Friday, June 04, 2010

Dealing With Anxiety Disorder

There’s nothing worse than the feeling of anxiety. Whether you’re familiar experiencing anxiety attacks or not, each person has their “own” anxiety that can manifest in different ways. For instance, I experience the “typical symptoms”---shortness of breath, racing heart, and the scariest one, heart palpitations. I get irrational thoughts as though ‘this is it and I’m dying’ type of thinking. I find myself in the emergency room more times than I’d like to admit. “You’re okay, Deb. All the tests were fine.” I get sent home, feeling relieved, and magically, my anxiety, or “thought to be” heart attack subsides. For others, anxiety can be stress headaches, fatigue, tightness in chest and even allergy symptoms. I always thought my partner never got anxiety attacks. How can she not have anxiety working in a high paced male-dominated and competitive environment? Her anxiety outlets are migraines and stomach problems. Although she seems “calm”, her anxiety is a bit different than mine.

My friend Heather inspired this post for today. She had written a piece about her own anxiety and panic attacks on her blog. We both experience the same symptoms and it helps to talk it out with her because she can totally relate. We were discussing that when a very strong panic attack occurs, the very next day the person usually is so fatigued from it, that they can barely lift their arms. Sometimes it can last for a couple of days. The worst thing someone can ask when a person is experiencing an anxiety attack is: “What’s making you so anxious?” We don’t know. It can happen at the least expected moment. Some people have anxiety disorder, where they truly don't know what’s causing their anxiety attacks, and other people sometimes manifest a known stressful situation into an attack. Underlining and root causes in the subconscious mind can also trigger these attacks. And of course, some have both: anxiety disorder (without reason) and triggers. Heather and I are both lucky enough to have such amazing partners, who help us emotionally and who are always there and willing to help when we are experiencing these attacks at home.

The other morning I woke up to find myself experiencing very intense heart palpitations. They were more frequent than I've ever had them-- maybe five in less than a half an hour for the entire day. I had to try to ignore them, but some of them literally took my breath away. Going to the ER is pointless in my opinion, because I’m just gonna get the same report: “You’re okay, Deb. Tests were fine.” However, that actually relieves me and takes away my palps, but medical bills from all of the tests are outrageous. I know it’s anxiety, but my irrational mind says: “HEART ATTACK!” Having said that, it’s sometimes challenging to even step out of my own apartment because I’m afraid that these palpitations will start up again. Then the agoraphobia kicks in. The thing that frustrates me the most is that I have been on this exercising routine every single day for the past few months. I have been walking 2-5 miles a day. Now, I’m scared to death to even walk down the street. I tried exercising, and the palpitations came on within the first five minutes of walking -light walking mind you. “Exercising is great for anxiety” they say. Not when you’re having one palpitation after the other. So now that this has been happening for the past couple of days, I’m feeling a bit depressed because I’m frustrated over my fear to exercise and the fear of getting these palpitations again in a public place, no less my own home.

I’m totally against any antidepressants because I have come across so many pill pushers who don’t give a rat’s ass about side effects or how these chemicals alter our brain. Years ago, I went through severe convulsions with one medication from abruptly stopping it, due to the sedative effects. I want to go natural instead, even if it means dipping into the “grape” or “potato” juice from time to time. I think most of the psychiatric care is all a business. Some are there to truly help others, while most of them are there to see you for fifteen minutes, write you a script (so they get kickbacks) and throw you out the door and wish you “luck” with your new meds. Having been in therapy since I was sixteen years old from experiencing anxiety attacks, I have come across only one genuine psychologist who truly helped me. He taught me how to breathe properly, and thoroughly CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). With both the relaxation techniques and CBT, within months, I was back to my old self working a full time job and enjoying my life again without fear. Unfortunately his office moved upstate and I was up shit’s creek without a paddle...or a shrink.

