Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Anatomy of a Panic Attack

This is the (true) story of a girl (this girl) who had herself a complete meltdown today.

We need to go back a week, to see the origins of this mess. I was PMS'ing (which I do for a full week, thank you peri-menopause) until Wednesday the 21st. Then I was full-on M'ing for the next five days, until today, Tuesday the 27th. The result of this is lowered iron (I'm anemic anyway--yay for bleeding!). Lower iron means less sleeping (I'm already an insomniac--this just makes the sleeping pills less effective). I had a fairly normal weekend (normal in the broader sense of the term). Saturday night I hung out at a friend's house, Sunday I cleaned and shopped like a maniac for the surprise birthday get-together I put together for my mom on Monday. After a full and busy, productive Memorial Day (yesterday), today should have been a Do Absolutely Nothing So You Can Recover Day, because I did way more over the weekend  than usual.

However... I had a scheduled ultrasound for 1:30 this afternoon. This ultrasound was to see how my blood is flowing, because I've been getting extra cramps in my legs lately and my doctor wanted to make sure I don't have a blood clot. Having never had one of these done before, I thought it would be like an X-ray. Walk in, get some pictures of my insides taken, and walk out. Easy-peasy, right? No-o-o-o-o.

After a night of not sleeping well, I got out of bed around 9:00am. Plenty of time to prepare for the 1:30 appointment. Except I was over-tired and extra stressed because the one thing they told me I had to do to prepare for this was not smoke ahead of time. So no cigarettes to relax the nerves. Then, in my brain, I thought the appointment was at 2:30, so I didn't start getting ready to go until it was TIME to go, even though my mom had just said around 11:00 that we should leave around 12:45. Result: I had to rush.

Rushing makes me anxious. I like to be EARLY for appointments, not on time--on time = late. But we got there right at 1:30. I realized on the way into the clinic that I'd forgotten to put my wallet back in my purse, so I didn't have my insurance card or ID on me. Instant mini-panic, because they always ask. Somehow managed to avert that, since I was already in the system. Got called back. Went into this room with a treadmill, a cot, and a lot of equipment. The ultrasound tech started explaining that I'd have to change into the gown and then relax for 10 minutes because even walking back to the exam room raises the blood pressure and they wanted me to "come down" to normal. She didn't know this, but I hadn't been "down to normal" since I woke up.

Then she started telling me how they'd be hooking my entire body--arms, legs, ankles, etc--up to blood pressure cuffs, checking each one for blood flow. And then she said I should prepare to be lying on the cot for about an hour. I can't lie on a cot for an hour. I can't even lie on my bed for an hour without hurting. And after all the blood pressure cuff stuff was done, I'd be walking on the treadmill for 10 minutes. Hi. I'm the girl with broken feet. I didn't wear my special broken foot shoes today, because I knew I'd have to take my shoes off for what I thought was a simple X-ray. Walking on a treadmill for 10 minutes in my non-special broken feet shoes would be like taking a hammer to the bottom of my feet.

The whole time she's explaining these things, I can feel the vein in my forehead pulsing. My ears started ringing. I couldn't breathe. And then, just like that, I burst into tears. She stopped mid-sentence and said, "Oh, honey, are you okay? What's wrong?" At which point I told her, "I'm freaking out. I thought I was just getting an X-ray." I babbled on about my blood sugar being low and I didn't know I'd have to wear a hospital gown and I can't walk barefoot for 10 minutes or lie on my back for an hour on a cot, and... and... and... AUUUUUGGGGHHHHHH!

She was so cool. So calm. So understanding. She said, "Would you like to reschedule? Now that you know what to expect, next time won't be so bad, right?" And I heartily agreed that rescheduling would be best. I kept crying, because at that point, I couldn't stop. I almost hyper-ventilated. I sobbed. My heart was racing. I'm sure if they'd taken my blood pressure reading right then, they would've admitted me to the hospital. I must have truly been a mess, because when she walked me back out to the waiting room, she hugged me. LOL

As soon as we were back to the car, I took a Xanax for the anxiety and chain-smoked for the next half-hour. I'm now in the down-stage of the panic attack, which is like the after-effects of an adrenaline rush. I'm pukey and exhausted and still a bit on the weepy side.

So there you have it. Exciting, no?


I know it's not exciting. And if you've ever had a panic attack, YOU know it's not exciting, too.

I live with these things. Somehow, I live. With these.

If anyone you know suffers from panic attacks, remember that the feelings they experience are not just "a bit nervous." They include terror, helplessness, hopelessness, and sorrow--followed by extreme humiliation and guilt for putting others through it. Be kind. And forgive them if they lash out. That adrenaline rush-feeling they get when in panic mode is the same as the "fight or flight" instinct, and they may feel no other recourse than to lash out at whomever is nearby.

Time to take a nap for this girl.


  1. You are so awesome for sharing this. I know it couldn't have been easy, and I'm proud of you. You have given people some excellent information about panic attacks. I had a friend who had them, and sometimes she would just freeze and suddenly scream. Along with being kind and forgiving them if they lash out, remaining calm is also a very good idea. You don't need to panic someone further by freaking out. I hope you're feeling better after your nap.

    1. Thank you VERY much, Jewels. I truly appreciate your input. The nap was short, but better than nothing. I'm planning on avoiding pretty much everything tomorrow. It takes me awhile to regroup.

  2. Thank you for a snapshot into your mind and what you have to endure. It gave me insight and a better understanding of what happens during an attack. My wife has panic attacks frequently but not to the extent of yours. I am learning how to deal with them from the outside looking in. I try to help calm her down and get her through them, or at least try not to make them worse. It is heartbreaking to watch someone suffer and I wish nobody had to deal with this the way you and others do. I have always been greatful to have you as a friend and only wish you the best and happiness in the future.

    1. Thank you, Norm. I'm glad my words can help give a little glimpse into what a panic attack is like, especially if it helps people from the outside looking in how to respond/understand a little more. Your wife is a lucky lady, to have a spouse that cares to understand.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Dana! I've had panic/anxiety attacks too, and they are horrible! I found some help looking at www.anxietycentre.org Helped me knowing that I wasn't alone.

    1. Thank you! I firmly believe that the more this kind of thing is talked about, the better.

  4. I cried reading this. To know someone goes through what I do is helpful, but while reading I could feel it all! The bad thing is, now, for the past 6 months to a year, mine are so bad every time I go to a store, that I avoid going. That doesn't help with the weight issue, I might add.