Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Why's, Part One

Why is the blog called the Panic Blog?

Just over a year ago I was diagnosed with acute anxiety disorder without agoraphobia (well, I think I was probably nearing agoraphobia since the panic attacks were coming more and more frequently and my areas of discomfort were growing wider and wider). I was off of work for about six weeks, unsure whether I had a brain tumor for part of the time, and was pretty quiet about my condition until I found the correct diagnosis. When the diagnosis came and the drugs started to work (which I found surprising) I figured there must be something to this “Panic Disorder” thing.

Upon returning to work (and the rest of the world) I had to choose between being very low-key about this or embracing it. Embracing it is what I did. I told folks my story, I wrote it up in the dispatch newsletter, and I got the personal plate PANIC for my car.

I don’t go around explaining my plate or my story to new folks or strangers, unless for some reason they ask, but I find that I love the ability to give scary-weird look and honestly tell recruits that I am, indeed, crazy. I’ve also learned that there are so many folks with anxiety issues and depression issues that it’s not worthy of joining a circus or being interviewed by Babba Waawaa. Oh well, story of my life: not ugly enough to be “cute ugly” yet plenty ugly, not short enough to be a midget but plenty short. Is it weird to want to be so normal as to be invisible and yet want to be totally unique at the same time?

Anyway, there’s the article I wrote for the newsletter. You might find it interesting.

Acute Anxiety

or ‘Where was Eric for 6 weeks ?’

A secret part of me always wanted to be like spoken word performers Spaulding Gray or Henry Rollins but I felt I never had anything particularly interesting happen to me.

Recently my life became more interesting.

I wouldn’t normally discuss issues like this in such a public forum except for the fact that you might find my situation informative, helpful, or at least get a cheap laugh at my expense.

Note also that what I’m going to describe did not seem to be an obvious progression of events. Only now can I draw a straight line through everything.

~

I’ve always been pretty shy and always hated meetings and events where I had to introduce myself to a group of people. It’s been pretty easy to avoid these situations or just grin and bear it, figuring it was just “stage-fright.”

The actual panic attacks came at weird moments. They began years ago with reading in front of a class in college. A couple years later I had one at a managers meeting at the hotel where I worked. At work it happened only when I initially had to introduce myself on my very first day in the chief’s conference room and once at an trainers meeting.

They were all typical stage-fright symptoms: sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, some shaking. They lasted about 30 seconds and went away. Ugly and embarrassing but I could push through it.

I avoided going to briefing, avoided non-mandatory meetings, etc, but it didn’t prevent me from traveling the globe or going to Field Training Officer (FTO) school or otherwise doing my job, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Two years ago I got the flu (fever, vomiting, the whole extra-value meal) and ended up having the some strange lingering symptoms, especially overwhelming fatigue. My doctor tested for Mono, as well as other stuff, but eventually called it allergies and acid reflux. Medication for that helped some but I’ve never felt completely ‘healed.’

Panic attacks started coming in stranger and stranger places: twice at movie theaters, once when out to dinner in a restaurant, once at a bookstore. Big places seemed to be bad: stores with high open ceilings like Costco or Fred Meyer. I’d get all light headed and fatigued almost instantly, especially when alone.

So I stopped going to those places when alone. I declined going to Kenai for training. I didn’t go to movies as much or at all. I didn’t go out to eat as much. I bailed on going to Europe with Pam and Linda R. I had a horrible time at a Dave Matthews Band concert and swore off rock concerts. Some days I’d be on my way home from work and knew I needed groceries but just couldn’t do it. Too tired. Feeling too weird. So my social life was spiraling inward (which is the agoraphobia part of it).

Tuesday the 10th of February, 2004, was my normal 8 hour day and I actually got to go home on time (woohoo). It was also Michael’s last day of training before going into observation and he did great. All and all I was feeling pretty good. I went home and started boiling beans for homemade soup (part of my South Beach diet which I’d been on for about six weeks and had lost about 15lbs) and called Matt, son of a coworker, to plow my very steep driveway.

As the kitchen got hotter I began to feel very weak. By the time Matt arrived I had him move my car because I could not physically stagger out there to do it. When he brought back my keys I called my wife at work and told her I was feeling really faint and thought I needed to go to the hospital.

She left work immediately but I was feeling so faint that I did what any reasonable police dispatcher would: I called the back-door number to the Fire Department so they could send me an ambulance without my co-workers knowing.

Medics responded, put me on a heart monitor, decided I was well enough to go to the hospital in my wife’s car , and went on their way.

The hospital visit resulted in chest x-rays, EKG, and blood work; all confirming I was not having heart problems. They did find I had low blood potassium which was probably the result of the dieting, and could account for some bizarre heart behavior. Bonus, I thought, I’m not dying and I’m hitting the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home for super-sized fries.

By Friday of the same week I was taking potassium supplements and had an appointment with my regular doctor. As I sat on my couch waiting for my grandmother to give me a ride, I had the same overwhelming sense of weakness, light-headedness, and rapid heart-rate.

Same story: call my wife, call my grandmother, call the medics (who this time yelled at me for not dialing 911). Same deal: grandma’s car to the hospital.

Another EKG, heart enzyme tests, etc., which determined I was still not having any heart problems and this time my potassium levels were fine. They called it a virus, told me to really stay off my feet for a couple of days and that I should be fine. Wrong!

I described the symptoms to my doctor and she came up with two possibilities:

a) this could be a panic disorder, or

b) it could be a brain tumor.

