If you know anyone who experiences panic attacks, please give them a giant hug. I don't think anyone can understand how awful this is unless they've experienced it themselves.
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is mostly controlled with medication. I've been dealing with this for about 20 years, though I didn't know what it was until 15 years ago.
My anxiety creeps in at the most bizarre moments. Either a few days AFTER a time of extreme emotional stress, when I forget to take my anti-anxiety medication for a few days in a row OR if I'm sick. Illness is the one thing that will trigger it IMMEDIATELY. Not every time I'm not feeling well, no it can't be that predictable. Just out of the blue I'll start feeling unwell and panic. I know it makes no sense whatsoever, and it causes a miserable, ridiculous, terrifying snowball effect that can turn a bad tuna sandwich or random flu-induced dizzy spell into cold-sweat, heart racing nearly blacking out panic.
Throw in a benign heart condition that causes heart palpitations, and a newly empty nest and there's a recipe for terror.
Knowing what's happening might slightly shorten the duration of a panic attack, but it doesn't make it any less frightening.
The inner dialogue goes like this:
Woah...the room is spinning.
Ok...idiot. It's a thousand degrees outside, you just got done scrubbing rugs on the deck. You've been breathing cleaning solution fumes in the bathrooms all day and you forgot to eat. Two large iced coffees do not substitute for water or food. AND every time it gets super hot and humid you can't breathe. Where's your asthma inhaler?
Doesn't matter. I'm dying.
No...you're not dying. You're overheated, overcaffeinated, dehydrated and hungry.
Nope. Definitely dying. And I'm alone. Should I call 911??
DO NOT CALL 911. You're having an anxiety attack.
Where's my phone. I need to call 911.
Just hold your phone. You have it if you need it. It's an anxiety attack. Just breathe.
The dogs are outside. I'm going to die in here and they'll be outside in this heat.
YOU. ARE. NOT. DYING. Sit down and breathe.
I think I'm having a heart attack. My heart is beating out of my chest.
Because you're panicking. Take your pulse....
It's 80. What's normal?
Google says 60 - 100. You're fine.
But I haven't been exercising and I eat like crap. I'm definitely dying and I deserve it. I swear if I live through this I'm going to start exercising an hour a day and living on lettuce.
You are overcaffeinated, dehydrated and hungry. Drink some water and eat a granola bar..
Of course the water and granola bar make me want to throw up, because my anxiety is through the roof.
See? I can't eat. Something is very wrong.
Small bites. You're fine. Turn on the tv and lay down.
Within 5 minutes I'm physically fine. But the anxiety remains.
I take a shower, but I keep the phone right outside the shower in case I need to call 911.
I drink water as fast as I can without making myself nauseous and starting the whole cycle again..
I lay down on the couch and focus on the tv.
A friend calls and asks if I want to come over and go swimming. She lives 20 minutes away. What if I start feeling bad in the car? Or while I'm at her house? I'll look stupid.
I tell her I'm not feeling well. I know she understands but I feel stupid.
I think of the parade I'm supposed to be in the next day. It's going to be super hot and humid. What if this all starts back up DURING the parade? I think back to the time my mom almost passed out in the grocery store. She caused such a scene. I don't want to cause a scene. I'd have to just walk out of the parade to sit down, and either someone would miss the parade to sit with me or I'd be totally alone among strangers. Either potential situation is horrifying. I let everyone know I can't go.
I stay home.
The next day I feel fine. Stupid but fine. I go out and do some yard work, working up a sweat and getting my heart rate up and I don't die.
And I know I'm one of the lucky ones. Tomorrow I'll go to work like a normal person. I have these episodes maybe once or twice a year. While they can be terrifying and debilitating in the moment, they do not keep me from having a normal life. I can easily understand how people with this disorder can end up a prisoner in their own home, and terrified of the solitude at the same time.
I have noticed a pattern. This tends to happen when I do too much. I'll be going along fine and WHAM, anxiety will knock me on my ass. And while I'm on my ass I think back and realize I haven't relaxed in weeks. I run and run and run until I'm forced to stop. Maybe in a bizarre way the anxiety is my friend, because it makes me stop. But it sure doesn't feel like a friend when it comes to visit and won't leave. This visit has caused me to pretty much stay home all weekend. Maybe it knows best. Maybe I needed this downtime. Some time to write and putter around the house.
The laundry room floor needs scrubbed. Don't panic. I'll get the bucket.