Surviving PTSD Panic Attacks

PTSD Trauma Survivors Me and LeelaI thought that for my first post, I would revamp a post a I wrote a few years ago for another blog. I have been talking about my panic attacks on the facebook page and I felt that this would be a good place to start. While I was rereading this old post, I was struck by how things have not really changed all that much and the patterns that I spoke about are still a struggle. Which is why I decided to start taking medication to help with the symptoms, but that is for another post.

I wanted to share an experience that was both terrifying and painful but liberating as well. I think that the old post touches on symptoms that are so common with people suffering from PTSD. At the time, I knew that I had PTSD, I just did not realize what that meant. I did not understand the disorder and I still thought that I should be able to “fix” myself.

Yesterday I had a bit of a low point when I had a panic attack (mild one) at the doctor’s office. I was struggling to not lose control and I could not take any medication to help with it because I had to drive home. When I got home I took my pills and I took too many, which is a danger when you just want the pain to go away. But they helped and I was able to relax and eventually sleep. As I was waiting for the pills to kick in I was overwhelmed with shame and frustration and anger because I am so sick of having to deal with panic every day. I hate it. I want it to stop. I am so frustrated with having to live a life where I have to function despite the struggles that I have to endure.

The “World” does not care that I was abused and traumatised as a child. It does not care that I was devastated and traumatised by 9/11. It does not care that I have panic and anxiety on a daily basis and it does not care that my depression can get so bad that I want to fade away and just stop, stop being, stop existing.

I want to be the woman that I imagine in my mind. Strong, vibrant, confident and successful. I want to stop being ashamed that I am not “normal” and I want everything to stop being so damn hard.

Anyway, this new project with this blog and my facebook page has started to make me feel less alone and it makes me feel like my journey may be able to help others. I have been amazed at the response that I have received on the facebook page and I am excited to see where this leads. I have big plans for this blog as well. I am working on a whole game plan that will offer so much info and some fun stuff as well. So stay tuned!

I do feel the need to say that when I wrote the post below, I was at the beginning of a resurgence of PTSD Symptoms and I did not fully understand the disorder. I was doing the best I could with the information I had. Note that when I say “It’s all in my head.”, I am referring to what I thought was just a chemical imbalance. I did not know at the time that the trauma I had been through had physically altered my brain and I was not in any way saying that I thought that because it was all in my head it was a matter of positive thinking to get rid of it. I just wanted to make that clear because some of what I wrote below goes against what I now know and try to share with others.

Anyway, feel free to read the re-post below. Please, share your experiences in the comments. -Jess

Re-Post From My Old Blog July 24th, 2014

What Doesn’t Kill Us, Makes us Stronger, Or So I Have Been Told…

It has been a while since my last post. I have been having a difficult month or so. Riddled with anxiety and struggling with depression, I have not felt up to writing anything. One of the struggles I have is finding something worthy of writing about when I am just going through everyday life. Everyday struggles seem so inconsequential.

This is relatively typical of me and my past patterns, I do really well for a while and then I fall back on old habits. Thankfully, I have not exactly done that this time! This time, I have managed to stay within my new nutritional guidelines. I mix it up a little and allowed a diet soda here and there but for the most part it was Grain Free, Processed Food Free and Refined Sugar Free. I did stop exercising.

With anxiety and depression comes a lethargy that is often difficult to break It is sometimes all I can do to get through the workday. This past month has been particularly difficult.

As a child, I suffered from abuse, a lack of stability and love and many little and big traumas that have shaped who I am and what I continue to deal with to this day. The reality is that we do not just “get over it”. It takes time, a lot of time and persistence and never giving up and constant work to deal with what the past has done to us.

I have come so far and I still have far to go. I know there are so many like me out there and truly, I feel ashamed sometimes when I struggle with my personal demons, because I know that there are so many people suffering out there now who did not have the tools that I have been fortunate enough to have in my life. Yet, they are real and they are my demons and other people’s suffering does not make mine any less valid.

I have patterns that I am continuously trying to break and one of them is that I start doing well, exercising and eating well and then I just stop. Give up. Take a break and then I am right back where I started.

Well, this journey is full of ups and downs and small triumphs and pitfalls. I am so happy that although I hit one of my down times, I still continued to eat well. I did not eat fast food, not once did I order take out. I have found ways to eat healthy from restaurants so I can go out to eat with friends and when I see food that I might want, I step back and tell myself I will find a variation of it that I can make that will keep me on track.

