I thought this would be an easy post to write, but looking back, a lot of the memories are fuzzy and I’ve never had the best memory to begin with, so I’ll do the best I can, and I’ll try to keep it short.
The one thing I’ll always remember is my first panic attack. It happened on December 10th, 1996. What’s sad is that now I’m trying to remember the date of the first time I had sex, and I can’t. I think it was April… but I digress…
It was December when I first experienced the horror of panic. I was alone on a subway train. I suddenly felt hot, a rush of heat, like a hot flash, except I was 23. Then palpitations followed. I guess if I were a different person I would have discarded the symptoms and gone on with my day…
Really?!? Which person can do that?
So I did what I think most people in my situation would have done: I freaked out. I got up from my seat and took my coat off. My mind started racing and I figured I was having a heart attack. I got off the train at the next stop. It didn’t help that I was already pretty far from home. It didn’t help that it was 11PM. Nothing really helped but somehow I managed to calm myself down, get back on the train and get to my final destination (work).
Today I know that we are so much stronger in the beginning because we haven’t been beat up over and over by panic throughout the years.
Back to December 1996. When I got home after work that day I was still pretty shaken, because I had no idea what I had experienced. What had happened to me?
My luck was that 1996 was the year the internet went viral, the year AOL started their unlimited internet access plans, the year the internet became the internet for a lot of people, me included. So I went on the internet and it literally took me a few hours to learn about Anxiety and Panic, and to figure out I had a panic attack. I can’t believe I was able to find so much information, and even a panic message board, even back then, at the “beginning of the internet”!
Reading about anxiety and panic helped so much, right away. Knowing I wasn’t going to die of a heart attack made me so much stronger and totally confident that I had this thing beat and that I wouldn’t have to deal with it ever again. I started reading the message board regularly and it helped to know that other people experience the same thing all over the world.
Until someone on the message board wrote a reply to me that went something like this:
“Don’t fool yourself. Once you get panic, it never really goes away.”
Needless to say, I found that reply very harsh and bitter. I replied to that poster telling her that it wasn’t really necessary to bring me down like that, especially when I was doing pretty ok. But today, looking back, I understand that comment better. Yes, I still think it was bitter, but I can understand where she was coming from.
After having dealt with panic since 1996, and today being 2011 and still dealing with it, I have to say that lady knew what she was talking about. Or, that lady totally jinxed me and made me feel like I could never beat this thing.
That first bout of panic lasted I don’t know how long, maybe a year or two and it peaked inside of a beautiful penthouse restaurant that I was soooo looking forward to go to, and then I had to rush through my meal, have them doggy bag most of it so that I could RUN out of that restaurant and get back outside where I felt immediately better. And worse. At the same time.
That was the episode that made me go to the doctor asking for the “magic pill”. Make this go away, please!
I was given Xanax, and it has helped on and off over the years. I would never take more than 0.25 mgs of it, and most of the time I would split that pill in half and take 0.125 mgs, which has made a few doctors since then laugh at me, and other few tell me that I was under-medicating myself. I didn’t care. It worked most of the time, and in the beginning it really was a miracle drug for me. I wish I could say the same today.
With the help of Xanax, and some changes to my routine, I was able to cope and do most everything the same way I did “before” panic.
I was ok until I got sick with Lupus in 1999. Great! Now I couldn’t discard every other symptom as “anxiety” but I had to “make sure” that it wasn’t Lupus. It kind of got a bit complicated.
Personal problems, relationship problems, health problems. My anxiety spiked once again and now I was depending on my father to take me to work, wait downstairs while I worked for 8 hours, and then take me home. Fortunately it was Summer and my father had nothing else better to do.
That was also the time my doctor tried to put me on anti-depressants, and with horrible results. I tried Zoloft (I couldn’t sleep), I tried Effexor (it made the blood in my veins feel cold), I tried Celexa (I got a rash), I tried Paxil and when it looked like it worked better than the others, I stuck with it.
Fortunately this phase didn’t last too long. Fortunately I lost that job, in good terms, and I could stay at home for a year or so, to recover from the Lupus and from the Anxiety attacks.
The Paxil made me feel less anxious, but also less alive. I couldn’t cry, not even if I wanted to, not even watching all those tear-jerkers commercials about daddy working away from home and finding pasta in his pocket put there by his daughter. Nothing made me cry. Oh, and nothing made me orgasm anymore, either. So once I was on it for about 6 months, I figured I wanted to feel again, and I decided to get off Paxil. HOLY. CRAP.
Getting off Paxil was horrible. I felt just like all those movie characters withdrawing from drugs I used to watch on TV, and I actually used them as inspiration, telling myself that if they could do it, so could I. But did I tell you it was horrible??? And I was doing it the right way, weaning myself off slowly, not cold turkey or anything. But I spenT a few days, if not weeks, in bed, feeling zapped, feeling like I was “falling” even if I was on the floor already, I still felt like I was “falling” somewhere lower than the floor. It was unreal, but I made it to the other side. And swore off anti-depressants as bad, bad, bad drugs and told myself I would never take them again (they never helped me, anyway).
In 2002 I had a stint or two in the hospital, more for Lupus reasons, but still, I was in a bad place mentally, too, you know, so young and yet so broken already.
But I managed to pick myself up from the floor, yet once again, and when I felt a little better I started looking for a job.
I got the job almost too soon, but I needed it. I had been paying $600 a month for Cobra health coverage, without a job. Which means I paid it with my credit cards. I needed a job and I needed to pay back some bills. This is what kept me going.
