On Understanding Panic Disorder

I almost don’t know how to start this. “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year” (1)

I am one of those 18.1% who suffer. When I’m in panic it’s almost as if a doppelgängertook over my body. So many people do not understand what happens and that the person has no control over how they feel. Stress and cortisol flood the body.

Last night I had a panic attack. I actually had several in the past week, and 4 or 5 just yesterday alone. What made my last two particularly long and painful is that other people were home and weren’t reacting compassionately. They live with me and don’t quite understand what I go through, how painful it is, and how little to no control I have over how I feel or can possibly react. I can empathize and understand that it can be scary to someone else – really I can. I don’t want to be in full-blown panic either, believe me – way MOREso than the people around me don’t want to see it.

A key driver is understanding. Panic disorder with panic attacks is not something that can be helped at the moment or have a lid put on it. What makes it all so much worse is when those around you and in society judge you and falsely believe mental health issues are something that can be helped (2). I’m writing this because if my own household doesn’t quite understand what this is about, how can any one else? I need to do my part in spreading awareness.

I didn’t know much about true anxiety either. Why should I? We throw the word around a lot. Many of us live with low -evel anxiety constantly. As a society we are mostly all anxious. Anxiety and Panic Disorder is a little different. “This is not to be confused with nervousness — what most people experience in normal situations. Nervousness and anxiety can both cause similar symptoms, but normal nervousness such as how one feels before making a big presentation or applying for a job differs from anxiety in that it’s rational.” (3) Some things can be helped or talked away from. Normal nervousness is one.

I’ve read a lot about anxiety in the past two years since I’ve been diagnosed. Stress is prevalent in our culture. A large part is due to technology and the bombardment of information. Also, the ability for others to reach into our lives at any moment day or night through social media, texting, email, etc. When I was younger and we had a house phone attached to a wall, either going to someone’s house or calling on that phone was the only way to let the outside in. When you left work everyone was shutdown for the day. No one was on texts and emails creating new things to sort through when you got to work – what you left it as the day before is how it was when you arrived the next morning. These things cause constant low-level stress. A text at 9pm makes our hearts beat faster and creates a false sense of urgency to pick up the phone to read it. Whether the message is from a loved one or your boss, the body reacts as if it’s in danger (heart rate, quickened breath, maybe stomach in knots). While we all might experience that quick burst of anxiety when the cell phone dings at 9pm, after a few minutes it goes away. For those of us with an anxiety disorder it not only doesn’t go away, it escalates.

This article describes it better than I can-

Picture this: you’re asleep at night when suddenly you wake up to the sound of someone breaking into your house. What do you do? You panic, like every sane human being would. You start to sweat, you breathe heavily or struggle to breathe, you feel nauseous, your heart races, there’s a heavy pressure in your chest, so on and so forth.

Now picture something else: all of those symptoms happening when you aren’t actually in any danger. No one is breaking into your house. Nothing is about to harm you or is currently harming you. Your body suddenly just starts to panic anyway. That is a panic attack.”

With panic disorder, the body for no real and current reason goes into full fight or flight mode. It differs for everyone, but for me in particular I’m often triggered by something externally that was threatening in the past. Many times I cannot initially identify the trigger. It is almost impossible too when the brain is flooded and the executive functioning goes offline.

Panic attacks arouse the body to a peak level of excitement which makes the individual feel not in control of him or herself. The mind is preparing for a false fight or flight mode, forcing the body to take over to help the victim face or run from the perceived danger, real or not.” (4) The reptilian brain that all land creatures have to flee or fight is what takes over. Rational thinking is completely shut down. It’s not the time to start figuring out the cause or rationalizing with the individual.

I want to feel normal and not panic more than anything. Riding it out, medicine and therapy are helpful, but it took years for the body to become dysfunctional to this point; it likely will not go away overnight.

