September 9, 2009

I Refuse to Panic

On the morning I managed to take control of my panic attacks Hubby and I were waiting in a hallway outside of the administrative offices of the Toronto college where I was studying Travel and Tourism, waiting to hand in my student loan and pay my tuition. The hall was full of other people, also waiting for the same reason. We took a number and sat down on the floor against the wall half way down the hallway.

I was unaware that I had been holding my breath. I held my breath until my chest protested and forced me to start breathing again. I took the feeling as a sure sign that I was going to have a heart attack, right there on the floor while waiting to pay my tuition, in front of all these people. Shame and fear. I tensed up. Pains started shooting through my arms and shoulders. These pains, I told myself, are just another symptom of a heart attack. The fear intensified. My vision tunneled so that it looked like I was seeing through the wrong end of a telescope. I stared up at the person standing waiting next to me. He looked so far away. Everything seemed unreal, like I was watching my life rather than living it. My body turned clammy and my breath was shallow. Panic.

I was going to die. I was sure of it.

I sat in the hallway for awhile, quietly freaking out.

When I couldn't stand it anymore, I turned to Hubby and said, "I'm going to have a heart attack I have to get out of here."

He said, "You're not going to have a heart attack. You're fine. We have to pay your tuition."

"How can you say that? I am not fine! I feel awful. I can't breathe, I have pains in my arms and neck, my chest and heart feel weird. Those are all symptoms of a heart attack. You know that! Don't you care that I'm going to die?"

I put my head down on my knees and took a deep breath. When the air hit my lungs, I realized I hadn't been breathing. I consciously took another deep breath. 'I'm fine,' I told myself. 'I'm fine. The only thing wrong with me is the panic.'

I took third deep breath and relaxed my muscles. The pains in my arms and neck dissipated.

I raised my head and looked around and just let myself breath for awhile, slowly realizing there was nothing actually wrong with me.

I turned back to Hubby and said, "I'm going to be okay."

He sighed. "Exactly," he said.

I haven't had a full-on panic attack since. I monitor myself and manage my stress. I eat better. I exercise. I am now aware that I hold my breath when I'm stressed. As soon as I feel myself start to panic I force myself to breathe. I tell myself I'm okay. I focus on calming myself down, on relaxing my muscles, on just breathing. Just. Breathe. Breathe. You're okay. Deep breath, deeeep breath.

I used to have panic attacks. Then I didn't. Part of it was being aware of my stress levels and trying to just calm down. But a big part of getting past the panic attacks was fixing my vitamin deficiencies.

Prior to that September morning, years ago, when I was able to finally manage my panic, I started taking vitamins to deal with deficiencies my childhood family doctor had discovered over the summer. I'd been dealing with a long list of odd symptoms for months: twitching thumbs and (every once in awhile) eyelids, IBS-like stomach problems, sudden sweats, exhaustion. The Toronto doctors I visited couldn't figure it out. I was advised to avoid dairy and oils, to stick to clear fluids and plain breads. It didn't help. Finally my family doctor, after Hubs and I had moved home for the summer, did some blood tests and discovered I was anemic and also had low B12. So, on that day in September, I'd been taking supplements for about a month and was starting to feel more normal. The thumb twitching had stopped, the stomach problems were mostly gone, I was starting to regain some energy and feel more like myself.

My improved health allowed me to separate the panic from the actual physical symptoms. Without the physical symptoms, I had no reason to panic. I was able to take a step back and realize the worst part of what I was experiencing was psychological. I was able to take control of how I was feeling.

Lately I've had a harder time managing my stress levels. It's been a crazy few months (Hub's job falling through, followed by him searching for and finding another job, moving, waiting to find out if I'd been accepted to school, finding daycare, starting school) and I haven't been taking proper care of myself. Yesterday, for the first time in years, I felt removed from reality. It's a bit like when you're watching a movie and you're relating to the characters so much that you almost feel like you're living their lives along with them, like you're involved personally in the story. Almost. That's how it feels: You feel like you're almost living your life. Almost. But there's still that nagging feeling of unreality, of being a spectator rather than an active participant.

The return, no matter how brief, of that feeling makes me think I should start taking some vitamins, eat better and get more exercise. I'm going to get things back on track because the last thing I need right now is a return of the panic.

Thanks to Heather at Theta Mom for this cute award:

I haven't forgotten your questions. I'll answer them soon! If you have a question you've been burning to ask me, just put it in the comments at Ask the Reluctant Housewife. Mwah!



Mama Karebare said...

I have anxiety attacks from time to time! Crazy how they feel like a heart attack. They can be pretty scary. Glad you got through it an school yea! You go girl!

scrappysue said...

i dreamt i had a heart attack last night - how freaky is that! i've been wondering where you've been.

taking care of YOU is the best thing you can do! i look forward to hearing more about it.


Heather of the EO said...

I've had two actual attacks. I'm occasionally verging though...

My dad and my best friend always catch it on the phone when I'm stressed. They'll point out that my breathing is funny and I won't even have noticed.

I catch myself here and there throughout the day and have to take really deep breaths.

It's so good that you haven't had any panic attacks in so long. It's tricky stuff...

Jen said...

I really hope that you can get things under control and keep that panic away.

Wishing you the best.

Erin M. said...

I, too, suffer from anxiety, although I've not had too many actual panic attacks. But it's never very fun to be so completely stressed out that you can't escape those awful feelings of suffocation, etc...

I hope you can work through it. You're dealing with a lot right now, so go easy on yourself. Just remember: lots of deeeeeep breaths!

Brate said...

In the cases of heart attack and cardiac arrest, or any other heart shocks, time sets to be the most crucial factor for the survival of the patient. Sometimes, a little knowledge regarding the immediate actions to be taken may help your near and dear ones to survive in such incidents. The response a person takes to treat a victim decides the probability of his/her survival. Its been my personal experience fighting to survive against a heart attack. A quick reorganization of your bodily responses may increase your chances of survival. Because of having many heart problems, I was enrolled in a concierge Healthcare program from elite health. I was attacked by a severe heart attack in a party, luckily surrounded by many people. Some of the sudden changes in my body was recognized by me and anticipated immediately. I got a very severe chest pain which was almost unbearable for more than a minute. I got the suspicion that I might be having heart attack, and immediately called my physician on the phone, and explained my condition and its severity. Because of the immediate guidance, I was directed immediately to have an aspirin which I used to carry with me as prescribed by my physician. It was quite a frightening experience for me to face such a heart attack, but somehow I managed to be calm until 911 arrived. I was immediately taken to the nearest hospital, where already my physician were present and have got everything setup according to my medical history. And it was in some matter of seconds that everything was in control. A doctor, who already have the complete knowledge of the medical history and fitness of the person, extra ordinarily ameliorate your recovery process. Hence such a concierge level program from Elite health, helped me a save my life, like many others.

Ami said...

Great post! It really is important to listen to our bodies, isn't it? I was having what I think were minor panic attacks for a bit and cutting out caffeine seemed to completely eliminate them. Of course, I gradually started drinking caffeine again. Hoping the symptoms don't come back again, but if they do, I know exactly how to start treating them.

Bethany said...

Scary...I've had a few anxiety attacks like that and they always freak me out. Thankfully, I'm finding ways to calm down and far, so good and they are very uncommon.