It starts with a tightness in the chest. Then it becomes just a little bit hard to catch your breath. You feel like you’re just not getting enough air. So you start to hyperventilate, trying to satisfy that catch in the back of your throat. It quickly escalates, and now there’s a heavy weight pushing down on your breastbone, and breathing becomes a real problem. All the relaxation techniques fail, and the and it feels like drowning. You just can’t breathe. Fight or flight instinct kicks in, but you only want to run. Pulse is pounding, there’s roaring in your ears, and even your eyesight fades out.
It’s a panic attack, and you are sure you’re going to die.
I thought I knew what it was like to have a panic attack before. When faced with a stressful situation, or confrontation I just wanted to get away and think about something…anything else. It was definitely uncomfortable. But it never really lasted that long. Easy is a relative term, but it was possible to relieve the feeling by removing the source of the agitation and fear without a lot of effort. Visualization and meditation was very effective. Just shut your eyes, lean back and take deep breaths; in through the nose, out through the mouth. Find a safe phrase and repeat it over and over. “I’m on a beach… I’m on a beach… I’m on a beach”… Of course, as soon as you return to whatever you were doing, the apprehension was back, and you had to start all over. Eventually getting up and walking away was all that would take care of the stress. That was my panic attack.
Boy was I wrong.
A true panic attack is like nothing I could ever imagine. I always thought that the “I’m going to die” thing was just a cliché. The first time I was hit with a real one I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I had all the symptoms; chest pain, sweating, pain in the left arm, couldn’t breathe. Even my Dr. believed it was a heart attack to the point of admitting me to the Cardiac Care ward in the hospital. I just knew it was going to be fatal. Obviously though I didn’t die. They gave me a strong pain killer that put me to sleep, and when I woke up all the symptoms were gone. I was removed from the source of stress, and my body had been forced into relaxation with medication. Now I just felt silly for having a false alarm.
But the threshold has been crossed, and the attacks are now happening daily.
The source of the stress hasn’t changed. My job is clearly the root cause, and after the “Heart Episode” I went on Medical Leave. And now I feel great. That is, I feel great until I have to do anything at all related to work. I should be contacting my boss on a regular basis with updates and the status with the insurance company with regards to the short term disability claim. I have my laptop with me that has access to my business email, and of course I have her phone number. And every time I pick up the laptop or phone, the panic kicks in. I just cannot do it. I tell myself that I’m being silly; my boss couldn’t be more understanding and I have nothing to fear. Thinking and feeling are two different things however, and the feeling is much stronger. I become absolutely paralyzed. If I start to write an email or talk to her on the phone, I’m going to die. And I want to die. Anything to take care of the overwhelming emotion that I’m finding so intense. Just make it stop!
It becomes a vicious cycle.
The longer I put off contacting my boss, the more I panic. And the greater the panic, the harder it is to make contact. Even though I’m not directly faced with the daily stressors that triggered these episodes, my emotional dilemma is progressing. I find it difficult to sleep, and the slightest thing can cause me to overreact. The slightest thing can cause the panic to return. And because of this, my depression is worsening. It’s a horrible way to feel, and it seems like it’s never going to end. That in itself is depressing as hell. I can’t stay out of work forever though, and that just adds to the stress that leads to panic that contributes to the depression.
So far, medications haven’t helped. Exercise relieves the anxieties for a while, but it’s short lived. Working on ‘Projects’ around the house is about the same; as long as I’m busy, I’m okay. And my honey-do list keeps getting shorter, which makes the significant other happy. I can only avoid this situation for so long however, so some kind of plan needs to be put in place.
I’m still working on that.
In the meantime, I can just keep on doing what I’m doing. With the exception of keeping my boss updated, I’ve found a relatively safe environment that keeps the panic at a minimum. Hopefully, between medications, therapy, and good living choices I can get to a point that I’m able to go back to work. Or, I can find a new job that isn’t so stressful. Yep That could do it. Of course, it won’t solve the Panic Disorder, but at least I can earn a living without the terror.
And I won’t die.