Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Anxiety Disorder

As some of you probably already know, I suffer from panic attacks. I’ve been experiencing these attacks since I was 16 years old. I have a lot of people in my life who make assumptions about why my anxiety disorder developed, but I still have a vague idea “why”, yet I know some things make sense. I’m going to talk about why I “think” I got this disorder, and what I do today to relieve them.

At the age of 16, I witnessed a very traumatic event in my life. I didn’t think it affected me all that much, because I handled it so well during the time it happened. What I didn’t know, is how it would affect me later as an adult. Being at that young age, I was still going to high school and trying to be a kid. I was influenced by my peers and found out that my stress levels were higher than the average teen going through trivial stuff. A lot people assume kids that age don’t have any stress. They do…very much so. And, when something traumatic takes place, it’s amazing what the body can do when it experiences high levels of fear, anxiety, stress and anguish. Depression is the demon that sometimes follows all of these emotions afterwards.

Although I felt stress, I didn’t experience a full-fledged anxiety attack-----yet. I wanted my stress to go down, and I relied on alcohol to take away my stressors. Eventually, alcohol led to pot. It took me to another place – a place where everything was silly and carefree. There were no worries or fears of anything bad happening…just laughter and giggles. It made me happy…until the day it took its toll. I experienced my worst anxiety attack while being high. Sometimes, I would just get paranoid, but this one particular day, it was much different where my heart rate went up so high, that I had to get medical attention right away.

I’m not blaming my anxiety disorder on anyone or anything; however, the circumstances at that time were just overwhelming for a 16 year old to handle. I literally thought I was losing my parents. I feared the traumatic event that took place would happen again.

Years later and tons of therapists seen, I still noticed that I kept getting these anxiety attacks. Why weren’t the professionals helping? I never received medication at that time. I relied on CBT (Cognitive behavior therapy) and relaxation techniques. It seemed to help somewhat. I started fearing everything---from shopping in a mall, to going inside a grocery store to just being home alone. My thoughts were, “What if I got an anxiety attack, passed out and no one was there to help me,” or “what if I passed out in the middle of a busy grocery store?” I feared people witnessing me passing out in a store or looking at me as if I were a freak. I soon developed agoraphobia. This is a disorder that prevents a person from going to busy marketplace or even going out of the house if at all.

I found this brilliant doctor in the area named Dr. Martin Knolls, in upstate New York. He was smart, witty and had this amazing British accent. He practiced CBT on me. Each session, he would make me visualize doing certain things that I normally wouldn’t do. But first---he took baby steps. He made me visualize touching the wall. I know- stupid, but it worked. I visualized it, and then went up to the wall and touched it. Then we took bigger steps. He gave me a project to do for a week. He wanted me to drive one mile down the road in my car by myself. If I felt a panic attack coming on, he advised me to just turn around. Little by little, I found myself going one mile…then two miles…then 5 miles all the way into town just to get gas. By facing my fear, I dealt with my anxiety disorder and agoraphobia in a more controllable way.

With his steady therapy and my determination, I started flipping through the classifieds to just go on interviews----not to take the job----but to go on interviews for my therapy. It was a challenge I wanted to take on. I went to a company that I dreamed about working for ever since I was a little girl. I prayed to God with all my might---I mean prayed on my hands and knees to get me through this. I called up, got the interview right away and drove there by myself. In the company’s lobby, waiting for the secretary to walk me up to the manager’s office, the palms of my hands were sweating and my heart rate was going up.

I started visualizing talking to the manager. I visualized the conversation going well, making the person laugh with small talk and showing them how worthy I am of this position. I visualized the people liking me and welcoming me to their company. I imagined myself as this important person that they needed. “They need me more than I need them.” I said this to myself over and over. I blew up my head with a confidence boost dialog.

What happened?