I can tell you what makes it worse for me –

  1. Being with someone during a panic attack that doesn’t understand and gets annoyed or mad if they can’t help me. I can’t be helped at that point. Someone in my face rationalizing it for me feels condescending. Shunning me at that point feels humiliating and akin to abandonment. I’m humiliated enough. Standing in judgment only makes it worse.
  2. Another horror is trying to hide it to not scare other people. I feel further trapped. I’ve had panic attacks on an airplane, in restaurants, at work, while driving, while getting ready for bed, when waking up… Of course no one wants to see or hear it, but other people hiding or pretending nothing is going on just makes me feel like a freak creature that needs to be avoided.
  3. Last but not least on is the shame of having to hide a huge piece of yourself to others. Our society doesn’t look kindly to Mental Health issues. Before suffering myself, I too thought it was the sign of a weak mind and something you can control. Last summer I spent a full month in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). But forbid I let people know. My own step kids and extended family were kept in the dark. I was afraid to tell people at work why I was on FMLA. It may sound silly or it may not, but if I felt that way I would be willing to bet I’m not the only one.

May is Mental Health Awareness month (5). If you don’t suffer from any mental health issues (Yay You!), it’s very likely you know someone who does; you just don’t know they do. Let’s all do our part to bring awareness and be compassionate to one another to avoid shame, humiliation and judgment. We are all human. Let’s treat one another as such.

Peace.

  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#
  2. We Need to Talk. Our Society Has an Issue With Anxiety and Mental Health. https://futurism.com/we-need-to-talk-our-society-has-an-issue-with-anxiety-and-mental-health/amp/
  3. https://medium.com/@gtinari/how-to-handle-someone-elses-anxiety-or-panic-attacks-51ee63f5c23bHow to Handle Someone Else’s Anxiety or Panic Attacks
  4. How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack https://m-wikihow-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/m.wikihow.com/Help-Someone-Having-a-Panic-Attack?amp=1&amp_js_v=0.1&usqp=mq331AQECAEoAQ%3D%3D#origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&prerenderSize=1&visibilityState=prerender&paddingTop=54&p2r=0&horizontalScrolling=0&csi=1&aoh=15272981860562&viewerUrl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Famp%2Fs%2Fm.wikihow.com%2FHelp-Someone-Having-a-Panic-Attack%253famp%3D1&history=1&storage=1&cid=1&cap=swipe%2CnavigateTo%2Ccid%2Cfragment%2CreplaceUrl
  5. Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/doppelganger/”>Doppelgänger</a&gt;

 https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/doppelganger/

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com

Lexapro “Rollercoaster” Journal

 

Friday, January 13, 2017

8:53pm

Well… I just took my first reduced dose. Fingers crossed. It was an awesome medication. It did exactly what I needed. But now it’s time to stop.

 

Reason #1 weight gain. I gained 11 pounds since I started 10 months ago. 7 of those were in the past 4 months. My BMI is still only 23 point something but it’s disconcerting that week after week the scale goes up at least 1/2 lb. I was ok with it at first. I feel stronger than ever and have been more physically active and at the top of my physical fitness game than ever. But the past few weeks my clothes have been getting tighter and tighter. And that is not ok. I practically live in leggings and yoga pants now, but even those are getting tight. Super warning sign. I’ve been on amazing money saving kick. A whole new wardrobe to accommodate my fat Lexapro ass isn’t part of the plan.

 

Reason #2 is decreased libido. Not ok, I don’t feel like myself in that regard. Enough said.

 

I’ve been considering going off for a while. I knew I had an appointment today with my primary care provider. I had this appointment since last September. The side effects weren’t too bad until the last month of two. I wanted to get thru the holidays and settled with my new job. I wanted a good destressifying (likely not a real word) routine, the new VRBO property totally set and posted, a solid yoga/meditation/pranayama/mantra/daily spiritual practice set up. I have most of this now 90% there, but I need to admit to myself that realistically it’s probably not going to get better than this. I had an appointment today and decided to start tonight.