It is not easy but it is possible. Although this is not a huge triumph, it is a triumph nonetheless. Because I am starting to break the pattern. I broke a big part of it. I did not revert back to my unhealthy eating, no matter how badly I wanted to. Except for Tuesday. But I had a Dr. approval and a relatively “good” reason.

Tuesday started out like any other day. I went to work, got through half the day and I decided that I wanted a treat. I drove to a local gym that makes super tasty healthy smoothies and I was going to order the blueberry one for lunch. It was a particularly hot (I have to pause here, what is fascinating is that as I start to write about this my heart started beating faster and I had a sudden “dip” that usually happens just before I experience a panic attack.) day and I was grateful to make it from my car to the gym quickly. The air conditioning was welcome. I ordered my drink and not five seconds after I gave the girl my card to pay my heart started racing and there was a sudden “dip” like I was falling. I started shaking and having trouble breathing and I thought “Oh No.”

Panic Attack Anxiety AttackThis was my very worst fear happening. I was having a panic attack in a public place. I have not had a panic attack in years, anxiety yes but no panic. In the past my attacks were apparently mild. To me they were pretty bad but I knew what they were, I would take half a tranquilizer and pace until it was over. I would work through it. It was bearable.

At first I tried to work through it, push it back. The girl was staring at me asking me if I was ok. “No.” I said through gasping for air, “ I am having a panic attack.” My heart sank when I realized this was really happening and I could not stop it. I was aware of a man standing in line behind me. I grabbed my tranquilizers, which I always carry with me and struggled to open the bottle. I was going to take a half but I could tell that this was more powerful than any attack I had ever had before and I would need at least a whole one.

They keep glasses on the counter next to water that has fruit in it for patrons and my had was shaking as I struggled to get a glass under the spout to fill it with flavored water. I took my pill and swallowed it as quickly as I could. My heart was beating so fast and the world was fuzzy behind my panic ridden eyes. I felt trapped.

The girl was talking to me but I can not remember what she was said. I think she was asking if she could do anything. I moved out of the line over to a table and sat down, struggling to breathe. My body was betraying me and I struggled to control it. I put both of my hands flat on the table and focused on my struggle to control myself.

I could not catch my breath and the girl had brought some water so with a shaking hand I drank. In the past water would help me. I am not sure how, perhaps the act of swallowing and feeling it go down was refreshing and helped center me. I am not sure but this time it did nothing. I looked at her through tear ridden eyes and struggled to talk. “I am so sorry.” I said, shamed that my body could betray me in this way. Ashamed that I was causing a scene in a public space. Ashamed that I could not control this.

She smiled at me, concern apparent in her face. “It’s ok. My sister has these too. It’s ok.” I struggled to focus, as my hands started to become numb. “I. I don’t. Think. I can’t. This is so horrible.” I said to her. Inside I was screaming at myself to make it stop. I wanted my mommy, I wanted a team of doctors. I wanted to be shot in the head. Anything to make this stop. Tears streamed through my clenched eyes as I had no control at all. I could not breathe, My hands were starting to go numb, The feeling of panic was so strong I wanted to run and scream. Yet as my mouth started to go numb and I started to feel light headed and each wave took more and more out of me I suddenly realized that I was not going to be able to go back to work.

I started to struggle with the panic of missing work and not being able to drive my car home and so I did what made sense at the time. I called my Project Manager. I was still at the point where I thought I might be able this get a hold of this but as I talked to him, trying to explain what was happening to me another wave hit. I do not remember the conversation but he was coming to get me. And I felt so guilty for interrupting his day and causing a fuss.

The thing about panic attacks is, it’s all in my head. There are misfires happening and although I feel like I am dying, I am not. I can not control it, yet I feel like I should be able to. I feel like the world is ashamed of me because I can not stop my brain from betraying me.

After I talked to my PM, giving the phone to the wonderful girl who was still there to tell him how to find us, I suffered through another wave. Trapped in my body, trapped by this feeling that I was dying because how could this possibly just be a panic attack? It was so much more severe than anything I have ever experienced in my life. I looked at the girl and I took the phone from her with hands that were shaking so bad that I almost dropped it.

I realized there was no way I could get through this alone. Every wave that hit me made me feel like I could not possibly stand anymore. I called my local clinic and asked to speak with a nurse. Because I was having such a hard time breathing it was difficult to talk. I managed to get out that I was having a massive panic attack and that I needed help. She told me to call 911 and I asked her if she was sure I should do that. I really did not want to bother them if it was not in fact a true emergency because I knew that even though my world was unbearable at that moment, it was all in my bloody head. Apparently she felt it warranted a call though.

