Fuck my broken brain. I've had about enough.

Had my very first panic attack on Thursday. No, sir, I did not like it.

I’m used to dealing with symptoms of depression. In fact, my psychiatrist recently gave me a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication because some nights, the black beast claws at the inside of my skull and I spend 2-3 hours in agonizing mental pain, unable to sleep. Bleak despair, self-loathing, and the soul-crushing compression of being trapped under a well-formed mountain range - those I’m used to. I have coping mechanisms. Some are good and healthy. Some are not so healthy but serve me for the moment.

But this?

It started off with about an hour’s worth of free-floating irritability and hostility. It happens. Everything ticks me off. I hate everything in the world, including and especially jump ropes. The black beast is stirring, and if I can find distractions - exercise, funny youtube videos, talk with friends - I can make it through.

Then the tension arrived. Something was wrong. Og alone knows what. Dad’s at a doctor’s appointment, and Mom is with him. They’re fine. Puppy’s sleeping on the bed. All my other friends and family are in good shape. The house is not on fire. No icebergs have been sighted. There is no logical reason to feel so anxious.

Just about the time I consciously realized that there was nothing wrong with the external world and what the heck was going on, my pulse started pounding, and I was hit with a scald of adrenaline I expect is usually felt by people being eaten by a polar bear.

Pacing did not help. Talking to myself did not help. Meditative breathing didn’t help, because I couldn’t keep it up for more than 20 seconds. Acknowledging that hmmm, I’m having an interesting physical reaction which is not tied to an external stimulus did not help either. Trying to distract myself with reading didn’t help, because I’d lost the fine motor coordination which allows me to track text on a screen. Listening to music didn’t help because no matter how softly I set it, it sounded like polar bears snacking on my intestines.

I took one of my anti-anxiety pills (diazepam, 5 mg). I checked for online friends and texted one, but she was in the middle of phone calls and couldn’t chat. Twenty minutes for the meds to kick in, I told myself. I can hold on that long. If it were an action movie, I would have climbed the walls, yanked the duct cover off with my bare hands, made it to the elevator shaft and climbed down without guide ropes or assistance in record time. I’d have picked up my Army buddy, slung him over my shoulder, gathered up his severed limbs and carried all that and the chopper. That’s how terrified I was.

If someone had told me the reason I was so freaked out was because my head was set to explode in 23 . . . 22 . . . 21 . . . it would have made perfect sense.

I texted another friend, and she called me immediately. She couldn’t stay on the phone for long - work, you know, a world I haven’t occupied in months - but her voice was the rock of stability I needed. Forty minutes after taking the med, I realize that it had kicked in. I’m feeling about 75% of the rip-my-face-off-and-throw-it-to-distract-the-zombie-hordes panic I had been. That’s as good as it’s going to get. Fine. I’ll take another.

I text my mom. ETA for home? She calls back to say about 10 minutes, and would I like to run errands and have lunch with her? No, no, that’s okay. I need to stay where I am, back to the wall, door barricaded, and by the way, do you have a gun you never mentioned to me, in case of Visigoths? This sets off the Mom Radar. She gets Dad in, gives him his afternoon pills, hands him the tv remote, and trots upstairs to my bedroom.

Moms make things better. Especially when they are RNs and have a deep understanding of your past mental issues. Soft voice, hand holding, detached academic discussion on my symptoms. Also, the second 5 mg of diazapam is kicking in. Within ten minutes of her arrival, I’ve gone from a teeth-chattering, wobbly-voiced, twitching, shivering wreck, to breathing, slightly loopy on drugs, give me five minutes and I’ll find some sort of humor in this, chagrined and embarrassed not-quite-normal-by-societal-standards normal. And I really want a nap.

WTF, people? I’m not saying I’m really great at handling stress, but I thought I was doing okay - exercise, sleep, nutrition, and appropriate medical care. And then this hits me out of nowhere. Great. Just fucking great. If it’s not the depression, it’s the ADD. And now, apparently, if it’s not the ADD, it’s a debilitating panic attack that would rightfully get me tased or shot with tranquilizer darts if it happens in public.

What the hell am I supposed to do? Build my own restraints? Email Temple Grandin for reproducible plans to her Squeeze Machine? Run screaming into the night?

I have health insurance. Officially. It came with a card and everything. Benefits for out-of-hospital work tops out at $1K per year. With the blood work I have done every three months, and the regular appointments for everything from migraines to weight loss to an ovarian cyst the size of Godzilla, it’s already gone. poof I can’t pick up any other health insurance on my own, because - surprise surprise - I have all these pre-existing conditions and am considered “high risk”. The state sponsored pool costs more than $500 a month, which is simply not do-able. Also, doctors, I’ve found, look at you funny if you beg them for valium (for anxiety), vicodin (for migraines, because the abortives that do work are $100 a shot, and the affordable abortives don’t work at all), and amphetamines (which works astonishingly well for my ADD and is too low a dose to interest anyone else).