 

I’ve been reading online about the experience of going off. Brain zaps, depression, feeling out of it, head aches, nausea… to name a few. I’m ready for it. I’m done now. It did it’s job. It cleared my mind and helped me to see what I needed to do to live a more stress free life. And I did it! I’m proud. That life is in place as much as it probably will be and I’m ready to start this slow 6 week trickling down process.

 

Bring it on!

 

 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

5:45am

The morning of day 4. I have slept like a log since I was pregnant with Thomas over 20 years ago. The past few weeks with not having to get up everyday I have been sleeping 9-10 hours. It’s been amazing! But last night as tired as I was I couldn’t stay asleep more than 5-10 min at a time. Holy cow now. I didn’t even think to relate it to a withdrawal symptom until Daren mentioned it. Then I just came downstairs now and got this overwhelming sense of dizziness and nausea. I had to lay down. Ugh… I don’t want to feel like this.

 

Until last night I was going to journal about the good things I’ve felt so far. 3 namely and I have a hard time believing in the less than 48 hours that I cut back the dosage from 15 to 10mg that I can feel anything positive. But the first thing I noticed immediately was how less hungry I feel. Secondly Sun morning I woke up and my stomach felt flatter than it has since last summer. Despite not eating so well Sat night. And lastly I am having these incredible bursts of creative energy. I did so many things (recreational/income bearing) the past few days it’s not been like me since before I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety since before I met Daren.

 

But this morning sucks. I can hardly see the words I’m typing. I’m uncoordinated, dizzy, nauseous and exhausted. Not to mention incredibly UNmotivated or creative.

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

3:40pm

Well… today I feel fabulous. Yesterday morning was the absolute pits. I had constant hot & cold flashes. I was so sick to my stomach & SO unbelievably tired. It was a hazard for me to be on the road. I didn’t want to call out sick. I only started my new job a few weeks ago. And I’m glad I didn’t because by about 8:30 I felt pretty normal. By noon I was 100% myself. Last night I took NyQuil because not only did I have post nasal drip that was keeping me up and restless the night before, but I didn’t want to chance not sleeping again. I of course slept long & deep. I didn’t wake up at all until the alarm. And once I did I felt so awake and rested. I was slightly concerned I would feel dizzy and sick standing up and moving about, but it never happened.

 

So far so good. I’m suppose to stay on 10mg for 2 full weeks, but my prescriber did say that was a slow wean and if I felt good I could speed it up. IF I’m still feeling this good by Fri eve I will consider going down to 5mg. That would be nice! I’ll see.

 

And one other amazing thing that I’m not sure is a coincidence, but the scale lowered 5 full pounds since last week. I wasn’t this light since last September. Fingers crossed it’s not a fluke!

 

Friday, January 20, 2017

7:42am

1 week on 10mg and other than a few hours of feeling sick on Tuesday I’ve had no other side effects.

 

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, the placebo effect, or something real; but I lost 6 pounds somehow in the past week and my creativity level KICKED up. Sunday morning I was suddenly inspired to really amp up my LLC. I was thinking about where I might be able to provide yoga (library, park, local businesses, etc)… when it dawned on me we have 340 rarely used completely finished space in our walk out basement. There is a bathroom & sauna attached. No overhead… what could I lose??? I immediately set to work playing with the website I paid for randomly on the fly back in Dec when I filed for the LLC and got in fire. My creative juices have been flowing ever since. I’m making crafts, finding new uses for things that otherwise would have been discarded.

 

My PCP said to do 2 weeks on 10mg and it’s really up to me if I feel ok to cut back to 5 a little sooner. 1 week seems like a nice number. Think tonight I will take only 5 and see what happens.