I made the three managers that all interviewed me at the same time laugh. I made them talk about their personal lives with me—they totally opened up to me and treated me as if I were a long time friend. I got the job and stayed there for a number of years. I visualized myself making a lot of money and succeeding. Mission accomplished. I did it. I was so happy and so grateful.

Did my anxiety go away? ...No. It lingered and I had to deal with it accordingly. I was taught that whenever I felt anxiety coming on, to experience the feeling—not fight it. I was warned that if I fought the feelings and tried to repress them---they would work in the same manner a riptide would. Whatever you resist persists. So, I went with it. I felt it. I let myself go through it. Eventually, it brought me back to calmness, just as a riptide would bring you back out to shore. It eventually leaves. An anxiety attack will not stay forever—always remember that.

Also keep in mind, that an anxiety attack will never, ever kill you. What’s the worst thing that can ever happen to you if you experience an anxiety attack? Feelings of panic, pins and needles, excessive heart rate or dizziness probably. Sit down, take a break, and let yourself feel the anxiety passing through you “temporarily”. When I did this, my anxiety lessened.

I eventually went anxiety-free for a year or so and stopped all relaxation techniques and cognitive behavior therapies. I thought I was “good”. Before I knew it, it crept up on me. I had to see another doctor, because my other psychologist relocated. She prescribed me Ativan (Lorazepam), to calm my nerves whenever I got an attack. She put me on a very low dosage and reminded me that this was only a band-aid until I got better and started handling it on my own. Well, ten years later I’m still on this damn stuff. It doesn’t do anything for me anymore, because I have reached my tolerance. I won’t “up” the dosage, because I don’t want to be dependant anymore. So, at the age of 33, I am weaning off of it little by little. I’ve tried antidepressants. They all chemically altered my way of thinking and basically gave me the most awful side effects ever. In my own personal opinion, antidepressants are like poison for your body. (I speak from my experience only.) I feel that it’s a way for doctors and major medical companies to make a buck. Too many children are all on medication these days. Too many “disorders” are coming up to the surface----why? Because they need a medicine to cure it. Pseudo disorders for pseudo meds. That’s how “I” think of it… I know that there are some people out there with major disorders other than anxiety, that need the necessary medications, however, when you start fiddling with antidepressants to relieve generalized anxiety disorder, you can really mess up your body—emotionally and physically.

This is not going to be a “happy ending successful story post”---so bear with me if you’re still reading this. I still suffer from anxiety, however in a less extreme way. If an anxiety attack comes on, I put on the new age station on my XM, or I play my guitar to take away my focus of the panic attack. It seems to help. Visualization is so important. I picture myself somewhere I’d rather be, like the ocean or sitting next to a beautiful waterfall. I even went to one of those stores that sells those weird stuff, like lava lamps and massaging machines, and found a sound maker that has the sounds of the ocean, a babbling brook, crickets and wind. I usually listen to crickets to remind me of beautiful summer nights. It seems to relieve my symptoms.

I still have trouble walking into a big grocery store, but when I have to, I keep in mind that I cannot die from this. It’s only an anxiety attack. It will only last for a few minutes. For ‘me’, I also visualize God with me. Prayer has been a major help with my anxiety. The most important thing to do, if you suffer from anxiety, is to keep up with your relaxation and meditation techniques and never stray from it, like I did. Relaxation and meditation techniques are good for everyone—not just people who go through anxiety disorders.

If you do need extreme help and opt for something like Ativan-----keep a grip on it and don’t let yourself get dependant on it. Use it as a therapy and make sure your doctor is aware of your progress. I admit, for myself, I tend to grab a glass of wine if I’m feeling tension—but that’s not a healthy way of drinking moderately. It ends up as a dependant too—even if it is one or two glasses.

Another technique that was suggested to me was exercising. Now, let me just say that exercising for “me” gave me more anxiety, because it normally raises your heart rate significantly. I will say that it helped me through my depression though. It releases endorphins to make you feel great. It does not relieve anxiety attacks though, in my experience. It helps with anxiety and tension if you make sure you are aware that your heart rate is up because of the exercise---and not just because you’re feeling anxious. If you can determine between the two, then that’s great.