Right now, since I am experiencing waves of anxiety, I can’t really give advice since I’m looking for some myself, but I do know that when I pray, meditate, relax, listen to soft music or indulge in a hobby like playing my guitar, it does seem to give me some relief. The rest is all fear-driven and irrational thoughts of the inevitable “what ifs”. It’s very difficult for other people that don’t have anxiety, to understand those who do experience them. I’ve heard way too many times, “I know you have anxiety, but . . .” The only thing I hear is, “I don’t care that you have anxiety . . . period.” I tend to stay away from people who are very confrontational or high strung and sensitive. I can’t be around those who get offended easily, nor those whom offend easily. You get my drift. I’m extremely selective with who I spend time with. I can't have conflicts, arguments and senseless fighting that leads into hurtful words. That in itself gives me great anxiety. I tend to avoid people who are intentionally hurtful, or who are known to speak their minds like someone with Tourettes Syndrome. I welcome all of my friends and family into my life, however I am also a very private person, even though I’m a very open and outgoing. I’ve come a long way these past couple of years by conquering many fears, like driving into the city, grocery shopping (since agoraphobia is a real buzz kill) and driving to more distant places. But now, with this setback, I’m trying my best to not let this crush all that I have worked so hard for. There’s nothing worse than the feeling and fear of anxiety.


heathb2003 said...

Thank you for the mention in your post :) I am sorry that you too are having a rough time of it lately. I feel a bit better today, but still feel anxious. I find by trying to keep my mind occupied by doing stuff that is mentally stimulating and makes me think, I don't think about the anxious feelings. Like last night I worked on my blog and made it feel more happy and inviting and am pleased with it now. I won't be changing it again anytime soon, maybe just adding more usability to it. Do stuff you enjoy, if you fell agoraphobic of course do things inside that you enjoy or maybe just sit on your deck in the daylight, sometimes that even helps me. I also like to listen to music on my ipod while I tinker on the computer which can help as long as you don't listen to depressing ballots! The heart palps totally suck, I had those last week, and got a little freaked. I don't know what to do for those, sorry I am not much help there. I just try to make myself relax. This is becoming a novel of a post, so on that note, here's to conquering your anxiety and try to have a "good" day :)

Beth said...

Hey Deb,

I completely know where you're coming from. I do not have intense anxiety attacks that just sprout up like that, and I've never had to go to the ER, but when I used to get them, before being on my medication, it was a constant, daily thing. I had it for years straight and couldn't figure out why I was always so light headed and felt detached from my body. It is the worst possible feeling ever, and sometimes it felt as if nothing would happen. I respect that you don't believe in meds, but for me it is the only option that has worked... and fortunately I am on one with the fewest side effects, it was the first one I tried, and it works beautifully. I would one day like to go off of them and learn other methods of dealing with it... I think it's great that you have your forms that usually work (meditation, prayer, etc)... I wish you the best and hope you get it under control soon... :(

Jess said...

Gahhhh panic attacks are HORRIBLE! It is hard for me to believe that no one has ever died from a panic just KNOW you are dying. Horrible, horrible feeling.

I hope that you get to feeling better this weekend...BIG, BIG hugs for you!!!

Monkey Man said...

I feel for you, Deb. I think I have told you that my daughter has anxiety disorder and is at times paralyzed by her 'fear'. To meet her, you would think she is a perfectly normal teenager (if there is such a thing) bright, creative, conversant and highly social. She is a talented artist and we will support her in any way we can. It is reassuring to know there are women out there successfully handling this disorder on with own. Thank you for your honesty and openness.

John McElveen said...

Great Post as always and excellent info. Full blown Panic attacks have brought many a patient to the ER and Urgent Scare...we used to laugh (in the old days) back in the 70's!
Now--NOT AT ALL! It's so very very real.

Good luck with the Natural approach--I know you'll hit on something. Prayer and Meditation are an awesome start, but sometimes--it just takes over!


Xmichra said...

Mark has anxiety issues, and I try to stay with his train of thought to help him. Bu sometimes it's best that i just but out. I don't pretend to know what is good for him, i wait for him to tell me. Which is sometimes worse.. sometimes better. But I find at the end of the attack, at least he has worked through it without someone badgering and nagging at him.

now for the unserious portion of my comment, it's a good thing you explained what CBT was... lol.. *blush*... I know it as something else entirely!! lol...(not that i'm into that, but i jokingly refrence it as the playful 'I'd do anything for *insert desired item*", that's what i say as a cost..loL)

Deb said...


Some people can take the medication, however with all of the side effects it has to offer and what it has already done to people, I really believe that the natural way and intense therapy is the only key, along with meditation, breathing techniques, etc. Sometimes, all of that doesn’t help ---even when medication doesn’t help, it’s just frustrating. I wish you luck with your journey in finding the right medication. I wish there was a pill to make it all better, but for now, I have to just rely on breathing----which has helped a great deal these past few days since I wrote this post. Thanks for sharing that with me, Beth!


