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My Dance With Panic

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

(posted by ceejay September 2006; updated in Comments February 2011) 

Most of my life I was pretty quiet and good. I was a cooperative kid, and generally got along well with people. Sometimes I would get freaked out by confrontation and arguing, but I always thought I was doing okay.


When I was about 30 I had my first panic attack. I was driving home, my three little girls were in their car seats in the back seats, and all of a sudden I couldn't breathe, I broke out into a sweat and my heart began racing and literally beating against my ribs!  I thought I was going to die.  I pulled off the road and put my head on the wheel.  I remember Raffi songs playing for about 15 minutes and my kids' voices singing along.  I was sure I'd never see them again.  And then, it passed.  I slowly got back on the road and drove home.  I had no idea what it was. This happened about a dozen times and then I finally made an appointment with my Primary Care doc.

When I went to the doctor he told me it was stress - and I was floored.  I told him I had no idea why I should be stressed - it wasn't like I had a job or anything. Then he listed: (1) you have three kids under three (2) your husband was just in the hospital for 3 months with cancer (3) your mother-in-law has been staying with you for two months (4) your teenage stepchildren just came to live with you permanently (5) you have alcoholism in your family, I had to stop him because I was about to cry!!  He was very understanding, and told me to relax more, and to call him if I needed him.

 I spent another 6 years trying to ignore, suppress, beat, strangle, suffocate, overcome and otherwise fight with Panic and Anxiety.  It brought me an incredible array of symptoms -- choking and inability to swallow, severe headaches that I thought were brain tumors or aneurysms, chest pain, depression.  I refused all meds and although I went to counseling, I believved there was just something wrong with me that I wasn't able to get better -- I mean, this was all in my head, right?

I finally found a Psychiatrist wth whom I built up a relationship of trust, and he put me on Effexor to deal with Depression.  It was a miracle.  Once that dark blanket lifted I was able to work on many of the underlying issues that exaggerated and triggered my panic.

I've taken BusPar, Effexor and Xanax.  I've used yoga, accupuncture, massage therapy and reiki to help relieve the symptoms. I've worked in Dream Groups, do deep breathing exercises, read books and have done LOTS of therapy. I exercise more.  I have changed my eating habits dramatically.  I journal, I write creative fiction, I paint and use clay to continually express myself and my feelings. It all helps.

And still, sometimes I panic. Sometimes I am absolutely convinced that I'm going to die - heart attack, stroke, self-suffocation (forgetting how to breathe) or some kind of quickly manifesting cancer.  I also beat myself up when this happens.  Less and less, but still I think "Dammit, I should be better than this" or "I should know better."

 But, my annual physicals say I'm in pretty good health. I've had a few MRIs and my brain seems to be clear of tumors and cancers. My lungs are clear. My blood pressure is awesome and my cholesterol is fine.  I know that physically I'm fine.  I'm getting older, for sure, and my body is going through changes.  But that doesn't mean that I'm going to die of some dread disease before lunch!  For 18 years now I have been doing this dance, and for me that is what it is.  Not a war on Panic, but a dance with life.

I see my panic and anxiety as a dance I do - not so much with death, but with life. And, it is just one of the ways I dance with life. Panic and Anxiety order - from which I still suffer sometimes - does not define me.  It is just  a part of me.  And it is not all bad!

It has brought me to a place of deep spirituality. It has helped me become a real nature person - I listen to birds, watch dancing tree-tops, notice the squirrels and lizards and flowers at different times of the year. I love the beach, and rivers and the mountains (as long as they're not too high cuz that gives me the altitude sickness). LOL! So, I always thought it was a fear of death that drove these symptoms. I wanted to be there for my kids, and live a long time and do lots of creative things. But I've come to realize that mostly I was afraid of life. It was the living that got me panicked.

All the ups and downs, ins and outs, the unknowns, the spontaneous energies - good and bad - of life that I wanted to avoid. And often when I panic its around some new thing - school, having kids, losing weight, writing, painting. Some risk that I'm taking. Not necessarily a risk like jumping out of a plane, but the risk to live, really LIVE.

