Archive for the ‘Panic Disorder’ Category

Have you ever watched the TV series “Homeland”?

I’m binge-watching Season 7 right now. It’s speaking to me in a way I never expected.

I’m not bi-polar like Carrie, the show’s protagonist. Yet her character speaks to me, particularly now, more than ever.

Claire Danes – the gifted and talented actor who portrays Carrie – is doing an outstanding job showing us what it’s like being manic at times. If she isn’t like that in real life, then she’s done her homework, and perhaps has someone well acquainted with the mental illness coaching her.

The thing is, I’ve felt many of the emotions and thoughts she so painfully paints. Particularly the hopelessness and trapped feeling that shakes Carrie to her core.

Up until now, I’ve been an observer. I know people who are bi-polar, and they have described what it’s like not knowing from one day to the next what’s in store. But I haven’t been able to relate to the frustration they feel until now.

You can probably appreciate what it’s like when you’ve made a decision to be more active, to go the gym regularly and to work hard at improving your overall fitness.

Or maybe you’ve been in great shape all of your life, and you regularly participate in sports, just enjoying the good feeling you get from being able to be mobile and flexible; to be able to run up a set of stairs without getting out of breath at the top.

Yet, there comes a day when you make a misstep on those stairs. Or you get hit by a car. Or twist your ankle, or your shoulder starts to act up and you find one or more of your limbs just won’t do what it’s told. And now you can’t do any of those physical activities. Your injury is a speed bump keeping you from doing what you want to do.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

Imagine depending upon your intelligence and logic day after day. You take it for granted, and you’ve appreciated how you’ve been able to plan, to work out logistics and problems and you enjoy the good feeling of having surmounted a seemingly impossible task.

Suddenly one day you find you can’t do any of those things. Instead, your thoughts horrify you. Your stomach clenches up without apparent reason, and you find you can’t even leave your house. You sit in front of your computer, prepared to log into your workplace, only to find your whole body rebelling with fear.

So you push yourself away from the keyboard, frustrated that this is the sixteenth day you’ve been unable to log in.

You don’t know where to turn or what to do. You look outside at your balcony, and you wonder how likely it would be that you would die if you jump. Or would you merely be maimed?

Then you realize what you’re thinking, and you resolve yourselves not to even look, knowing that just doing that might endanger you. You’re aware that it’s possible that curiosity might turn into impulse.

You need to work, you need the money. But you can’t work.

You’re in a trap with no way out. And all of your decisions center around resolving this deadly dichotomy. So you make a series of bad choices, all based upon your catastrophic thinking.

As mentioned in my last blog, my meds are working. Yet, these feelings came back, just for a fleeting second this week.

Somehow, watching Carrie go through her nightmares on Homeland feels cathartic somehow. I’m having trouble articulating just why that is. Maybe it’s that this fictional character is a kindred spirit of sorts.

My meds are working but I’m not out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

It’s a funny thing. When you hear the words “mental illness” the first image that pops into your head is someone’s head. Yours, or the stranger on the street, gabbing away incessantly to no one.

Yet, when you experience it yourself, the symptoms often don’t occur in your head. (Or in my case, at all)

It hits you like a cold. You don’t go looking to catch a cold, and you sure AF don’t go looking to become mentally ill either, despite all of the innocent phrases that start with “I must be going out of my mind!”

Mine came right out of the blue. My boss had asked me to take over for him for a week – something I’ve done countless times. The work is easy, even though it’s more high profile and you get the big bosses asking you things. It was what I’ve always done, but at a lower level: boss asks you for something, you go looking to your subordinates to provide answers. The people working for you are the real experts, so you learn to depend upon them, and you promote the hell out of them whenever you can, because you know how valuable they are to pretty much everything.

It’s no different when you’re a higher level boss. Like I said, I’ve done it many times before. There just was no reason for this time to be any different. Yet it was.

I made a comment in a Facebook discussion group about how I was having trouble sleeping because I found it hard to breathe.

One guy, a retired doctor, responded “dude, I’m not going to try and diagnose you here or anything but if I were you, I’d check with my doctor.”

I appreciated his concern but didn’t take it seriously until the following afternoon, when I found I was having trouble breathing during my waking moments. The more I thought about it, the worse it seemed, so I hastened down to the emergency department of the hospital. After a day of testing and prodding and poking and ultrasound, the emergency doctor said “Are you feeling anxious about anything?”

I had to wrack my brain. It took me a while to figure out it was the upcoming acting manager gig that triggered the anxiety. Which frankly, I thought was stupid. There really wasn’t anything to worry about. But there we were, and that’s when it all started, last summer.

