b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: panic attacks

what brings me peace and balance

This is my third time falling. One might say I’ve gotten good at this. And my third time picking up the pieces and putting myself back together again. This time my recovery is faster. I’m still not sleeping, but I’m not drowning in despair. The anxiety is debilitating and crushing, but it’s not constant – just early mornings, and late afternoons to evenings. I know what I’m doing this time. I’m proficient at recovery. I have my bag of tools that I know work and I can rely on.

For my worst case scenarios, when all other tools fail, I give myself permission to use ativan. I used to tell myself that I can’t/shouldn’t, and trying to hold it together by eliminating that option was a nightmare. Knowing I can, if I need to, makes it easier to hold on without it. But before it gets that bad, I have some other options. I have my meditations. When I start I’m agitated, but over the 15-20 minutes I become still, as if floating. A perfect escape-the-world snack. A brief respite that refills my mental tank just a little bit. If I need to, I will listen to meditations back to back. They work.

Walking. Even when I’m dragging and every step is a monumental effort. Even when my anxiety is high and every minute is filled with panic. Even when I’m feeling devastated and I cry the whole way. By the time I’m done my leg muscles are humming and the endorphins have lifted me out of my mind. My body feels stronger. I sit on my front steps, I watch the tree branches sway, I breath the cool air, and I feel a sense of peace. It may not last. But in that moment I memorize all the sensations. I will put this memory in my pocket and carry it with me.

Journaling. When my brain is full, swirling with thoughts that attack like birds, and I can’t quiet it and I can’t escape, I run to my bedroom and shut the door and I pull out my journal. Then I purge. I vomit up every nasty, horrible thought I have no matter how humiliating. I smear the pages with my words and my tears. No restraint. And when it’s all out and I finally feel emptied, a calm comes over me. And I am able to sort and sift through the situation, and understand it. And once I understand the why, I am able to counter the negative thoughts with realistic and positive solutions. I can see more clearly. I can see my value and my strengths and I can come up with a plan. And once I have a plan I feel stabilized and confident again. And I am ready to open the door and return to my life, my family, and my responsibilities again.

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Exodus

It’s Passover today. One of my favorite holidays. The holiday where we tell the story of the Hebrews in slavery and bondage in Egypt and their escape to freedom, to Mount Sinai, and to the Holy Land. We are all slaves to something in our lives. Our cell phones. Unhealthy foods. A job. Unhealthy thoughts or feelings. We enslave ourselves. We are both the prisoner and the guard. We trap ourselves with “shoulds” and unrealistic expectations. I am enslaved by my anxiety.

It sits heavy on my chest like a large parasite, its claws digging deeply through my flesh and wrapped around muscle, tendon and bone. It’s not quite visible. I can see the reflection of its hard shell out of the corner of my eye. It is a physical sensation of weight and pressure. Sometimes it extends to my throat, choking me, gagging me. I can’t breath. I can’t eat. I’m overwhelmed with nausea, struggling for air. When I try to pull it off of me my hands meet with air. It paralyzes me from taking action. I can sit for hours, immobile, waiting for it to leave. But I don’t, not this time.

I force myself to get up and to move, to do. I try to ignore its heaviness. If I can focus elsewhere I can distract myself and I can almost not feel it. How do I escape you? How do I get rid of you? I have a trick.

When I’m at my worst and every muscle is rigid and electrified and my brain is unable to focus on anything but my complete and utter discomfort, instead of rejecting I accept. Who would want to accept this torture?? But I tell it, in my mind, “I accept you. I accept you. I accept you.” That’s the key somehow. My muscles relax and my brain has something positive to focus on. I keep repeating it, it’s my mantra, until my breathing has slowed. It’s still there, that mass, that creature, attached to my chest. But now it’s manageable. I can function again. One foot in front of the other. I will not let it win.

Insomnia

aka Torture

the most accurate description I’ve ever heard

Agitate

Add ingredients. Shake vigorously. Pray you never have to feel what it’s like from the inside of the cup.