O­n my best days I see my panic and anxiety as a dance I do with life. I know I'm alive when I'm shaking in my boots, when my heart is racing and when I'm super focused o­n my breathing, swallowing or headache! The symptoms often pass. A xanax will really help me relax when nothing else does. And it's okay. Each and every thing I do to reaffirm my life and my willingness to live it is okay. I wish I could be like this ALL the time, but I can't. And that's why I think of it as a dance. And the more I dance, the better I am!

Comments (11)add comment
 1 2 > 

taterfay said:

I really like the way you tell your story and I love that you \"dance\" with (or without) your panic. You have such a wonderful attitude about something that can be so terrifying. Good for you:)
October 24, 2007
Votes: +5

taterfay said:

I really like the way you tell your story and I love that you "dance" with (or without) your panic. You have such a wonderful attitude about something that can be so terrifying. Good for you:)
October 24, 2007
Votes: +0

Phillygal said:

I can absolutely relate to what you are saying.

I'm a medical writer and I'm always hearing horrible stories. My mind sticks to them - or to the stories in the news.

I've also had all the tests and they've all come out fine. I still freak out and the worry starts and then.. panic.

It's hard to explain to other people why my mind goes out of control, and why I can't harness it in. I'm so glad I've found this place..
November 28, 2007
Votes: +0

rippelk2 said:

Ceejay, again the words you write are so inspirational and I can relate to so much that you say. I think the main reason for my panic if my fear of living and my fear of life. I never thought I was afraid of life, in face I LOVED my life all through grade schools up to high school and some of college, but I have also always been very dependent on people. (I'm the baby of my household, and I got spoiled and babied) I've came to realize that I am afraid of life and being independent. I think this may be the root cause of my panic. The time it came too, sophmore year of college into junior year and on sounds like perfect timing for my panic to spurr if this is what I am afraid of. I love that you call it a "dance". That you are so positive, I find I can be so positive towards helping other people,and in fact love psychology, I have my minor already, yet I have such a negative attitude for myself and my life. :sigh It's quite sad. But I have been trying to be more positive and I think it's slowly helping. I also agree with you of all the things you notice about the world, such as you talked about your experiences with nature. I have a beautiful backyard and have always been close to nature (animals are my passion). I also have my art minor and find such great relief in painting. It's such a wonderful way to calm your stress and express yourself, even if you aren't good at it. It's still beautiful. I appreciate so much in life and I just wish this panic never happened to me. But you are right, it has made me more of a mature person, it shows me my determination to recovery adn live with this, and it allows me to appreciate life in different ways I couldn't before. Thank you for this article/blog it is very inspirational. Sorry this is so long, I have a problem with rambling. :p
December 12, 2007
Votes: +0

cjvelasquez said:

I am feeling anxiety at the moment but your story helped me a lot. I can relate to it and I have been truly inspired. Thank you.
May 31, 2008
Votes: +0

cherie said:

HI! would you mind answering the following questions? Trying to implement a intervention for a hospital emergency room. Thought it would be a great program to implement for those who are suffering from panic attacks.
Thanks! Cherie :)
November 15, 2008
Votes: +0

4Him said:

Thank you for sharing your story, ceejay. I pray your panic eventually disappears for good.
January 05, 2009
Votes: +1

ceaser said:

I love love love the fact that you dance....
its really inspired me that when i feel like im going to have a panic attack, im going to start playing lady gaga "just dance" and start dancing!!
thank you for this thought you share
October 15, 2010
Votes: +1

ceejay said:

An Update
As I read through my Survivor Story, I think it still rings pretty much true. Five years after I wrote it.

I think it's important for me to spend some time every day taking care of the basics of good health, and to make sure that my body is fed, rested, hydrated and ready for the day. Life can throw all kinds of curve balls, and I can't stop that.

But, I can cultivate a sense of confidence in my ability to handle things without sinking back into Panic and Anxiety. Every little twinge and blur does not need to be elevated into a heart attack or a tumor.

I still have a prescription for Xanax. In fact, I recently had it refilled. And crushed and threw away 15 of the 20 I had from last year. So in 2010 I needed 5. I'd say that is a good year! :)

Good luck to you all -- and keep working, it's worth it!
February 16, 2011
Votes: +1

4Him said:

Rejoicing with you, ceejay! Can you believe we have been members for so long. I can't imagine this site without you. :)
February 16, 2011
Votes: +2
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