Posted by: Uprof on Wednesday, March 07, 2007
I had my first series of panic attacks when I was 17 (I'm now 40). I had a second series when I was 22, a third at 28, and now they're back again after a 12-year hiatus.
I blame drugs (I'm not trying to be moralistic here. I'm actually for the legalization of most illicit drugs although I wouldn't use them again for obvious reasons.), which is to say that I blame myself for being a stupid teenager/recreational drug user with a smalltime coke dealer as a best friend. I can't help but think that the origins of my panic attacks lay in my minor abuse of illicit drugs.
When I had the first one, I thought I was going to die--my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. I was really, really stoned and had been using a lot of coke earlier that day. I begged my friend to take me to the hospital, and of course there wasn't any way he was going to do that. I didn't know what was happening. The attacks persisted for about a month and then slowly diminished--I still didn't know what they were. I remember the feeling, though: I didn't want to be anywhere. I couldn't think of a single place I wanted to be (and I knew I didn't want to be in the place I was because I was feeling so bad). It's a scary feeling--having no place one wants to exist. Add to this that I had all the usual symptoms: heart racing, difficulty breathing, fear of losing control, fear of going crazy.
The attacks went away but feelings of paranoia remained. When I was 22, I had the seemingly obligatory highway attack. I lived way out in the country in southern Missouri and was driving to town to get McD's when I had to turn around and drive home at top speed (about 90 on Ozarks' country roads--in a pickup truck, no less). I couldn't drive by myself for weeks, and when I was able to again, I had the strategy of slowly turning the radio knob back and forth, up and down the dial over and over to keep my attention diverted from, well, my attention.
Once again, they slowly went away. But over the course of these two sets of episodes I'd developed a number of aversions. One was being by myself and the other was getting my heart rate up--to say I've been rather slothful and sedentary these last 23 years is not really an overstatement--well, maybe not slothful. I'm leery of an elevated heart rate and I'm afraid of hyperventilating (I mean, I have a brown paper lunchbag in my golf bag, and all I can say is thank god for cell phones).
At 28, right before I started grad school, I started having attacks again and went on tricyclics (Imipramine). They took care of the attacks, tout suite. I did gain 40 lbs., mostly from eating all the Little Debbie's I could hold, and I had no sex drive, but I also wasn't going out of my skin with The Fear, so sexless blobhood was okie dokie by me.
The shrink I went to diagnosed me with major depression with secondary anxiety (I'm thinking it's the other way around).
I didn't really have any panic attacks for about 12 years after that. I flirted with them a few times (sporadic one-time affairs), but none fullblown. I lived day-to-day with lowgrade anxiety (we could dismiss that as chronic, mild nervousness) of course, but I was a worrier even as a child. Then, I TURNED 40. All joking aside, the combination of turning 40 (plus the fact that I have a 2 and a half year old) and having to euthanize my 16 year old dog put the kibosh on my remission. I don't know if these events led to this new round or not--it could be a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy--but I started having 'em again. This time it wasn't racing heartbeat but a smothering sensation, usually at night or upon waking. I went straight to the doctor. I've been taking Xanax/alprazolam XR .5mg x2 p/day now for about 2 months. They seem to work okay, but I can still feel the anxiety and panic bubble just below the surface at times.
Actually, I was having strong anxiety when I began nosing around this website this evening, and now I'm feeling okay again. I'm a writing studies professor at a university--I teach rhetorical theory, writing pedagogy, and basic writing--and I know that writing can be therapeutic: I'm experiencing it tonight. I'm really happy to read what everyone has written, and I hope that it helps them as much as it helps me.
Here's the uplifting part:
I suppose that these things, too, shall pass. I experience panic and anxiety in cycles. In between those cycles I've been able to accomplish quite a bit (a wife, a life, a divorce, another wife, a child, a Ph.D., a great job, good friends, all of it). This cycle will end although I will probably have gained a few new aversions, and then another will start (hopefully I'll get another 12 years free of The Fear).