I’m still learning as I go, but it helps a great deal to know that “you” have control over your own body. You can choose to feel it, go through it, but most importantly, release it. Medication can help, but I feel it should be last resort.

PLEASE READ: This post should not be taken as professional medical advice. This is a post regarding the experiences that I have had with anxiety disorder and what worked for “me”. My methods may not be the same methods that others go by. See what works for you and most of all, talk to a professional. This is only something that I’m sharing with you as someone who can relate to anxiety disorder.


Ricardo said...

Thank you for sharing I have so much to say on this. The anti depressant thing is a cure worse than the disease. My creativity plummets and I always feel drowsy.

Now working out has helped a great deal with my depression as well. In fact I was able to get off anti depressants through exercise and was doing great until....the panic attacks. Now I'm back where I started.

I was very worried about getting on planes (something that never bugged me before) and going to parties. It was just awful. A stiff drink did the trick for a bit but as you say, not the thing to rely on.

I have more to say and may email you if that's OK.

Thanks again.

Aayush Bhatnagar said...

hmmm...thats pretty difficult to cope with. :(

Manchild said...

Hello Debra,

Quick question. What are you afraid will happen? I dated a woman who had anxiety attacks every time she thought about driving on the freeways. She drove the surface streets without a hitch.

After much probing and prayers to God for guidance, wisdom, and discernment, I discovered the source of her "deepest fear."

Personally, public speaking made me weak at the knees until I discovered the source of my deepest fears. What I did tested my faith in God and taught me so much about myself and the power of God's perfect(mature)love.

It's amazing to me how something from our childhood, that initially appears so insignificant, can adversely affect out thoughts and emotions as an adult for the rest of our lives.

As a sign of respect, I tip my hat to you for having the courage to stand "naked and unashamed" before God and the entire world.

But by grace still go I. Do you mind continuing this conversation offline for privacy purposes?

~Deb said...

Ricardo: Once I saw your comment about your anxiety on my previous, I totally related to it. Now, with planes, I have to say that even I would rely on a drink to go on one! But yeah, with anything, we should drink to enjoy and not to calm ourselves. That's just my opinion--everyone's different.

Whenever I would get an anxiety attack, I would go into a deep depressive state the day after, leaving me paralyzed with fatigue. I know what you mean when you say you have that drowsy feeling. It's awful.

Email me anytime if you need to talk. Thanks for sharing that with me. I hope the post helped somewhat.

Aayush: It is…it can be very frustrating when it’s not under control.

Manchild: My main fear is having an anxiety attack while in traffic---there’s no out---there’s no where I can go. In marketplaces, I fear that I’ll pass out in front of everyone, or have heart palpitations –or even worse- a heart attack. But deep down inside, I know that won’t happen…I mean, through anxiety anyway. Speaking of God-----“perfect love” drives out all fear. When I pray to God, this usually brings me comfort. Nevertheless, I’m still human and I fall back a lot, relying on surface things to calm me. Speaking in public is the number one fear. A lot of people have that. I would be more than happy to discuss this with you. I’m very open, because I’d like to learn from you as well as others, and to share what I’ve been through, as well as what I’m still going through. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

just me said...

I think this is one of my favorite posts of yours. In part I think this type of "telling" of ones life can be healing/helpful for self and others. I love hearing what helps people in a tangible day to day business with anything they are "working out" or struggling with or whatever... Pure gift

~Deb said...

Just me: Thank you. I'd like to think that maybe my way of calming myself down may help for somebody else. But I don't expect everyone to take the advice or remedies that I use. Each person is so different. I appreciate your input! Thank you!

Victorya said...