Great, I thought, it’s all in my head or it’s *really* all in my head.

I had an MRI and it was, thankfully, (say it like Arnold in Kindergarten Cop) “not a tumor.”

Which left me with the mental health situation: embarrassing, frustrating, and temporarily debilitating. And why did it all come to a head on the 10th of February?

As it’s been described to me, it’s very chemical. The dieting didn’t help matters (I did not vary my diet enough to keep me on an even keel) and my life has lots of stress: work, just getting married, moving into a duplex from an apartment, gaining two high maintenance dogs, etc. Mostly positive stuff, but still stressful. So all this added to my already chemically imbalanced brain (no big surprise) and “wham” very physical symptoms.

Luckily there are medications designed exactly for this type of thing: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s). It takes some time for most SSRI medications to build up in one’s system and take full effect and this is why I was gone for almost a month after I started taking them. It’s no quick fix. And I had to push myself to get out on my own.

There were seriously days when I could drive to Lowe’s but not get out of my car to go inside because of the fear of being too weak to get my shopping done and get home.

So I’d drive through the parking lot, feeling really stupid, and just drive back home. Ack!!!

Here’s why I bring all this up and share the gory details of my life: There is hope. Meds work (and if mine hadn’t there are several others from which my doctor could have chosen for me), and now I know a lot about what triggers me (big open busy environments.. oh and probably meetings too)

And I have some tricks to distract myself so it doesn’t result in more than a couple of seconds of problems (and distraction works – I can’t imagine it happening while I’m actually on the phone or on the radio because during those times I’m totally focused on what I’m doing).

As of this date, I’m good as new… or close. I’ll probably have to get up and take a walk at meetings more than your average person. I’ll probably still avoid situations where I have to speak in public (so I won’t actually BECOME like Spaulding Gray or Henry Rollins) but I’m okay. Baby steps….

Bottom Line: if any of this sounds like you, or someone you know:

a) Don’t be embarrassed, you didn’t do anything to cause this

b) Don’t self-medicate. Luckily I don’t normally drink alcohol or do any other drugs, but if I did, I’m sure I’d have used it as another tool to just avoid facing those situations. Bad Deal

c) See your doctor, chances are there are plenty of medical options for you

d) Don’t put it off. The more these things happen and the more inwardly your life spirals, the harder it will be to get ‘back to normal.’ Luckily, though it’s been going on for a while in my case, it wasn’t nearly as serious as it could have gotten had it gone unchecked for longer.

Note: ironically, I specifically mentioned last issue in the article “Is Your Drug Dealer Charging Too Much” that I didn’t use Prozac… yet. Though Prozac isn’t my drug of choice, I’ll be much more careful in my mockery from now on!

14 comments:

Jaws said...

Wow we have alot more in common then you know :o)

Anonymous said...

PS:

Listen to your damned family when they tell you there is an issue bigger than you "think", don't be so quick to dismiss them. They may indeed have the knowledge and clarity to see your pain and suffering, even though you may deem it as part of your own "normal" life.

We are supremely glad it was "not a tumor"

=)

J-bro

yeshudeep said...

Hey I am right now going through Panic Disorder...am not under medication but under CBT. Hope you are back to normal now...hope the same happens to me.

Eric said...

I use some CBT also. I hope I don't have to take drugs forever, but then again - they make all the difference.

thanks for stopping by!

And to J-Bro: yes, you told me so!

john cowart said...

I'm glad you came through such a tough time but it sounds like you landed on your feet. That's great.

alex said...

Found a lot of useful info on your site about stage fright - thank you. Haven't finished reading it yet but have bookmarked it so I don't lose it. I've just started a stage fright blog myself if you'd like to stop by

Anonymous said...

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stress factory

Still Searching... said...

Very interesting read. Thanks for mentioning it, I found it helpful. I suffer a lot of these "symptoms" to the point where I'm in bed for weeks. A hereditary component? My baby girl is much the same as well.

ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

Awesome blog! Mind if I link you up?

PJ said...

You know it's funny, but I just found this after reading your blog almost every day. I just went though some of the same things. I've been on Welbutrin for about a year and it wasn't working anymore for me. I decided to try something natural, St. John's Wort capsules, and WHALA, it's working where the fancy drugs did not. I don't know, maybe the other medications I have to take for bypass surgery I had 5 years ago had something to do with it. Anyway, it's very helpful to read your story, and I can suggest St. John's Wort, available from most internet and local supplement stores, if you educate yourself on it. Thanks, Eric.

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Lucky Lady said...

WE ALSO ARE THE SAME, MINE WAS GETTING REALLY ALOT WORSE AND I CHANGED TO A WOMAN SHRINK WHO SEEMED TO UNDERSTAND MORE, I GO ONCE A MONTH TAKE PAXIL AT NIGHT AND XANAX 4-5 TIMES ADAY JUST LAST FEW MONTHS CAN GO PLACES And not have to worry, did they tell you that you can get this from your parents its not a fun thing mine started bad about 30 and just the last few years with the right help got better i am 60 now and will be on the drugs the rest of my life,take care and good luck

Lashon Goff wagner said...

hey did you mention Faron Purget name? I'm not an internet user came across his name, and i would like more information on his death I"m from tulsa oklahoma and my very frist boyfriend was named faron purget I"m wondering if it"s the same Faron i was only like 14 at the time. Our friendship was special to me being that am black and faron was white, he chose to be open about our friendship he really boost myself confidence at that time. I will never forget him .