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.
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.