Anxiety is a bitch, isn't it? And I spiral too like you said - after the anxiety hits there is the depression, the "how could I succumb to this AGAIN" but I'm in the early stages of handling it.

Now I'm going back to the post you linked here. Stay strong and unashamed! if you have an attack in public, so what? That's what I have to think, if I have flashbacks or whatnot and act a little wonky in public, well, I'm in NYC and everyone is crazy anyway!

SJ said...

I read both posts and I am now an admirer not just a reader. That you have decided to put it all out here is to me heroic. All you need is a cape :)

~Deb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
~Deb said...

Victorya: It's amazing how much fatigue I get after a really bad anxiety attack. It lasts the entire day sometimes! You're absolutely right---what's the worst that can happen mindset. I need to use that more often, like I did in the past. I keep falling off that particular wagon. Thanks for sharing that with me!

SJ: Maybe a straight jacket! Thank you so much for the kind words! :)

DaBich said...

Wow, what an eye-opener for all of us. You seem to have a good plan for yourself to follow. Now stick with it! HUGZ!

~Deb said...

That's the thing----"sticking to it". Wish me luck! Thanks Dabich!!! :)

M said...

See, for me, I need the meds for where I'm at right now. Unlike you, I don't suffer from panic attacks. I suffer from anxiety that is constant. It isn't any worse or better either way. But I also have an absolutely amazing therapist who pushes me to stay off them whenever I can. I'm going to therapy and working things out and on a very low dosage. However, I've also never had side-effects that were worse than being off the meds. When I'm off the meds I'm so paralyzed and down that I often don't go to school or work. I hate the way they are abused, the fact that I was put on them (incorrectly I think) at an early age, and how for many they see the meds as the end and the best and cease getting any other help. But, I think for certain problems and at certain times in life, meds plus therapy is what is needed for some.

Sandy said...

I too suffer from anxiety attacks that started around the same age, 16. I never realized what it was until years later.

I think my home life attributed to the beginning of mine and the pressure to keep up appearances. It wore me thin and finally my body couldn't handle it anymore.

I am "afraid" of movie theaters. I go, but I am always dreading being in there. Sometimes I do well, but most of the time, I just wait for the movie to come out on DVD. lol

I also discovered that my triggers are caffeine and lack of sleep. Sometimes there is nothing I can do about the lack of sleep--especially now with a baby, but I've totally cut caffeine out of my diet.

My doc was going to put me on a low dose of Paxil and he said it "wasn't addictive". I opted out of that hubby reminded me that the human mind is capable of more than we give it credit for and society is too quick to medicate it away.

I am NOT saying that people should not take drugs to control psychological disorders, it just wasn't the route I wanted to take. Even after having my baby, I got to a point when he was almost one month old where I really needed to do something about how I was feeling or suffer the consequences. I asked my pharmacist about natural options for stress, depression and anxiety and he suggested a B-vitamin complex. Worked like a charm within 24 hours. I was amazed. Made sense though...I had taken good care of myself while pregnant, got enough sleep, took my vitamins. When baby came, my well being accidentally got pushed to the back burner.

Anyways...WHOA...long comment. Basically I'm saying I know how ya feel Deb, anxiety disorders suck. I do the baby step thing to!

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Excellent post, Deb, including the link to your traumatic experience of so many years ago.

Blessings and peace, my friend.

~Deb said...

M: There are some doctors out there that are med pushers. They don’t even give you therapy- they just hand you a script and it’s done and over with. Maybe, once in a while, they’ll ask how you feel. You’re lucky to have a therapist who monitors and looks out for you. Medication isn’t for everyone, but when needed, as you said with your constant anxiety, then it’s a wise choice. Sorry you have to go through that. I hope you feel better! Thank you so much for sharing that with me.