 

Wish me luck

 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

7:21pm

Day 9. So far so good. Feel steady, balanced, creative. 3 of those pounds came back, so somewhat of a fluke there, but otherwise I’m feeling great. Last week it was 4 days after I cut back I felt sick so I’m prepared this time just in case. I hope nothing sooner because I have a yoga dem/interview tomorrow eve and want to feel on my game. Starting up a yoga business and going off these mess at the same time may not have been my brightest idea, but so far it’s going smoothly. Yee hah!!!

 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5:31pm

Day 11, but Day 4 on 5mg and not a single sign of sickness or withdrawal. I got that yoga gig last night right there on the spot. I start 3/1 on Wednesday evenings at 5pm. I have another interview tomorrow at a chiropractor’s office in Hamden. It’s Sarah’s provider and she mentioned her friend who teaches yoga. He wanted to meet me and asked her to have me call his assistant. I did and I’m going to see to what this might be about tomorrow. Wish me luck!!

 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

12:06pm

This is the first day I feel really crummy. I’ve been feeling crummy since Friday, but I thought it was because I didn’t get enough sleep. Yesterday I had that same tired feeling and I didn’t get the best night sleep, but today after a totally long restorative rest I still have that surreal kind of feeling like I haven’t slept. I’m dizzy and just overall slumpy.

 

I’ve been on only 5mg since last Friday last week. I took my last 5 Thursday night. Friday was the first night without Lexapro since last March. Last night I was totally on the fence with deciding if I should do one day on one day off for a week, but I’d love to just get this over with so I didn’t take it. Today I woke up feeling super yucky. I also woke up with anxiety. It is going in reverse for me in that what was happening to me when I started it is now happening to me in the reverse way. I had that feeling of my body having anxiety and my brain asking why. Before the lex at all my body & brain were in sink. Like day 2 they started to disconnect. I hope the next step on going off isn’t reconnection.

 

Once I noticed the feeling I immediately sat down and did some pranayama practice (breathing). It helped immensely for about 5 minutes and then I felt anxious again. I talked to Daren about how I was feeling and two particular things that were bugging me… and then I felt better. Until the headache started about an hour after that. He is now with Devin at a hockey game. I’ve been working on Tom’s room and the basement (moving stuff around & getting ready to paint the new little yoga studio). But I had to just stop. I’m so exhausted and dizzy. No more physical anxiety, just withdrawal side effects. This sucks because I have such will, but my body just isn’t cooperating. And the one thing I really learned this past year is to honor my body. At times it’s important to listen to the body or it will shut down on you. And other times it’s important to listen to the brain- like this morning when the body was anxious for no good reason. Maybe a nap will help. Koji got when I laid down in Tom’s room before I wrote this. He immediately jumped up and laid next to me- falling asleep instantly. He is my little buddy, following me around the house all day. I love this Stinky black doggie.

 

No weight gain or loss lately. I did get another gig with the chiropractor too! I start on 2/28 on Tuesday nights at 5pm. Very excited. Between the two classes I hope to fill in my home studio, these two I just signed up for this week, the one I teach at work, and the domestic violence volunteering I am finished taking on anything new. The VRBO site has suddenly picked up in the past week and I need to go down there in Friday’s to turn the house over between guests. I’m so excited to just get started on all these things. First guests this weekend and just a few loose ends to tie up. And I’m aiming to have a yoga open house next Sun. I just need to take a break right now and let my body recover/process out these meds.

 

Scared the anxiety will come back but I do feel strong enough to recognize it before it takes a hold of me and reach into my toolbox of things to combat it in the early stages. Worst case scenario is I got back on the Lexapro because I know it works.

 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

8:35am

The past few days have been a rollercoaster to say the very least. I cracked Monday afternoon. I took 5mg. And I feel better already. I feel a bit disappointed, but at the same time kind of thankful. It was a nice wake up call.