The last time I wrote about anxiety (Looking for Sunrise), I hadn’t yet started any meds. I went about six weeks suffering multiple panic attacks, as the meds took their time kicking in. The days were so dark, I was afraid of everything. I was housebound, and even within my apartment I refused to open my balcony door. I knew if I did, there was a good chance I would look over the railing, and thought would become action.

There was darkness everywhere. I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t know how to handle it. I prayed for death and at times thought about how to do it.

The first med I tried – Zoloft – only made things much worse. The second one was better but it took about six weeks – all of which was spent away from work – before it finally began working.

My team noticed immediately. “Wolf, you’re sounding like you’re back to your regular self. Do you feel better?”  I said “Yeah, I really do.” And I did.

Gone was the darkness. Gone were the suicidal thoughts. I was back to normal, with one important difference: I knew this was because of the meds.

Also, I didn’t realize how resilient I’d considered myself to be, until this all happened. And now that confident sense of resilience is gone. I’m aware of how fragile I am.

So there you have it: my mental illness showed up as an inability to breathe properly and as a very warm hollow feeling in my stomach. There was no cerebral symptoms at all. The mental illness showed up everywhere except in my head. Weird.

There’s a lifetime of valleys and drama and death that I know have contributed to this newfound fragility. I have to address them, which is why I’m now seeing a psychologist. And it’s why I’m now looking hard at retiring as soon as I possibly can.

One other thing. You know how all of those commercials and PSA announcements about mental health involve telling sufferers to reach out to various people, phone lines and the like – all in an effort to avoid suicide?

Yeah, that doesn’t work. People like me who suffer from this stuff have zero ability to reach out to anyone. All we’re looking for is a way to get the darkness to stop as quickly as possible.

The thing that worked for me was that my loved ones reached out to me. They could do that. I couldn’t do the opposite. I couldn’t reach out to them. My brain just wasn’t in a place to allow me to do that.

Instead, all I could do was turn inward and curl up mentally, buffeted by the winds of my nightmare.

fetal

 

(Trigger warning for anxiety)

mental

My cellphone rang. It was my brother. He rarely calls.

It’s not that we’re estranged or anything. It’s that he has his life and I have mine, and we live far apart. And when we get together, we generally have a good time.

It was good to hear his voice.

“Hey Jamie. How are you doing?”

“Not bad, Wolf. How are you?”

I could never play the polite game with my bro. Plus, I was not a fan of chit chat and making polite noises.

“Honestly – not that good, Jamie. I’ve been having some severe panic attacks. I’ve gone to group therapy for about six weeks, only to find out I was in the wrong group and should have been in the panic disorder group, not the generalized anxiety disorder one.”

Silence. Then: “Man, that must suck.”

“Yeah, it really does.”

Silence again. He was probably trying to figure out what to say.

“I had anxiety  years ago, and it was bad. I didn’t know what was causing it. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing and I couldn’t think straight.”

As he listed off his symptoms, my heart began to race. I couldn’t listen to this.

I knew he meant well though, so I let him continue. Silently, I writhed. Listening to him talk about his episode of anxiety was making me feel unsafe and afraid and….I was panicking.

You know, I have to admit: before my panic attacks began, I saw those articles with the words “trigger warning” at the top, and thought it was childish. Who in hell needs to be warned that a story may cause a problem? What are we? Nine years old or something?

As it turns out, I was woefully naive. And as it turns out, very very wrong.

My own brother was making my anxiety worse, and he had no idea. And I was too deep into it to explain it properly, in a way he could understand.

He rambled on and on, describing in vivid detail his brush with anxiety. (And it was indeed a brush, as it only happened to him once, thank God.)

My heart was racing, my head was aching, my stomach was roiling and I was beginning to shake.

I was freaking out.

I stopped my brother in mid-sentence. “Hey Jamie, listen, I’ve got some dinner on the go here, so I think I’ll have to let you go.” There was no dinner.

“Oh okay Wolf. Catch you later then.”

I haven’t been to work in a week.  This shit really messes you up. I look forward to a time when I’ll be able to take my good mental health for granted again.

In the meantime, I’m doing what I can to keep myself above the ground. It’s hard, but there are lots of places to provide support. My CAMH counselor made sure I knew that in the worst case scenario, I should call 911. And I will. And it may come to that.

I just know I can’t live with this crap. It’s no way to live anyway. It’s enough right now to just survive.

I won’t even go out on my balcony at this point. Because I don’t trust myself or my impulses.

Anxiety sucks.