Sandy: I’m also a bit tense about going to movie theaters. I wait for the DVD instead. My girlfriend just thinks I hate movie theaters. (She’ll read the real reason now!) But, I do agree with your husband, that people (us) don’t give our minds enough credit for what they’re capable of doing. I would cut the caffeine out of my diet, however, it’s the one thing that makes me happy and awake in the morning. I tried Paxil before, and it made me anxious and hyper. The “antidepressant” worked against my anxiety. I hear it helps many people- but I had strange side effects with it. I want to go the natural way too, by taking vitamins and trying new holistic treatments, but right now I have to focus on weaning off the ativan. I’ve been very edgy lately and it has affected my behavior and mood. I just need to take one day at a time. I’m so glad that you’re able to relate. It’s comforting to know that there are people out there that know what I may be going through. Thanks Sandy---you’re a blessing to me!

Nick: Thank you for reading both posts. I know they’re both long-winded, but I wanted to share my experience and what I go through. I appreciate your time! Thank you!

~Dawn said...

It is good to see that you are finding ways to channel that anxiety to something else.

My partner has worked with me enough to do a similiar thing when I get depressed... my 'fix' is to immediately seek someone out to help, either financially or emotionally, that takes the focus off of myself and onto their issues.

I'm happy for you that you are taking control back.

Nancy said...

I have only dabbled in the anxiety attack department, but just a little taste of it was terrifying. I enjoyed massive doses of alcohol and drugs in college because it numbed my depression wonderfully. However, I couldn't do that forever, and it got me in some really horrible situations I almost didn't make it out of. I tried Prozac and was a zombie. I did use Paxil for a while to get me through a transition as an adult but stopped it after too long. I work out daily now, and it really helps. Oh, sure, I'm still a complete nut job, but I think that's permanent. I will NOT give up my glass of wine or two at the end of the day, either. Hey, at least rum & Cokes don't sound good at 10 a.m. anymore. Life is good.

Sounds like you are taking bits and pieces of what worked for you and blazing your own trail, asking for help when it's appropriate. I think you have it together, woman.

Dirk_Star said...

Good post as always.

I've been a bit busy with the new baby and enjoying the great summer weather.

I just wanted to catch up on some reading and say hello...

~Deb said...

Dawn: It’s so important for your partner to fully understand what you’re going through. That’s what helps me get through it all- when she doesn’t ask, “Why are you having anxiety?” It’s a redundant question. Between chemical imbalances and the way my mind works, it’s not something a typical person would get “scared” over. It’s like trying to run away from something that’s going to probably kill you---------yet there’s no one behind you. Unrealistic fears. I’m still trying to gain back control… I have to take baby steps again! Thanks for sharing that with me, Dawn!

Nancy: I hear Paxil is like the mini version of Prozac, and it has helped many people. I had side effects where it made me completely hyper --- almost like having 5 Starbuck’s before I went out somewhere. It did relieve my agoraphobia, however, the constant UP UP feeling had me tense. I’m with you on the wine, but I don’t want that to be a crutch. I guess it already became that. I used to drink way too much, but now it’s just a glass here & there, or a martini or two on the weekends. Hangovers are the worst feeling in the world and it makes my anxiety just awful! I may not have it all together (thank you for saying that), but I am trying my best! Thank you so much for being so open, Nancy! I appreciate it!

Dirk: Hey! Well, babies are anxiety in itself!!! But it’s the GOOD anxiety of course! I hope you & your family are doing great and your little one is in the best of health! Thanks so much for stopping by!

thewishfulwriter said...

deb - you are a superstar for speaking so honestly and openly about your anxiety attacks.

i don't suffer from them, but have experienced what was called a "minor" attack once. it was frightening, discombobulating and difficult to come out of.

the more you share, the more people relate and feel free to share themselves. it's a wonderfully powerful gift.

~Deb said...

Thank you, Wishful... It used to be so hard to talk about, but the more I open up, the more I see people who can relate, or just simply learn what others go through. People are more understanding than I thought. It's great.


Ross12345 said...

My friend has this its quite upsetting really - hope its all ok.

tkkerouac said...