 

Sunday was the last time I journaled while laying down with Koji. I actually felt a lot better after that. I went down to the new studio area and started prepping the walls and taping so we could paint. About half way through I became super dizzy again. I finished up anyway and decided I need to stop for the day. I went to take a shower and just started feeling worse and worse. In the shower I felt overwhelmingly dizzy and nauseous. After I came out I couldn’t even get dressed. I didn’t want to. I grabbed a robe and laid down. I felt so out of it. Everything that touched me annoyed me. I had to even take the hair band off my wrist that I always wear because it felt so tight and constricting. I usually put lotion on the minute I come out of the shower because my skin is so dry; but I couldn’t imagine even adding moisturizer to my skin. Everything felt insane. My own skin was uncomfortable.

 

Daren came home from Devin’s hockey game just as I was laying down. He asked me how I felt and I just burst into tears. OK… I thought, here comes the full withdrawal experience. My husband was very sweet to me and said he wanted to paint. He asked if I would like to keep him company down there. I said yes, but it took me forever to go through the process of just putting on clothes. I went down to meet him and suddenly felt like I was starving. I could hardly move. Every time I turned my head the room spun behind me. But I gathered a bunch of random stuff to bring down to my trip to the basement. A bag of popcorn, edamame, chocolate chips and a cold IPA. Holy confusion. I couldn’t remember what I was doing one moment to the next.

 

Within a half an hour I felt better. There was a distinct 10-15 minute period where it felt like there were a serious of moments where a fog was just lifting and the world was becoming clearer and clearer. We warmed up some frozen homemade pasta sauce for dinner and boiled some pasta and I felt great. Maybe I had just gone through the worse of it. But not long after dinner when I was considering walking Koji, the thought seemed so laborious and I realized I was getting dizzy again. Oh well… I thought tomorrow is another day.

 

Monday morning I woke up & felt phenomenal. No head ache, no anxiety either in my body or mind. I thought I had this. I had my coffee, went through my normal morning routine and headed upstairs to get ready for work. While standing at the sink I started thinking about some unsolved blended family issues and things that happened over the weekend that we could have handled so much better with the kids, and all of a sudden my anxiety KICKED up. Body and mind this time, together. The whole shebang… The exact way I felt before I ever took Lexapro. The way I used to feel all the time. I noticed it right away and thought – if I can only talk to Daren and let him know that I’m anxious and tell him about what I’ll be ok. That is what I always wanted to do, just talk about an issue and work it out with my husband. I thought I would try….

 

No go. Daren doesn’t understand when I’m anxious. Even when I tell him. He says I’m too angry to talk to and I try so hard to explain that I’m not angry. There is such a difference I feel between those two emotions and I get even more anxious when he says I’m angry. My heart beats faster, my mind races faster. I shake internally. So it wasn’t a pleasant conversation. The moment my voice goes over a normal tone he fears the kids will hear us and tells me to quiet down. I never know how to handle that. I am so freakin’ anxious that speaking low is practically impossible, and not talking about what I’m anxious about seems even harder. He walked out the bedroom door. I was left in the same tizzy I felt all the time just less than a year ago.

 

I left to go to work. Now I was dizzy and nauseous again – lovely symptoms to add to my anxiety. As I was driving my mind was racing with confusion and then I just burst out crying. Then I was worried. Should I have done one day on – one day off of the meds? What if I go back? – will I experience all this all over again? Is it the withdrawal making me anxious or my anxiety making me anxious? Withdrawal symptoms do include anxiety.

 

What was clear to me was that I felt EXACTLY how I felt before I started the medicine. Same thoughts, same aggravation. In the midst of this worry, trying to decide if I should take a pill that night and crying… I didn’t realize the crying got worse and I started to hyperventilate. I noticed I was shaking, my heart was racing even faster and I had to pull over to the side of the road. I let myself cry and then I had a panic attack. Holy “s”… 3 nights off and I already had a panic attack.