Carrying very heavy books. Arms getting tired. Muscles crying, “just set them down.” How do you do that with your life.

There is such a disconnect between the people that make and sell our medications and the people who take them. And SHAME on you, shrink, for upping a dose on a medication with no way to come off gently. There’s just high dose and higher. Both extended release, so you can’t cut them up. Until the benzo’s hit my system just now, I was sure I was back in the hell from 4 years ago. Only I had merely dropped down to the lower dose. And I also get to enjoy the remnants and shards and wounds other meds I have weaned off before you. They never leave you without damaging you on the way out as well. Total mental and physical distress. Nausea, lower intestinal pain, migraine, all sounds amplified and echoing, all movements no matter how small causing vertigo and sharp, stabbing and disorienting mind pain. And exhaustion. Crushing. Absolute. My body begging me to stop moving and close my eyes and never move again. Even as I write this. Take me away from all this. Make it stop. I can’t cope. I can’t hold on anymore. I give up. I give in. Put me back on the meds. Drug me up.

How

I am so exhausted. Mentally and physically. It’s like the top layer of my skin has been scraped off leaving all my nerves exposed. All stimulus is pain – fire and lightening, everywhere. I’m dragging myself forward. Dragged myself to the interview. Thank goodness I moved it to the morning or I would have spent even longer in terror, every minute leading up to it was torture. It’s farther away than I’d like, 20 to 30 minutes. It’s much less than I’ve been paid, since college. But the interviewer would let me work part time. And I’d be working with a dear friend. High volume, but not “rocket science.” I definitely need something that doesn’t require my pre-depression brain skillset. Writing this down makes it seem like a good choice. So why do I still feel a wreck at just the idea. How can I possibly reintegrate with a workforce. I’m so completely exhausted. Every single thing I do takes monumental effort. Every tiny thing I do raises my anxiety level to block out anything around me in prickly, discordant static. I’m walking forward, sure, but the pilot light is out. Somehow I haven’t walked into a pole or a ditch yet. Just lucky I suppose. And I can keep the mask on for swallows of time here and there. Takes monumental effort, but it’s possible. Just look at my interview. But how can I do that for hours at a time in an office. How in the world. In order to keep my head during the long drive I kept saying a mantra I had heard before. I’m sure I was saying it wrong, but I had to keep repeating it anyway. Chanted it over and over the whole drive. Focus on the chant. Nothing but the chant. No words. No images. Just the chant. I made it there. I made it home. Actually I didn’t go home. I went to lunch with a friend from the group. Exposed in a restaurant. But so frazzled from the effort of the interview I couldn’t care. Then I went home. Then I went with my husband to the local amusement park. That was tough. I thought the exercise would do my anxiety good. It did. But crowds and small spaces (in lines) were a tidal wave. I made it. We went on lots of rides. And I actually had fun on one of them. But I felt like crap. I was a puddle of intestinal pulp. And even after going to bed early, I feel only minutely better today. I made it to group, I needed to for my sanity. But I’m going straight home and going back to sleep. My body and mind are demanding it. I am beyond overloaded. I have to find a way to recharge, even just a tiny bit. There has to be a way, I can’t continue like this. It’s not sustainable. I feel like as I’m dragging myself forward limbs are going to start falling off. Piece by piece I’m falling apart, leaving a trail of body parts behind me, till there is nothing left.

What would you say has been the most difficult situation you have gone through during your illness? Why?

Everything.

  • Coming to consciousness in bed, but the weight of existence makes it impossible to move, let alone get out of bed.
  • Trying to pick something to wear, eat, do. None of it is interesting. Nothing inspires enthusiasm.
  • Stasis. Total paralysis. Even just being is exhausting.

