Friday, September 24, 2010

"Spiraling: My Battles with Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobias" - Part Two

Continued from Part One...

I thought the magical beta blockers would make everything better.  They did make my blood pressure go down, but they also gave me this weird tight feeling in my chest that I didn't like.  Later that week, however, I had the same problems as I went to bed.  I couldn't calm down, couldn't sleep.  I stayed in the shower until the water got cold, because the shower seemed to help a bit.  I got online and started to research my symptoms, thinking that SOMETHING must be seriously wrong with me.  I found a website on anxiety and panic attacks, and I read through the symptoms.  I had experienced a majority of the symptoms.  Mayo lists these symptoms for panic attacks; I've highlighted the ones I've experienced:
  • A sense of impending doom or death
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hyperventilation
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Tightness in your throat
  • Trouble swallowing
The more I read the more I realized that this was what I was experiencing.  I felt really relieved that it was just anxiety and panic attacks, and not a life-threatening disease.  Over the next month I continued to check my blood pressure; it did seem that when my blood pressure was elevated, I was more likely to get panic attacks, so I went on a low-sodium diet.  While the beta blockers certainly made my life more manageable, they didn't totally get rid of the anxiety, and my blood pressure was still on the high end.  I was told that my birth control could be causing the high blood pressure, which in turn could be worsening my anxiety. By this time a doctor has diagnosed that I had anxiety/panic attacks; apparently all the stress of graduating college, getting two jobs, getting married, quitting two jobs, moving to California and getting two MORE jobs was just a bit too much for me. I went off of hormonal birth control for three months, which was very anxiety-producing for a new wife who wasn't interested in getting pregnant for a few years.

When I first had panic attacks, they primarily came on at night after I'd been in bed for a few minutes, seemingly out of the blue.  I was having 1-2 a week most of the time, sometimes more.  I learned tricks to help me calm down; I did lunges/squats before bed to get rid of some of my energy, and I took a nice, long, relaxing hot shower right before bed.  This would often help, but if I laid in bed for more than a few minutes before falling asleep (I fall asleep very quickly), there was a very good chance I'd start to have a panic attack.  It didn't matter what I was thinking about, it would just start.  It was a very frustrating time.  When I got off the birth control I was on, the panic attacks came much less frequently.  I also started going to the gym 4-5 days a week, and that helped a lot too.

I was able to go off the beta blockers after taking them for 6 months.  My panic attacks happened less than once a month at that point, which was wonderful.  I was still experiencing quite a lot of anxiety, however.  I would find myself flushing randomly throughout the day, suddenly extremely warm.  I'd find something to worry about and I would obsess about it for hours.  Most of the things I'd obsess about were health-related, which is partially because I was working at a doctor's office, and I was often sick with some sort of cold.  I worried about blood clots from the new birth control I was on, I worried about my constant daily headaches (which turned out to be really intense allergies, NOT a brain tumor, duh), I worried about our future and our financial situation and anything I could worry about, basically.  I was a mess.

In the fall of 2009, I really started to deal with my anxiety on a regular basis.  If you're paying attention, that's 2 years since my first panic attack.  I was no longer dealing with panic attacks (I'd have maybe 1 every six months) but my anxiety over health issues was interfering with my life and my marriage.  I kept reading more and more things about Yaz, the birth control I was on.  I'd had friends who were on it and had blood clots in their legs; a friend of my aunt's was hospitalized for a week because of multiple pulmonary embolisms.  Bryan and I had talked about going off hormonal birth control and trying the Fertility Awareness Method, but I was afraid to do that, as well.  I'd been having leg pain and strange numb sensations for a couple of weeks, and I was SURE it was a blood clot in my leg.  It turns out it was actually sciatica, but I was SURE.  When you have anxiety, it becomes REALLY hard to be rational about certain things when your mind keeps going to really scary places.  It would seem totally normal to my anxiety-ridden mind to go from leg pain ---> blood cloth ---> death.  Seriously.  And when these thoughts would start to race, I'd be at risk for a panic attack.  Here's a chart that I found pretty spot-on:
It's definitely a cycle, at least for me.  Just thinking about something could cause me to start to spiral.  It's hard for friends and family to understand if they haven't experienced it themselves; my mom actually thought it was a spiritual problem at first.

The thing about my anxiety is that it didn't just show up, not really.  Once my parents and I really started to talk about this (because they were very worried about me, and being across the country didn't help), I started mentioning times as a child that I would be nervous.  I told them when I was little, from about 6-12 years old, if we were on a roadtrip and there was a snowstorm or a thunderstorm while we were driving, I would try to fall asleep in the car, so if we died I'd wake up in Heaven.

Seriously.  This is how I was thinking at 6 years old.

My parents didn't realize that; they didn't know how scared I was because I never told them.  I thought most people were as afraid of driving in these conditions as I was, and I thought that most of them probably wanted to fall asleep so they could wake up in heaven if they died too.  My mom was really sad when she found this out, 18 years after the fact.  If they had known that I was dealing with this (without really realizing it) as a kid, I may have been able to get counseling for it at a young age.

Part Three, the final piece, tomorrow....

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