Panic Attack Central

26Jan07

This past month I’ve been having panic attacks like it’s going out of style. It’s been five years since I last had them, and suddenly I’ve had like six this month alone.

My doctor is tweaking my meds, which is doubtless part of the problem. Things that have panicked me so far this month include sudden movement, spousal bickering, an overwhelming to-do list, having to drive my car, the department store, and something else I can’t remember. Spousal bickering is the one that bothers me the most, because if you’re married to someone, have a bout of bickering over whose turn it is to do the dishes, and your spouse not only bursts into tears but goes into a full-on panic attack, how are you going to feel about that? Chances are, depending on your relationship, either manipulated, or rotten and guilty for setting a panic attack off, or frustrated and like you can never talk again for fear of setting one off. My husband feels guilty. It’s not his fault, and I feel guilty that I made him feel guilty. Ah, the circle of love.

Panic attacks are horrible. People describe them as feeling like you’re dying, or having a heart attack. Mine definitely fall in the heart-attack category. I start gasping for air, usually crying and/or sobbing, and then I start shaking uncontrollably and usually break out in a sweat. I get terrified to move. And almost by definition, all rational thought has stopped, so the fact that you are sobbing uncontrollably and shaking with terror while trying to start your own damned car you’ve been driving without a problem for six years does not strike you as at all unreasonable.

After several years of therapy I can at least recognize one coming on, and I can usually gasp out to my husband between sobs “I’m having — a panic — attack.” But then all I can really do is sit somewhere and let the panic run its course, often while gripping my husband’s hand like a lifeline (it helps, it really does; it seems to keep me grounded in reality and it dampens the terror).

Afterwards, my body is so wrung out that I continue to shake for an hour or so after, and I feel exhausted, the kind of exhausted you have after you just got back from a really emotionally-draining funeral. I often get chills afterwards (maybe because of the sweating) and I have trouble concentrating. Sometimes (but not always) I have a killer, migraine-ish headache afterwards. I watch a lot of sitcom reruns during the aftermath specifically because they’re distracting but require no brainpower.

So that’s what I’ve been going through basically weekly. My doctor’s given me some Xanax as a panic attack “rescue medication” (that is, you use it at the onset of the attack, rather than as a daily drug) which really does help to reduce the duration and intensity of the attack, and makes the aftermath less horrible, but obviously does nothing to prevent the attack in the first place.

Living with me is really unpleasant right now.

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