But on good days –

  • Trying to wrangle focus or concentration to accomplish at least one thing on my to-do list.
  • Sucking up my full body anxiety to leave the house and go somewhere. Especially if it’s somewhere I haven’t been before. That’s its own extra special level of anxiety.
  • Trying to make small talk with someone. Can they tell I’m having a hard time hearing them over my racing heartbeat. Do they see me sweating. Nothing they’re saying means anything at all. I don’t care about their weather forecast. Are we done yet. Did I smile at all. Did I nod at the right places. When they ask what I’ve been up to, I can’t tell them, “misery and hell.” This is exhausting.
  • Going to an interview. Can they tell I had a nervous breakdown before I got here. Can they tell I’m wearing a wig. Do they know that I hate dressing up, wearing makeup. Can they tell there’s no way in hell I want to be here. I’m scared of failing, but even more scared of succeeding.
  • Being a parent. Can she tell I don’t want to do this. Does she think that I don’t love her because I don’t want to play with her. Does she think that my sadness and fatigue is her fault. Am I scarring her for life when I lose my patience.
  • Accepting love. I can’t imagine how you could love me. I don’t feel like I deserve it. I’m sure I’m screwing up this relationship with an amazing person.
  • Trying to sleep. If I just hold still maybe it will come. My heartbeat is so loud it is overwhelming. I’m cold, shivering. Then I start getting adrenaline jolts. Fire shooting through my body. Now I’m sweating, overheating. My thoughts are racing. The same terrible images or conversations or events keep cycling through my mind, over and over. I’m taking deep breaths, damnnit. Why isn’t this working. Should I get up. Should I take meds. Maybe if I just lay here I’ll finally fall asleep. How many hours until morning. I hate this. Why does everything have to be so hard.

What is the greatest negative issue you are currently dealing with? What have you done?

Anxiety. It is a gray loud static that cuts my skin, deafens my ears, coats my veins with sooty fire, and strangles me. It is all consuming. It is everywhere. There is no escape. I can’t even sleep to escape. My one exit is barred. I lay there sweating at night, jolts of adrenaline course through me, my heart beating so loudly in my head I can’t hear anything else.

I am exhausted. My limbs weigh a million pounds. My head is filled with dark clay. Small talk for two minutes leaves me completely drained. Every chance I get I climb onto the couch and listen to my meditations and beg for relief. I never believe it will work, but each time by the end of the meditation I have a small pool of calm, a puddle really, but I’ll take it. I will lay there, not sleeping, but with my eyes closed, trying to focus on that calm and only on that calm. It is the world, for a short while, till the adrenaline jolts start up again, and then it’s time to get up. Time to choose something else from my toolbox, to escape the electrified static that is chasing me.

My therapist might say stop running, turn and surrender. Embrace. Terrifying. It will suck my life out, flatten me, disintegrate me – the me that is trying so hard just to breath. Trying to focus on anything, anything other than the needles in my brain and on my skin. Trying to survive, damnit. In these minutes, these constant minutes, I am alone. In this blizzard I am blindly fumbling and groping from one solid surface to the next.

Do you feel you see any significant changes in your personality/thinking as a result of your illness? What? Why?

All I’ve ever wanted was to be “normal.” Up until the age of 12 – when my mom, sister and I ran away to a shelter for battered women and children – I thought everyone’s home life was like mine. I only ever left the house to go to school, never had friends over, never went to anyone’s house. I didn’t know that most people didn’t live in fear while trying to love someone who could erupt and beat you with words and belts at any moment. When my eyes were opened at 12, I was angry, I was liberated. And I was very different than anyone I knew.

I tried, really tried to fit in. But now were were in an Orthodox Jewish junior high. And I was not like these other girls who came from wealthy families and had lived an orthodox Jewish life always. We didn’t live like that at home. And I didn’t have the benefit of years of indoctrination. I felt like I didn’t belong. Half of one thing, half of another, really neither of both. Finally, I begged to go to public school. And now, I was really not like anyone else. And since I couldn’t be like the others, I reveled in being different. I went goth. Black trench coat  black hair. You don’t want to know me anyway, so I’ll make it even harder. That way if you do become my friend, I’ll know you really wanted to.

Thankfully, my college years and beyond cured me of this intentional distancing. And truly, I still never felt like I belonged. But I was okay with that. I could live with it.

