge to flee is so strong that I can't focus on anything else. It's like my brain is stuck, it's flipped "on" and I can't find the "off" switch.

Sometimes the anxiety is so bad that I have a panic attack. Panic disorder is brutal.  My first panic attack happened June 15, 2017 at work.  I have the date memorized because it was the day after we had to put down our dog, Murphy.  That morning I also learned that an old family friend had died.  Added to that mix, my work responsibilities were chaotic as I was studying to certify in two modules.

All of the stress culminated into what I believed was a heart attack. I felt dizzy.  I had difficulty breathing.  My vision blurred.  I was walking down the hallway when it started and I remember grabbing the wall, terrified I was going to die right there.  I slumped to the floor and didn't know what to do. I don't remember getting to the health office, but someone called an ambulance.

Paramedics arrived and they checked my pulse and blood pressure. They asked me tons of questions. When they told me I experienced a panic attack I was embarrassed.  I couldn't stop crying.  The next day at the doctor's office I explained what happened.  She listened intently and I told her I believed this was a one time occurrence.  She advised it would most likely happen again, but there was no way to predict when. That scared me.

Over those next few months things were fine.  I tried to better cope with stress. I tried to ask for help when I needed it.  I was doing better.  And then it happened again, completely out of the blue.  This time I was at home. I locked myself in my room.  I crawled under the blankets and I sobbed until it was over.

I have had about a dozen panic attacks in the last two years.  I've learned to recognize the signs and I do my best to remain calm.  Sometimes it can be difficult to overcome an attack, and as I try to cope, my behavior may seem a little odd.

For example, I may be in the middle of a conversation and I'll suddenly become quiet because I can feel the anxiety bubbling.  I won't be able to make eye contact and I'll find a reason to walk away until I feel "normal" again.  This has happened only a few times and usually only when I'm talking with my husband or a close friend, who understand what I'm going through.

I finally realized last year that I needed to do something about this.  In March my doctor decided to do some testing.  During my physical exam she gave me a sheet of paper.  When I read the title I became very emotional. Psychological Self-Assessment.  My mind began racing.  I don't want to fill this out.  I don't want to know if I'm crazy.

While I was completing the form the doctor ordered blood work to check my thyroid function and other things that could be causing my symptoms.  Everything came back normal a week later, but during a follow up appointment my doctor asked me tons of questions.

  • How often are you experiencing panic attacks?
  • Do you worry about when the next attack will occur?
  • Do you often feel like you are "going crazy?"
  • Do you avoid certain situations that you believe will trigger an anxiety or panic attack?

Hearing myself answer her questions, and saying yes to the last three, was a shock.

That's not me.  I'm not crazy.  I don't have anxiety.  I am fine.  I am fine.  I AM FINE.

But I wasn't fine.  

And the only way to get through all of this was to admit it and acknowledge it.  Denial wouldn't help me get better.

I'm sure you're wondering if I take any medication.  Right now I do not.  Because I suffer PCOS and related hypertension my doctor is reluctant to prescribe anything else, and I'm reluctant to take another medication.

In the last seven months I have focused on coping mechanisms when I feel stressed or anxious.  Most of the time this works.  Sometimes it doesn't.

I keep a journal to write about what I'm thinking and feeling when the attack occurs and I document anything that may have triggered it. This is like a form of therapy for me and helps me recall what happened the next time I visit my doctor. She has also helped me focus on proper nutrition and exercise, as well as sleep.  Insufficient sleep is one of the things that seems to trigger my anxiety.  I've suffered bouts of insomnia for over a decade and I really have to be mindful of how much sleep I need to function. 

I know panic attacks aren't dangerous.  I know I'm not alone.  It's a leap of faith to share all of this publicly, but I think I needed to do it.

I know I'm going to be okay.


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