A Day in the life of panic
This is one of my typical days during the time that my days, and nights were filled with anxiety and panic attacks:
Living with active panic attack disorder, for me…
There was a dual reality… one that was happening in real time around me called life, and one happening in my mind and body. I knew when my emotional gauge was redlining when I would speak out loud and hear the echo of what I just said in my mind. Like people with migraines know when one is coming because they see white dots.
I suffered from frequent bad dreams, night terrors and flash backs. After a night of nightmares…remembering rapes and beatings… finally safe and free to feel know what was impossible to feel when it was actually happening…I would wake up the next day with what I’ll call a “nightmare hangover”. After nights like that, I knew it was probable that I would have panic attacks that day but I never knew what the trigger would be. What would be the last straw before my body reacted and released a what I knew historically to be a debilitating flood of adrenaline.
Sometimes it would only take the littlest “what if” thought and BOOM. Panic!
For example: After a night of bad dreams, I would wake up and not feel centered. Kind of floaty feeling. I would feel edgy. Nervous. Free floating anxiety, seemingly not attached to anything. As I would start to eat I would have to chew longer because my mouth was dry. I would think, “How am I going to swallow?” “What if it gets stuck in my throat and I choke?”. My heart would start to pound, my palms would get clammy and I would start looking around (still chewing) for a self saving game plan. i.e. “what will I use to give myself heimlich?” Then I would think about my poor children being alone all day with their mothers’ dead body if my self-saving plan doesn’t work! (still chewing but reaching for water to help the food go down) And then Id think about who would raise my children… (using the pointer finger on my right hand to stroke my throat and help my over chewed food slide down my throat—much like getting a dog to swallow a pill) The food goes down but I would be to afraid to try another bite… eating sometimes felt like Russia roulette…I won that hand but wouldn’t want to try my luck again. By then my anxiety and what if thinking would have been given inspiration and the adrenaline would begin leaking into my body and with it the release of body fluids. I was wound so tight that being chronically constipated was a no brainer. But when the attacks came so did relief… however painful the exit. Out of the bathroom and time to start the day I would feel like someone who just narrowly escaped death but the day was still young with countless other ways to die. And such was my mind, I imagined countless dangerous scenarios and countless “MacGyver type” counters to save my life. Even just going outside to hang the laundry on the line and I’d imagine I cant breathe well. Im not getting full lungs of air, how much air is actually necessary? Then I start trying to imagine how much I need and do it…inhale…exhale…now Im dizzy….what if I faint out here and the children are alone and seared by the sun….
FLOOD. (old movie submarine emergency sounds) Nuclear sirens are going off in my mind…over load over load…release the adrenaline….
I could actually feel the rush of adrenaline being released and washing over me…. tingly scalp, face then it dives in deeper in side of me… heart ponding, mouth dry, cant even swallow my own spit out of fear of choking…feels like a giant hand around my throat trying to choke me to death…I have to spit out if any water is in my mouth…back to the bathroom….hurts from being ripped open after breakfast…. shaking…trying to get the children inside the house so if I die they will be safe inside. I remember still trying to breathe “normal”. I felt as if I am looking over a cliff to my doom. It remember thinking it was just a matter of time before I would loose all control and throw myself off the side… oops…bad thought…here comes more adreline. damn it. I.MUST.CALM.DOWN. Nature…. thats it. Ill get out of the house. Take the kids on a walk before it gets to hot and humid. One in the stroller, one in the back pack, make sure I have everything they need….just in case…
Praying. Begging. Breathing.
Then off we would go… down the gravel drive to old tar country road in a rural small town in Kansas.
I imagined If something happened, I hoped a car will drive by and see us. I would calculate how long it would take me to get back to the house, call for help, and for the ambulance to figure out where I am. I didn’t have neighbors for miles in any given direction. The walking helped calm me down. I remember praying. Breathing. Calming down until we come upon a little road bridge… then the packed thinking…what if I loose control and throw my baby off the bridge? FLOOD. Then my thoughts would immediately race to how I would save my child. I would have a death grip on the handle bar of the stroller, pick up the pace and start singing “this little light of mine” as we cross over the bridge. I look down to see the rocks where my baby could have been …if I lost control…I imagine the damage to a little baby body…still rehearsing the save… time to get back inside for snacks and nap time.
And so this is a mere peak into a half of one day in my life during the height of my panic attacks and catastrophic thinking. I was unable to take any kind of medication to lessen the severity of my anxiety, even Zoloft made my tongue swell. I had to white knuckle the attacks and learn my own skills to eventually overcome and be free from my PSTD, anxiety HELL. No one would ever have known what was going on inside by looking at me…
This is thing about anxiety/panic disorders, it isn’t easily visible. A mother walking down your neighborhood could be thinking about what preschool she should use next year, what to make the kids for lunch or how she will survive the day without killing herself. Thus the saying…be kind to each other for you never know the suffering of another…
I Believe in You!