Monday, November 5, 2012

Don't Panic!

It has been a very, very long time since I have posted here.  My apologies to any of you out there that have checked back for new posts!
The hiatus was due to a battle with panic disorder that began almost exactly a year ago today.
As my past posts have revealed, I have experienced a few anxiety attacks over the years.  The first one landed me in the hospital and with a temporary prescription for Ativan.  I had an anxiety attack or two over the following year, but they were few and far between.
A year ago today, my anxiety attacks began coming on more frequently.  They all started the same - tight throat, quick breathing, racing heart and dizziness.  The attacks come on mostly while driving on the highway or walking around in stores for absolutely no apparent reason.  What was once an attack every few months had become once a month, and by Christmas time, I had trouble just walking from my car to my office door without feeling dizzy.  In the meantime, I got engaged (yay for extroverted boyfriend dropping on one knee!), but trying to enjoy what was supposed to be a happy time was practically impossible.
I had become victim to anticipatory anxiety and what was worse, agoraphobia. Wherever I experienced a panic attack, I could no longer go.  Target and the mall were off limits unless I was with someone, but even those trips were a struggle.  Highway driving had become such a complete nightmare that I started making excuses to not make plans with friends and visit my boyfriend in Connecticut.  My life felt like it was over - I never wanted to leave my house.  The only way I can describe it is that I was absolutely consumed by my panic disorder.  The second I woke up, I started worrying about it.  Anticipating panic attacks only led to me actually having panic attacks.  Panic took over EVERYTHING.
I lived this way from about November through March until I reached the final straw.  My fiancee and I had met up in Newport, RI to check out some wedding venues.  On the way home on the highway, I experienced my worst panic attack yet.  My throat closed, I felt that I couldn't breathe and I was sure I was going to pass out right there on the highway.  My body started shaking uncontrollably until I reached a reststop to pull into.  My fiancee had called me because earlier I had to quickly hang up when the attack started.  I broke down in tears and told him what had happened.  He urged me to call my parents who were closer in distance to come get me.  I sat there shaking for a solid half hour debating whether or not to call my parents.  Just admitting the problem to my fiancee was hard enough and now coming out of the panic closet to my parents seemed like the worst idea. 
I decided to make the phone call, and it was the best decision I ever made.  I was utterly embarassed and disappointed in myself.  I had just admitted to the most important people in my life that I had a problem - a problem I had hoped would just disappear.  My parents were supportive.  They didn't understand, but they asked me to see a doctor as soon as possible.  I made my appointment for the following day, and my doctor prescribed Zoloft.  Let me say, I am not the biggest advocate of medicine.  My previous Ativan prescription was never refilled.  But this time, I had let my panic disorder go on far too long.  The first four weeks of Zoloft were even worse than before.  My anxiety was through the roof, and I could not even sit at my desk without starting to feel completely out of my head in a way that I can't even begin to describe.  After about a month, the side effects subsided and after 2 and a half months and weekly visits to a therapist (another thing I never thought I would do), I started to feel like myself again. 
I can't say whether my introversion has anything to do with my panic disorder.  I suspect it has affected it in two ways:
1. I stayed quiet about my panic attacks for a very long time.  I did not even tell my boyfriend the extent of the problem until it had taken over my life. 
2. I think about, analyze, and worry about things that I can't control a lot more than the typical extroverted person would - religion, death, origin of life, etc.  I talked about this a lot with my therapist, and she had to agree - the "getting lost" in my thoughts aspect of introversion did not help my panic disorder in the slightest - it feeds it.
I'm thrilled to say that it has been 8 months since my last major panic attack (the highway incident).  Since then, I have been planning a wedding, moved to Connecticut with my fiancee and have started a new job.  Don't get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety and its side effects every day.  But the medicine coupled with therapy has taught me how to live with anxiety, not live victim to it.  Though I am hopeful, I don't think that I've experienced my last panic attack.  I still have panic disorder - but now I have an arsenal of weapons to defeat it.
Since coming to terms with it, I have realized that it is so much more prevalent than I ever expected - even people I know experienced it and I had no idea.  That being said, I would love to hear from anyone who has experienced panic disorder, especially my fellow introverts out there!  Those who haven't experienced it don't realize just how frightening it is.
I think this blog may start including posts about panic disorder since it's something I've become quite read up on and interested in.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there, I started reading your blog last summer and really enjoyed it as I myself had just recently begun self-identifying as an introvert, and at the time was planning to start law school in the fall. I hadn't checked this site in a while but still had it bookmarked, and I was pleasantly surprised when today I clicked on it out of nowhere (well, really, out of procrastination on a school assignment) and saw that you had updated it pretty recently. I was really sorry to read about what you went through with panic disorder but am really glad you seem to be doing better now! Thanks again for your entries and continued good luck. I will keep checking back.