Then came my husband and my pregnancy, and despite pain and discomfort and exhaustion, I was doing something normal! I had joined a club of women who had gone through what I was going through. I was accepted! I was embraced as one of them.

Then came my traumatic birth and the lowest place I had ever been. And I felt utterly alone. And even though this too has been experienced by many many many women, I didn’t know. I was lost in worthlessness, shame, and guilt. It wasn’t until the ray of light shone in, and I hauled myself out millimeter by millimeter  that I finally saw the faces of those who had gone before me. I was not alone.

Well this second episode is not related to that birth, not exactly. It has shown me that this depression and anxiety is here to stay. Not in that I’ll always feel it. But in that I will always have to fight it, watch out for it, be careful because of it.

And now I am different again. I am not “normal.” And that does make me sad, sometimes. But I have also met some truly amazing people who are fighting these demons too. And they inspire me. They are brave and caring, they are generous of heart and mind and words. They accept me, as is, with no judgment whatsoever. They are mine. I claim you. You are one of me. I am part of you. Together we form a different normal. Together we are strong. Together we know we will succeed. And we know it’s okay too if sometimes we don’t succeed. Because ultimately we are family. Different backgrounds, different families, different cultures, different religions – no matter. We are one. And just knowing that you all exist bouys me with strength and fortitude to not give up. I reach out and you are there. And I know you will always take my hand. And I know that I am safe.

Anxiety is called “fear disconnected from its original cause.” What does that mean to you? What were you causing triggers?

I don’t remember when it started. But every evening I would feel my anxiety rising, like the temperature in a thermometer. I was finally off Paxil, but I clung to my trazodone. I only had to make it till bedtime and I could take those two blissful pills and everything would disappear for a while. But it wore off, consistently, in the early morning hours. And try as I might I couldn’t sleep. So I just lay there. Morning, another day. And then sure as sh*t, it started again every evening, sea level rising to drown me.

Then, one day at work, May 29th, the panic attacks started. I told my bosses I was sick, and I rushed to my acupuncturists. Relief. I was able to get in to see a psychiatrist. She prescribes Celexa. The next day I went to work again, and that afternoon they started again. I couldn’t breath, I felt like something large was sitting on my chest. I thought I was going to die. I left work and ran to acupuncture again. But no relief. My heartrate was out of control, and I could not stop crying. They contacted my psychiatrist who told me to go to the ER or Urgent Care. I knew this was bad, and I knew if we went to the hospital I wouldn’t be allowed to leave. I went to Urgent Care, they did an EKG, started an IV, and gave me Ativan. Some relief. But now I was broken. Some wall that I had built to lock or hide away all that anxiety had shattered. I knew I could not go back to work.

What is this anxiety all about? Where did it come from? What was I so afraid of? I’ll tell you.

Lather, rinse, repeat forever. I was stuck in a life that was no fun. Rushing to drop my daughter off at preschool. Rushing around at work trying to get 40 hours of work done in 30 hours. Rushing home to make dinner and trying to spend time with my daughter when all I wanted to do was go to sleep. Day in, day out, the same thing over and over. Nothing refueling me. Nothing refreshing me. And my saviors, those two white pills, prevented me from doing anything in the evenings (because I had to take them an hour before bedtime and couldn’t drive once I took them). But blaming it on the pills isn’t the whole picture, because truth is, all I wanted to do was sleep, all the time. I was trapped. And I felt intense guilt and shame for not wanting to be around my daughter. She was exhausting. Always talking, always inventing stories she wanted me to act in, always asking questions, always wanting to dance with me or run with me or jump with me. I was so tired. I am so tired. And I felt so much guilt if I had to sacrifice my time with her, or from work, to go to my many doctors appointments. I was in lockdown. I hated my life. I envied my nanny’s life, single and carefree. She wasn’t burdened like I was. She wasn’t a burden like I was. She told me she envied me! Wished she had a husband and child. I told her it doesn’t simplify your life, it makes it more complicated. It means you have more people you can let down and disappoint.