Dammit, people, I’m doing the best I can. I take care of my dad while my mom works, I’m constantly looking for a job and doing volunteer work when I can, which is not often. With exercise and diet, I’ve lost 50 pounds in the last year. My depression is mostly under control, and I now recognize when the symptoms worsen so I can go in and get more help. I’m a good friend, though they’re all back in Texas or up in Washington. I love my family, and they love me.

I lost nearly six hours to that fucking panic attack (three for the attack, three for the exhausted, drugged sleep afterwards). What the hell am I supposed to do now? What if I have another one? How can I teach if I’m liable to completely lose it in the classroom? Seriously, how can I hold down any job if that’s the case? My life is as small as I can make it, and I have limited my responsibilities to only those I know I can meet. I think I finally have things under control, manageable, and improving, and BAM!, this shit happens.

Honestly, seriously, if I didn’t have deep and abiding obligations to my loved ones, if I weren’t fully aware of just what a traumatic mess it would cause, I would fold my hand and leave the table. I can’t, and I won’t, but sometimes it’s the only thought that gets me through the day.

I’ve never had a panic attack, so your post has been very educational. I know one of the side-effects of the drug I’m on are panic attacks. So now I know what signs to look out for. Thank you.

Despite not having experienced what you have, I do understand that longing, that delicious craving, for it all to be over. Sometimes I feel resentful for even having a family because I know that they’re the only thing keeping me from actually doing it. But there has never been a time when the storm hasn’t passed and I’m not able to look back at that dark moment and think to myself, “Hmm, I’m kind of glad I’m not dead.” The key, and I’m still trying to work on it, is getting myself to remember this when I’m actually going through the moment.

I’m very sorry you’re going through this bad patch, phouka. I really hope this is a one time thing (because, you know, it could be) and that you can realize your dreams to their fullest.

Hi phouka. I’m sort of like you - I have chronic acute depression but not panic attacks. Except for that one time. Maybe because I’m so good at everyday deflecting and procrastinating that I don’t let the anxiety get ahead of me - but that’s just a guess.

So about two years ago I had a panic attack. It was weird when it happened. I didn’t feel afraid so much as slammed by the physical part. Intellectually I knew there was nothing to be afraid of. When my heart started racing and my head pounding, at first I thought it was just tension. Then when it got worse, I realized that it must be a panic attack. Something that always helps me is to focus on the objective reality instead of my emotiosn. Nothing was wrong - my body just had its wires crossed. I made mental promise to myself that I was taking the rest of the weekend off. No chores, no errands, no phone calls. No thing that would case any stress. And then I played video games until the symptoms subsided. Video games are my own coping mechanism. They keep my brain occupied on something so it can’t spin itself dizzy. I’m not suggesting you start playing obviously. I’m just saying I find it helpful to have an activity to give my brain when it goes on the fritz. If I give my brain a specific task, it can’t go running off the rails.

When I was calmer, I bought David Burns’ book, When Panic Attacks. I’m a big fan of his CBT books. But it hasn’t happened again so I haven’t had a chance to use anything from the book.

So that’s me. But what I wanted to say - just because you had that one attack doesn’t mean you’re going to have more of them. You might. But it’s not inevitable.

Your psychiatrist will want to hear about it, and what you were doing in the days ahead of it. You might be able to find a pattern. It might have just been bad luck. As awful as it was, it’s over now and it’s not guaranteed to happen again. If it does, your psychiatrist can help you.

So be kind to yourself. What happened was scary but it’s no different than any other biological issue. Forgive yourself - if you had a broken bone or a weak heart, you wouldn’t hate yourself for it. Give yourself time to recover - just like you would for any other illness. Treat yourself to a little time with a new book maybe, or new pj’s, and kick back with Shark Week for a while. It’s going to be ok.

I don’t have much to offer except empathy. I have ADD and have had anxiety and depression nearly my whole life - right now things are good, thankfully, but for nearly 20 years I doubted I would ever really be functional. Many of my friends and loved ones have gone through it as well. I will say that there are good times and bad times for everyone, but I’ve seen almost everyone I know, with time and effort, get into a much better place and even be completely ‘cured’. Try to stop the black thoughts of spiraling downward and struggling forever from making you feel even worse (easy to say, I know). This might have been an isolated incident.

If there is any way for you to try cognitive behavioral therapy in the future I would encourage it. You need the right therapist like any other type of therapy but it’s good stuff. There are also a lot of good books out there. It might have saved my life. Like I said I’m doing well now but if I could afford CBT (my insurance has no mental health coverage and I don’t have much disposable income) I’d still be going 2x per week.

