Yes, I know, not a very upbeat subject header! It's OK, don't run away, I am not going to be all down man, or anything. It has just been on my mind since a panic attack (hate that term will have to try and rephrase it) since last week. I wonder how many people really understand this, and how many are inflicted with this condition? In the spirit of education, I will try and explain what happens.
This panic attack was a bit of out the blue (most of them are), set off by a not very pleasant, tardy client not paying his bills and then getting upset when we asked him to pay before we would do anymore work for him (I know we are SO unreasonable). I had to get a bit cross and firm, nothing really out of the ordinary, its my job to chase debtors for money. I do it all the time, it doesn't really worry me as I am in the right to ask for money I am owed.
But somehow, halfway through this phone conversation I started to get very breathless, dizzy, shakey, sweaty, out-of-body - all classic signs I was heading for, or indeed in, a panic. I had to just try and get enough breath to end the conversation, hang up the phone, then let it go. For anyone not ever experienced this, its scary - you fight for air, you shake and sweat, you are so dizzy it feels like you have drunk a bottle of cheap wine and now have the head spins. I get an added bonus of feeling I have left my body and am floating above it (disassociation) which many people actually pay their drug dealer a great deal of money for.
It lasts about 10 minutes, for me crying seems to bring me back, seems to be a release. If I am in a public place and/or around people and can't cry and let go, the panic phase will last longer. Adrenalin is pumping through my body, I can feel it as if someone has injected me with hot water. I sweat profusely. It's the classic fight-or-flight reaction.
Afterwards, I get extraordinarily sleepy, but can't sleep as my mind will be racing and my stomach feels like its on fire. I do have medication for this, but I try hard not to take it as it makes me sleep for a solid 6 to 8 hours, with the next day spent in a Xanax hangover. Sometimes I have to take it as its the only escape.
The Xanax stays in my body for the next few days, making me feel very depleted, depressed in a everything-is-shite (fatalistic) way and a total shift from everything is ok, to doom and gloom. Its all chemical, and completely unavoidable.
I try hard to learn what is really going on, it helps a lot, especially when you are in the middle of a panic. The first one I ever had was when I was 16. I thought, and I am sure my parents did too, that I was actually going to die. Today I have a much better handle on the warning signs (but still sometimes there isn't one, like this time), what will happen, how long it will last and how to deal with the aftermath. The internet has been invaluable in this regard.
One thing I do know is, the medical profession as a whole are useless at dealing with this situation. It is very often misdiagnosed as epilepsy, drug overdose, depression, attention seeking, heart problems. They think cognitive therapy can fix it, they think you get it as you are depressed, they think anti-depressants work, they think you have control over it. All wrong. What I have learnt is that you have to take your own responsibility for this, learn as much as you can, for knowing is the antidote to panic. It won't stop it happening, but knowledge means you can ride the wave. Xanax is the only drug I have found to work, but its still not perfect.
Today is day 8 since my last attack. Today I feel better, more upbeat, positive, almost back to normal. So no, I am not 'depressed' and I am not a pessimist, I am not just weird. I don't do drugs (other than caffeine chocolate and gin) which all actually help, despite the health professionals warnings.
I try and manage this condition, keep as many triggers out of my life, avoid conflict, avoid highly strung people, make sure I have a connection to a natural way of living. This is why I crave living in the country, away from too much hyper-activity, stressful, fast paced living. Its for my health - for panic that causes great floods of adrenalin to be released is a health risk. This triggers all sorts of nasties, cortisol being one of the worst. Cortisol is the hormone (steroid) that tells your body to release glucose, store fat, especially around your vital organs, to protect them as the adrenalin has told your body its under siege The classic 'apple' shape is often a symptom of too much cortisol.
I will keep searching for answers, but one vital thing I have learnt is - trust what your body tells you, listen to it carefully and take responsibility for your own health.