I to had my first panic attack after smoking pot and then quit because why do something that gives you a bad high.
After experiencing another choking sensation attack in a mall, I read a book called hope and help for your nerves and taught myself how to relax and go with it
But ten years later, while under too much stress, the attacks came back and this time I went to see a shrink. He informed me that every second patient he see's seems to be suffering from some form or anxiety and depression and it seems to go hand in hand together.
I did not go the ativan route because of the sedating affect but did try a low dose of Paxil at the time.
And as much as we don't want to blame our parents, I also came from a dysfucntional home and Mr.shrink explained to me that we become "hardwired" in our upbringing for anxiety. We also can't escape our genes and we inherit our dispostions from our parents also.
Good for you for doing everything you can to help yourself. I would love to try cognitive therapy one day, that is, if I could hold the attention span for it.

Enemy of the Republic said...

I suffer from them--actually it is now more of a PTSD. This is one reason I so want to meet you. said...

the curse of anxiety and all that stuff runs deep in my blood. we all have it ~ mother, and all her offspring, including yours truly.

i guess i'm sort of more like enemy, in that my anxiety, etc. i think of as manifestations of PTSD. from childhood, from adulthood, from burnout (nursing). it ended my career, ultimately, b/c i could no longer bring myself to actually go to work ... this doesn't make one too popular with the employer, y'know?

anyways, i still get panic/anxiety attacks. sometimes they creep up on me and it takes me awhile to figure it out ~ when they present as some kind of debilitating inertia. i find that realizing it ... naming it and experiencing it ... helps me get past the anxiety a great deal. stiull, i'm predisposed to, or hardwired for this anxiety thing.

pharmaceuticals ~ for me and IMHO not the answer. they merely create another layer of difficulties. i've seen many people addicted to anxiolytics ~ i sincerely believe its just trading one problem for another. that's just my opinion, of course.

i'm different that everyone else, i suppose. pot has the reverse effect. takes the edge off of the obsessive, anxiety-producing thoughts. enables me to live with/get passed the carnage of my nursing experience. enables me to BE more mindful. weird.

different strokes for different folks, i guess.

i still hate crowds, and being touched by people ~ strangers. and don't really engage in events where there are lots of people. unless i have to. but i really try to avoid it. i find i can handle the crowd thing if i can place myself in the situation such that i can easily withdraw/escape. if not ... i feel like jumping out of my skin, or like i'm being swallowed whole.

one step @ a time ... its all any of us can do, isn't it?

thank you for so eloquently disclosing this.

MICKY said...

Greetings Deb
What helped me to deal with my past trauma (orphanages, abuse, etc) were Family Of Origin Therapy and EMDR. I also attended an anger workshop for 4 years. I was fortunate that God directed me to the right people. I wanted to recover my INNER CHILD who I had abandoned many years ago. That CHILD IS GOD! I spent years processing my history until Jesus eventually delivered me. PRAISE THE LORD!!

Anonymous said...

I started having panic attacks when I was 25, just about out of college. The same symptoms as others. Diagnosed as agoraphobic. Went to doctor to doctor with no help. Read all the self help books, yoga,Claire Weeks, etc. Nothing helped. Finally I came across a psychiatrist who had just read that xanax seemed to help. I started with 2 mg a day, not really expecting any help since I had previously tried valium, which didn't do much.
My life completely changed. It was as if I was back to "normal". I was completely amazed. No side effects for me. I could again go out to restaurants, supermarkets, traffic,cross bridges , etc. A brain chemical imbalance that was adjusted with the help of meds. Saved my marriage and job.
Yes, I know a lot of people are totally against medication but it has worked for me. And I started taking it 30 years ago and am still taking 1.5 to 2mg a day with no problems, and no increase in dosage.
Again, it did not make me a super person, but just normalized me back to where I had been. That doctor saved my life. God bless you and good luck. Marty.