Recently I’ve been going public about my mental illness. I spent over 30 years fighting both accepting that I was sick & just going along with the bullshit state of the mental health medical community in the United States, but I’m not willing to do either one anymore.
- It is unfathomably important that I take care of my mental health. I need to be able to function in the real world. Anxiety doesn’t allow that to happen easily, if at all.
- It is unfathomably important that we no longer accept the stigma that mental illnesses should be swept under the rug and hid from the spotlights of society. There is such a high rate of mental illness in this country and NOTHING IS BEING DONE TO HELP IT. We are still living in a society that required a law written by the president to force insurance companies to even TREAT mental illnesses. Too many of them want the ability to opt out. It’s ugly & we don’t want to talk about it so let’s just pretend it’s not there. Fuck. That.
So here we are. In an attempt to contribute to the concept of uncovering the hidden truths of mental illness, I am going to try and post more about it here. Today’s contribution to this topic is to tell you about the panic attack I had last night. Most people don’t know what a real panic attack feels like. They’re terrifying.
I take meds four times a day: twice in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. I typically take my evening pills around 6:30. Last night I realized around 10:30 I’d forgotten to take them. No clue whatsoever why, but I felt the realization set off a panic attack.
I’ve been dealing with these as long as I can remember, so I’ve become fairly aware of the sensation that hits right before a panic does. It’s a discomfort in my stomach, like when you’re speeding and fly past a cop. I knew it was coming, so before it even hit I went ahead and popped a xanax.
The time it takes a xanax to kick in is different for everyone, but the average time patients report starting to feel better is a range of approximately 15 minutes to 30 minutes.
Typically when I can pop the pill right at the moment I feel the pre-panic, I can stave it off, minus the discomfort of the pre-panic feeling, which will typically hang around a few hours. I can deal with that.
Last night I went from pre-panic to FULL blown panic within about 10 minutes. First thing that happens is my heart starts to pound. Within a minute or two it goes from pounding to full-on racing, hard and fast. This is followed by the lack of my ability to catch my breath. I have to force myself to breathe more slowly or I hyperventilate.
Next thing that happens is my stomach drops. I feel like I’m either about to explode like I drank a gallon of Fleet or I’m about to vomit everywhere. Either way, I high-tail it to the bathroom. While I’m in there the sweating starts. First it’s my forehead, then my upper lip, then my whole face, then my neck, then my chest, then within about a minute my body feels like it’s literally on fire. My skin burns like I’ve got the world’s worst sunburn from head to toe.
Luckily at this point I was done with the toilet, so after putting my pants back on, I just curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor. There’s a vent there & the house’s circulation fan was running, so I just laid there for a few minutes trying to cool off and catch my breath.
After about 5 minutes I was able to stand up again finally. As soon as I did, however, I was light-headed and a bit dizzy, which started to make me feel sick again. So the next stop was the guest bed, where I laid on my stomach without a sheet or anything on to attempt again to cool off and calm down a bit. After about 5 minutes I didn’t feel any better beyond cooling off a bit, so I gave up and crawled into the master bed.
That was when husband got involved. Husband has never, in the 10 years we’ve been together, actually seen me go through this. I’ve kept it from him on purpose. If you’ve never had a panic attack, seeing someone else go through one is pretty fucking terrifying. Think of that one time your one friend had just a little (OK, a lot.) too much to drink, had some random scary thought, and he or she just absolutely lost their shit? When they’re drunk, it’s annoying and occasionally frustrating. When you know they’re sober, it goes almost instantly from annoying to horrific, because you can’t see any rational reason for this person to be reacting this way.
But that’s the issue. Anxiety is not rational. Panic is not rational. Neither is logical. Either can arbitrarily decide to set itself off, or, many times, set one another off. Last night was a perfect example. There was really nothing wrong. But that doesn’t matter. And once it starts when there’s nothing wrong, you also feel GUILTY about freaking out when there’s nothing wrong, and getting more upset just makes things that much worse.
So I’m laying in our bed, curled up in the world’s smallest ball, going back and forth between sweating like I have a 104 degree fever and freezing like I’ve got the flu when husband asks what’s wrong. I was in NO state of mind to lie. So I did my best to explain to him that I was physically fine, my brain was just acting up in a stupid way that was setting some stuff off incorrectly with my body. I can’t even tell you how bad I felt. He was SO worried. He genuinely thought I was having a heart attack. There were times in that hour my hands were either tingling or hurting and my chest hurt because my heart was both racing and pounding so hard, I had to keep reminding MYSELF that I wasn’t.
After about an hour, I was finally able to curl up a certain way and fall asleep. Husband tells me I was snoring like a 500 pound bear, but he was glad to hear it because it meant I was sleeping.
Today, I’m mostly OK. I took a xanax with my morning pills, before I was fully awake, so that the panic hangover didn’t effect me too much. Many times the next day is emotionally almost as difficult as the panic itself. I really didn’t want to deal with that today. So far I’ve been OK. Whenever I eat a snack I’ll take another xanax just to make sure I can hold onto this OK feeling. Sure, I’ll be groggy as fuck, but that’s better than freaking the fuck right out.
So, the next time someone tells you they’ve dealt with a panic attack, before you judge them, try and think of everything that person has just completely involuntarily gone through, both emotionally and physically. If you have good mental health, be GRATEFUL. Appreciate not having to go through shit like this.