My first day going to the new job I panicked on the train. The only reason I kept going was telling myself I had bills to pay. I made it to the job, and I still work there today.
2004 was a good year. I got to travel for work and ended up panicking in my hotel in London, at 11 PM and calling people back here in the States to help me through it. But hey, I went to London! I did it. But I think I did panic a bit every night before going to sleep, thinking about how far I was from home.
I also went back to Italy in 2006, again for work. Again, I had to make sure I had some props to help me with the situation, like having my father meet me in the city I was going to and stay with me a few days until I got to know more people and felt more stable. By the way, my father didn’t mind, since at the time he was already in Italy and it turned out to be a nice vacation for him.
Looking back, I wasn’t so bad at all in 2006. I was able to get on a plane to Italy by myself (granted I knew my dad was at the other end of the flight), I spent 2 weeks there alone or so, I panicked badly only once, and then came back home ok. Well, I did panic on the plane back, and took a Xanax, which sometimes has “more anxiety” as a side effect, which really sucks. So I took the Xanax while I was panicking on the plane and panicked even more! So I spent the last two or three hours before we landed in a fetal position on the seat, hyperventilating and just waiting to get home. But I did it!
Today things are different from then, from all the other times. I am still trying to figure out what’s different. I did have a baby in 2009. That could be one “different” factor. All I know is that today, July 23 2011, as I am writing this, I have a hard time going to the corner store without panicking. I work three days a week and it has been a torture to get myself there and back. I have called 911 twice in three months, the last time two days ago. I ended up in the hospital and discharged with an anxiety diagnosis.
Things have been going down hill since the baby was born. I think back and I remember having almost no anxiety during the pregnancy (must be the good hormones), and I wasn’t taking any Xanax or any other medication. But as soon as I had the baby, I started freaking out in the hospital, pretty much every night (now I really hate night time).
I got home and I was ok for many months, even if I had a lot of help from my mother. She was basically by my side almost every day, and when she took a day off, I would usually spend it in bed with the baby, because I felt safer that way.
I am not sure when it started to get worse, but it started with physical symptoms, like fatigue and palpitations. I was always tired. I blamed the Lupus for a while, and my Lupus doctor blamed the “new mother” syndrome. He kept telling me it was normal to feel this tired.
But I felt like I was going to pass out on the baby, and that made me worry about not being able to take care of her. I felt like this for months, but I kept going. I wondered if it was post partum depression, but I didn’t feel depressed, just tired.
Until my body couldn’t handle the worrying and the stress, and I had my new “first” panic attack while driving back from a work assignment. I had to stop on the side of the road and wait until I felt better. I knew I was having a panic attack. I managed. And then I made it home again. This was back in July 2010. And it has been going down hill since then.
In August we went on a short trip to Boston and I didn’t feel like myself, and got all worried about having an allergic reaction to oysters, you can read all about it here. Since then, the food allergy fear has stuck like white on rice! I used to love going out to restaurants, now… it’s a torture eating anything out of the norm.
I feel the same way about medicine. When I started taking Xanax again, a few months ago I was terrified I was going to get an allergic reaction, and it didn’t matter how many times I told myself that I had taken the pill before, it just didn’t.
Sure enough, I had to take a new antibiotic and freaked out at the side effect and ended up in the hospital in May.
So today I had a horrible headache and I haven’t taken anything because I only take Motrin for my headaches, and freaking Motrin had to have a “secret recall” and I can’t find those pills at the local drug store (the pharmacist told me it’s taking them a long time to resume production or something along those lines). I have Advil at home and I know that Ibuprofen is Ibuprofen in Motrin just as in Advil, but today, more than ever, I’m just not in the mood to pop a pill that I know will throw me in a panic. Because I always take Motrin and I haven’t taken an Advil in a long time. See, the coating on the Advil is different from the Motrin, and that’s what could maybe cause a reaction. That’s how my brain thinks these days, and I have to stop from thinking like this otherwise… I don’t know.
The problem is I don’t know how to stop it. Nothing has worked so far, not that I have done much about it, other than going to therapy once a week. That’s not helping. I’m getting worse by the minute, and that’s scary.
Xanax is not helping either, and after having that horrible panic attack and taking a Xanax to calm myself down, and ending up in the hospital because the Xanax probably made it worse, I’ve decided that Xanax is not cutting it this time. It’s not helping and it’s actually making things worse. So I’ve started weaning myself off of it. Which means twice a day I now take a 0.25 mgs pill, I split it in half, and then bite a piece off that half! Pathetic I know, but I don’t want to get withdrawals effects from it.
Since at least three or four months back I’ve become very dependent on my fiance to wait for me at work so that we can go back home together. I have been able to take the bus to work, but I’ve already had plenty of panic attacks on it. Not a fun way to start the day.
I can’t take the train, not in these conditions. But I do take it with my fiance when he waits for me. Otherwise, the bus it is for me. But I still panic, less than if I were on the train, but I still do. The main difference in taking the bus, is that I can talk on the phone if I need to. I can call my mother, my fiance, anybody, to distract myself for a little and make it to work. My fiance works with me, and that is the only reason that today I still have my job. If he weren’t there, I would have had to take some major time off while trying to get better.
Going back to these new attacks, after July 2010, I had another big panic attack in February 2011 and since then I have been getting them more regularly. And lately, since May, I’ve been really bad, feeling like I can’t manage them like I used to. And this is making me feel scared and depressed. And this is why I am writing this blog, to look for an answer, to look for help, to help me understand why I can’t get better.
This wasn’t so brief, but I hope you made it to the end. Thanks for reading.