Panic attacks suck. I went through about 2 or 3 years of intermittent attacks that came completely out of nowhere. One day I got on a tram, got nauseous for no discernible reason, heart started racing, mind started disassociating from my self, next thing I know, I’m lying face down on the concrete. I fainted. Freaked me the fuck out. Had no clue what was going on with me. And the next few years, public transportation was a struggle, I became mildly claustrophobic and agoraphobic, and sometimes I thought I was going crazy.

Then I found out, from talking to people, that it’s really common, especially if you’re in your late 20s. It seemed like every other person I talked to was intimately familiar with my situation. One even had the exact same problem with public transportation–he completely avoided the subway for years because of this. I was surprised, but relieved, to find out I wasn’t unusual in this sense.

What I did to get through it (and I admit, I self medicated a little bit. Two shots of whiskey would usually set me right), is I did my best not to alter my routine. I found breathing exercises to be the most helpful in calming me down, as well as a bottle of cold water. What helps is that after you have your first panic attack, you know what’s going on, and the “sane” side of your brain can help you ride it out (if you’re like me, you have kind of a split existence at the moment of the panic attack, with a calming, rational side that knows intellectually what is going on, and a completely freaking, emotional side that is going haywire.) It’s still rough, but being cognizant of what is happening to you, and knowing you’ll be fine at the end of it, helps.

I was briefly on Xanax (for about a month, then I quit it because I hated it, and I was afraid of developing a dependency. It worked. It worked too well. That’s what freaked me out.) But it did take me a good two or three years to be rid of the anxiety, and even then, I still once or twice a year get the germination of a panic attack that I manage to stave off with breathing exercises or water. You just have to find what works for you. Until then, know that you’re not unusual at all in this regard, you’re not alone, and you’re going to be perfectly fine, that the panic attack is just a short-circuit of biological signals which will suck a lot as it peaks, but will subside soon enough.

My husband used to suffer from panic attacks. They happened at the most mundane times – walking to the parking garage after work, watching a movie, etc. However, it was a very stressful period overall in his life. I was pregnant with our first baby and we’d bought a house, etc. I personally belive that stress was the trigger for the attacks because once we had the baby and he saw that we weren’t going to kill her with out ineptitude, the attacks stopped.

Maybe his body needed to release some of that built in tension, especially on days when he didn’t have time to exercise. Maybe he overestimated his ability to compartmentalize. Or maybe when you’re a man in your 20s, your body produces too much testosterone and there are, sadly, no mastodons around to hunt down and kill.

I do think you’re doing all the right things – exercising and counseling, etc. But the frustration in your OP is very evident. So my advice is to continue focusing on the things that you can control (e.g. your diet, exercise, job searching) and try not to be so hard on yourself. You’ve made huge strides lately but roadblocks are very, very common. Don’t let self-doubt curb that positive energy.

FWIW, it’s been over 20 years since my husband’s last panic attack. So there definitely is a light at the end of the tunnel. Good luck to you.


That sucks. I’ve had panic attacks. I know.

I recommend LSD. Lots of it.

What was the question again?

In Norwegian, we have a word for being trapped under the snow in a mountain avalanche. Or, rather, a word for the effect that has on your body. It’s called “panserhjerte.”

Panzer Heart. The sensation that so much weight is pressing on your body that your chest can’t expand, your lungs can’t work, you can’t breathe and you can’t move. It feels exactly like you have three minutes to live and you can’t do anything about it. I’ve had one panic attack in my life - a few months ago, was in the hospital with a fib/tib break and the doctor started pulling and jerking my foot while I was waking up. It’s probably one of the worst ways your own body can fuck with you and I wish it on no-one.

Good fortunes.

Gukumatz, BrainGlutton, AnneNeville, PunditLisa, Pulykamell, rhubarbarin, Merneith, and monstro (and all the others who took the time to read but maybe couldn’t think of anything to post in response:

Thank you.

I am better today. Medications are being adjusted. I haven’t been getting my normal exercise (3 miles daily walk) because I injured my right foot, but I’m determined to find something to burn off the extra energy.

I got to deal with a rejection on an interview I thought I’d done fantastically well on, but the support from my family and friends has been amazing. There have been several offers to “go back at night and BURN THE PLACE DOWN!” which cheers me up to no end. I got a new book to read, and it’s thick and heavy, and I could stun an ox with it. I discovered a TV show I enjoy, and I might even go to the beach today or tomorrow.

Things get better.

I’d actually be worried about the antianxiety medication. They aren’t supposed to be given for depression. And they can actually cause the symptoms they are supposed to prevent.

I especially hate that they hand them out for sleep. There are a lot of options to try until you get anywhere near that.

Anyways, you do get to the point where you can do some of the things you were trying to do with your panic attacks. The Dope is my distraction at those points. It hurts, but I can at least read it.

I’m just worried sick about school starting up and my being home alone eight hours a day.

That’s great news, and a great attitude. You’re going to be okay.

Pilates exercises are a great workout and many can be performed without using the hurt foot.