I believe I blacked out for a moment because the girl handed me the phone and the operator was on and I do not know what happened in between that moment and when I was talking to the nurse. I spoke with the 911 operator and I held onto her words like a lifeline. She said that they were on their way and I thought if I could just hold out until they got there it would be ok. I would be ok. They would make it stop.

The funny thing is a couple of men were eating their lunch at another table apparently oblivious to or just ignoring the personal hell I was going through. It just reinforced that what was happening was only in my head. Unfortunately it did not help me get through it any easier. I wanted so badly for someone to make it stop.

I remember saying over and over “This is so horrible.” And “I can’t.” I was terrified because it just kept getting worse and with each wave I felt sure I was going to die. I thought my heart would give out and I would just die. How could anyone endure this and live? Wave after bloody wave. Me sitting, crying, struggling to breathe with my hands flat on the table.

After what was most likely just a few minutes but felt like an eternity a bunch of men in uniforms came in and surrounded me. I sat with my hands on the table, staring straight ahead, struggling to maintain just an ounce of control as I, between halting, gasping breaths told them what was happening. They asked me questions and started to check all of my vitals. They were calm and efficient and kind.

I apologized to them because I felt so bad for interrupting their day, and one of them smiled at me and said, hey, our station is not air-conditioned so this is great! Which made me laugh and think “this is air conditioned?” as I was so hot. One of them held my hand and at some point they told the other men, I think the emt’s that they could go. The firemen stayed with me and after my vitals were taken, they were confident that I was not in fact dying and that I was having a panic attack.

They talked to me, gave me water, asked me to breathe and count to 100. Take a breath, count. Take a breath, count. They talked to me, one of them had had panic attacks himself so he understood everything that was happening to me. Another one took a look at my tranquilizers and later told me that it would be safe to take two next time. By the time I got to 60 I was no longer having so much trouble breathing. I asked them about the numbness and I was told that it is a result of hyperventilating, which I had no idea I was doing at the time.

My PM arrived as I was calming down and the worst was over. I remember them helping me walk and talking to me, one of them had parked my car in a safe spot so it could sit overnight and they all walked me out to my PM’s car. When he came back in he had said, “I have to ask, what is an RV Zombie.” referring to the zombie bobble head I have on my dash. I laughed and told him it was from the walking dead.

I was so grateful to them, to everyone for their support through such a horrific experience. At this time I was starting to be a bit loopy from the tranquilizers I had taken more at some point. I was still light headed and breathing was not as easy but the worst was over. My PM took me home and then my mom drove me to the Dr. that afternoon.

I was a bit loopy from the drugs when I went to the Dr. and frankly it was wonderful. The world could have ended and I would not have cared. I do not remember the whole visit but I did ask her, if I ordered a pizza would it undo everything I had worked so hard for the last six months. She gave her approval and I ordered a Meat Lover’s Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut and I would like to say it was horrible, but it was so delicious. I had made a deal with myself though, there would be no leftovers. If I could not finish it by that evening I was going to give it to my mom and then if I want to, six months from now I can order another one. I really did try to finish it. I can not eat like I once could.

This was an amazing ordeal and I learned quite a bit from it. I gained some coping mechanisms to help get me through the next time I get one. I also plan on taking two tranquilizers rather than a half or just one. I learned that hyperventilation can cause numbness.

I also learned that one of my biggest fears was not the worst thing in the world. I have no control over what my brain decides to do. Because of the traumas that I went through as a child my brain is wired in a way that causes it to misfire. It is what it is. I am not going to be ashamed of this anymore and I am going to accept that this is a reality. I will do my best to deal with it. I have to be more controlled that I would like, more cautious and careful. I wish I could be carefree and light of spirit. Perhaps someday I can work up to that.

In the meantime, I am going to do the best I can to deal with my personal demons. I struggle with anxiety daily and now, I may have a resurgence of panic but I am no longer ashamed and if I can get through what happened Tuesday, I can get through anything.

So, I have started to break old patterns, learned some new ways to deal with panic attacks and faced one of my biggest fears. I think that is a good way to start off the next six months.

1 reply
  1. MH EDU
    MH EDU says:

    Hi there, thanks for the great article. I have a question I’m hoping you might be able to answer. I was wondering, What is the difference between anxiety disorder and paranoia. I have bad fits of paranoia sometimes and I’m thinking I might look into anxiety medication. I would appreciate any insight you can provide.

    Reply

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