January 14, 2012
Pins and Needles
My guilty pleasure, other than this blog, is trash, I mean, reality television. It really doesn't matter what the show is. Current fave is TI & Tiny, but Jersey Shore is always near and dear to my heart. It's that train wreck you have to watch. I know I'm so far out of their demographic I might as well have a bone in my lip and rings around my neck...wait, some of their target audience does look like that!
Last night my husband was feeling sorry for me because I was going to have the kids by myself at dinner time/bath time/hell for the next couple of nights, so he turned on Jersey Shore on the "big tv" in the den, which means I wasn't banished to our bedroom to watch it on the crappy one. You think Snooki looks orange on a regular tv, you should see her on this one! Yikes! (I got love for Snooki, though.)
Vinny was just not himself, and it came out during the show that he battles chronic anxiety. I was a little dumbfounded, because I would never have guessed. With all he has done on the show, you would never know. I never noticed, which maybe was his goal.
Take a little journey with me....
I have battled anxiety as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, it was there. Recurring nightmares were so much a part of my life, I remember climbing in bed with my mom in high school and college just to get some rest. My stomach has always been a bundle of knots, even in the best of times. As I have tried to explain to Better Half, I don't know what it feels like to feel normal. I'm almost always on the roller coaster.
There is a difference, for me, between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. Hmmm...a panic attack is like a binge drinker and anxiety is like a drink-a-day social drinker. The anxiety is always bubbling under the surface, and most days I manage to keep it there. The panic is a wave that comes with all its might no matter how much I try to keep it at bay.
My first panic attack happened after the perfect storm of all my greatest fears happened within a 24 hour period of time. The thought running through my mind was, "I've got to get out of this body." If I could unzip myself and step out, I could get away from my racing mind. Of course, that is impossible, so I was in for the ride, one that ended at the ER.
I'm sure everyone's physical symptoms vary, but mine generally follow this pattern. My stomach is in knots, then a hot flash radiates from my head to my toes, my heart starts racing, my breathing becomes uncontrollable, my legs shake, and my teeth chatter. My legs shake so much that I have moved the bed across the floor. Generally, it lasts for a few hours. By the end, my body is so exhausted I sleep for hours. This is the only time my mind is quiet.
A second panic attack came a month after the first when I was out of town. They both have happened when I am away from home, which has impacted my traveling (or lack thereof). If I can get home and to my Better Half and kids, I am okay. That represents stability, safety, and care for me. The ER in this town was absolutely horrific (thanks, NC!). I feel certain they thought I was on drugs, but whatever. They tried to give me Mylanta with a numbing medication because they thought my acid reflux was causing it. Guess what? When you feel like you can't breathe, you cherish every physical indicator of breathing. The feel of air moving against the back of my throat is completely necessary to my getting through this. Numbing WON'T help. When the nurse looked at my with hate and disdain because I refused the medicine, I decided it was just best to go. She was obviously no help.
Looking back, I probably hit a period of depression after this one. I thought there was something medically wrong with me, like cancer or heart problems. I talked to doctors and no one seemed to be very concerned. I was "probably a little high strung" and should calm down. This only made it worse, because I couldn't calm down. I couldn't stop my mind from racing every second of the day. There was no calm, just the constant swirling of thoughts.
Finally, I found someone who told me I was not crazy and I was not dying. I would be fine and I could learn to live with this. There are medications to battle anxiety, but one of my phobias deals with taking medications so that hasn't really been an option for me. It's funny, in an ironic way, because I have anxiety about taking any sort of medications (even aspirin) so I cause myself to have an anxiety attack by taking the medications to stop the anxiety. Nice, huh? Sometimes you just ride it out and know that it will eventually be over.
I've learned to talk my way through some of it, and I avoid situations that make me anxious. Elevators are a big no-no for me, as are closed-in spaces, airplanes, and excessive noise. Mostly there is always this undercurrent of not being connected to the world around you. Even at a social function when you are having a conversation with someone you've known all your life, it almost feels like an out-of-body experience. Sometimes it feel like I have an electric current running through my body. Most days, it's exhausting.
We have ribbons for just about everything and marathons and telethons and all sorts of awareness. I know that this is in no way close to having cancer or a terminal illness. I know that it does not seem like that big of a deal. When you are the one trying to function, though, it is a big deal. I have a career with responsibilities, three children to raise, and a husband I love dearly. I can't just check out because the anxiety wells up and spills out into my life. If you know someone who deals with this, take the time to talk to them and see what it's like to walk in their shoes. Check in from time to time to see how they're doing. Know what their triggers are so you don't unintentionally flip the switch. Most importantly, don't tell them to calm down. It's not that easy.
My ego loves when you share my blog, but please do share this one. Two great things came out of my guilty pleasure last night: My Better Half and I had a discussion about what it was like for me, and I think (I like to, anyway) he had a new perspective because he heard someone else verbalize how it felt; secondly, I didn't feel so alone. Vinny and I have nothing in common (except our abs...his are real, but mine are more a goal right now...still) and live totally different lives, but we both live in this world dictated to us by our anxieties. I would rather us just have met and had coffee.
So, be kind, talk, and go share.