 

I got to work and left by 9:30. I couldn’t stay. Everything started to calm down mentally but physically I was so dizzy and ungrounded. I went home and laid down on the couch and instead of sleeping, which my body was desperately pleasing for, I typed two long heart felt emails to Daren. After I sent them and I laid there, a cat on my legs and a dog on the floor next to me I realized too much of how I feel is just too closely related to how I felt before Lexapro. Even the act of writing and sending long explanatory emails was something I hadn’t done in a long time.

 

I slightly worried I would be someone who needs medicine for the rest of my life. That all the yoga and spiritual practices was a bunch of hooey and didn’t work. But then I considered the following:

 

1) I didn’t follow my provider’s instructions on tapering down. I felt so good I thought I could handle accelerating it on my own.

 

2) I wasn’t exercising lately or even walking at all. Not even walking the dog at night. I had been so busy with getting the rental home ready and working on things for the yoga studio that exercise had gone to the wayside.

 

3) In fact everything had gone to the wayside. I’m not eating well. I’m not doing my morning aryuvedic practices, my breathing practices, or meditating. And other than Michele’s Thu eve Yin class, I hadn’t taken anyone else’s yoga classes or done yoga outside of teaching it for weeks. I wasn’t even doing the hooey that I do know works for me.

 

4) Most importantly was that I didn’t completely deal with some of the stressors that caused me to tailspin last year. When I went to see my provider and told her I would like to go off the meds, she naturally asked me about why and what I’ve done to change things in my life so I can live without them. I told her about how I now work part time and I’m partaking in hobbies and investment activities that I absolutely love and fill me up rather than drain me. But then she asked about my blended family life. That was one of my chief complaints last year. I said it was better, which was true. But to be honest, nothing has changed. The Lexapro just numbed me to not care about it as much. And it took going off to realize that these things that I was stressed about when it comes to these issues are still there and very much alive. I didn’t work with Daren to collaborate on the best way to deal with things – and it was the first thing to come creeping back just 3 days later.

 

Without doing any exercise, spiritual practice, or dealing with one of the largest contributors of my stress; I’m not sure why I thought I could live anxiety free now. Monday afternoon I got up off the couch and took 5mg. I wanted to get set and in a comfortable routine again before going cold turkey. I wasn’t ready. I have been neglecting the life style and practices I put in place to feel better, and took to working equally as hard but on different things. I also now know what Daren and I have to work through with the blended family issues. I want to stay on 5mg until I have these things under control. It was my provider’s only concern, and she was right.

 

I struggled emotionally all through Monday- day and night. Yesterday I woke up and felt COMPLETELY anxiety free physically and mentally. But I still had some obnoxious withdrawal symptoms. Namely the dizziness. That has been the worse for me. I was describing to a friend on Monday that it feels like I haven’t slept – and although eating, drinking tea, laying down, even trying to sleep seem like they might help; nothing helps. It’s such an uncomfortable feeling.

 

And today after my 2nd dose of 5mg last night, I almost feel completely normal. A little queasiness, but overall so so so much better. I know what I need to work on and what I need to do in my life to remain mostly stress free. Going off for just 3 stinking days helped me to see that.

 

I share this because when I have questions about what is normal and what isn’t; and when I feel like I am derailing and I look to the Internet in desperation for any sign of anyone or any institution who understands… I find little only nuggets here and there of anything I can relate to. I share this because maybe it can be someone else’s nugget. Whether you do know me in real life or not, I’m not as perfect and put together as I might always look. But like all humans I try to show up in the world the best I can, and in general that me who shows up is a pretty happy person who wants to help and connect with others through my own passions and experiences.

 

5mg is my magic little helper for now. I know when I try to go off again when I decide I’m ready to try again in a few weeks or months, I will go through some of the side effects again. But maybe this time I’ll be a little smarter about doing the things that help me feel better & actually listen to how my provider tells me to do it. And if I’m a person who needs this forever – maybe I should just accept that and not fight the tide. We’ll see!

 

Peace, Esterina

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com