I KNOW! It totally feels like you’re dying. Isn’t it odd the way it mimics a heart attack? I remember you going through them and I felt so bad. I hope you’re feeling better too! Thanks, kiddo!!! :)


I’m much like your daughter. If you met me, you wouldn’t believe for a second that I have anxiety as well as social anxiety at times. I can “appear” to be very outgoing and confident but I am truly full of fear and anxiety lately. It comes and goes and sometimes, like for the past year and a half, I have been feeling great, but those last couple of days when I wrote this post, I thought I was back to square one. Feeling better today. Thank you!


Oh don’t even go there----I walk into the ER and they know me by name and they say, “Another heart attack, Deb?” They all laugh at me, but they also say it’s good to go to the ER if I am having chest pains. What happens if I am actually having a heart attack and chuck it up to a panic attack? Totally screwed! My medical bills are ripping me apart though. And you’re SO SO right, that meditation and prayer is a great start but sometimes it just takes over... it does... but I’m trying my best to fight it. Thanks for visiting, John!


Wow, are you a psychologist? The entire concept of ‘letting them work it out themselves’ is ingenious. CBT? Hrmm, that phrase you typed up reminded me of, “What would you do for a Klondike bar” - but then again, pretend I have a helmet on. I didn’t quite understand your last part of it! (lol) ;)

Dr. Deb said...

Anxiety is so dreadful to to move through. I've dealt with depression and anxiety, and anxiety kicks my butt and leaves me breathless. Depression knocks me out for the count, but it is an entirely different experience. Sorry you are going through all of this.

Deb said...

Thanks, Dr. Deb. As you know, it's just so exasperating to go through. Sometimes my anxiety goes right into depression because of the exhaustion as well as the frustration that goes into it. :(


Deb, although I am a clincial psychologist, I have suffered with anxiety and panic attacks since the age of 5. A person can't really understand anxiety or panic unless they've been there.

I have learned to control my anxiety and panic in several different ways. Prayer and calling on God is my first line of offense. I say offense because panic attacks are a bully and we have to hit them head on.

In my practice I use what I call "Riding the Wave". An attack is much like a wave, you can feel it coming on and it swells and then subsides. To stay on top of the wave, recognize that you are having an attack. Know it will peak in approx. 10 min. Rate the severity of the attack on a scale of 1 mild - 10 severe. Review all the feelings you have in your body and mind. Don't try to stop it, it only makes it worse. Wait it out and let it subside.

I also use a technique called ERP (exposure with response prevention) that is somewhat like CBT. I will try to put that on my Psychobabble blog soon.

Sorry I got so wordy. I just know how horrible anxiety is and I would love to see you get a handle on this. God bless. Dr. Bobbi

Deb said...

Dr. Bobbi,

Thank you so much for responding! A former psychologist I had gone to told me about the wave analogy, and also said to "go into the riptide" and don't fight it because it would get worse. I've been praying a lot about my anxiety and it has helped me greatly. I do believe that fear is not of God and it's something that needs to be controlled. I rationally know all things to advise someone with anxiety attacks, (funny right?) but when I go through waves of anxiety myself, I just can't seem to help myself. I guess relying on God's help instead of my own works much better. I'm not one to tinker around with meds unless I am in severe pain.

I also agree that all psychologists/psychiatrists (like yourself) need to have had experienced it, rather than go into the profession not knowing what it's like. Almost like an AA director... they "know". They've been there.

I WISH I could find someone as knowledgeable as yourself to see on a regular basis. I've been through so many doctors who have no idea how to help me, other than fly me a script, or try to. :(

Thanks for taking the time to be "wordy"---I totally welcome it.

Cooper said...

I can relate to your partner's symptoms; every muscle in my body clenches and it takes every ounce of will (and sweat) not to hurl. Because I could not tell anyone what I was feeling (a LONG story we don't need to get into here) my reaction was flight...just move. I'd get on a bicycle and ride for 25 miles, get in a car and drive to nowhere in particular for hours.
It wasn't until very late in life I was able to find a combination of things that have kept me anxiety attack free for about 10 years now. Yes, some of it delt with therapy and exploring all the deep seated (and irrational but very real) fears, some with meds and some with zen/awareness meditation and perspective.
Anxiety attacks suck. I have total empathy for those who suffer...