The summer after high school graduation, I had a panic attack. It was disguised as an asthma attack (an illness I had been battling for a few years), and left me feeling ‘freaked out’ and short of breath. I had taken my inhalers, a nebulizer treatment, and finally had to have an ambulance called to take me from my job as a lifeguard to the local hospital, where they pronounced me fine. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school, studying mental health, that I realized oh…that’s what that was.
I have known for a long time that depression has been present in my life. But it wasn’t until my mid 20’s, when I went on antidepressants, that I realized how much a bigger problem anxiety was in my life. When my parents would ask “what are you worried about?” I didn’t have an answer, other than “I’m not worried.” Because I didn’t realize that thinkingalotofthingsalotofthetimeespeciallyinthemiddleofthenightwhenishouldbesleeping was anxiety. It was all I knew. My brain and I didn’t have any other point of reference, and this random word WORRY had no meaning to me.
If we’re getting technical, my diagnosis is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which basically means everything and nothing specific make me anxious. It’s not a conscious thought process, more like a hum in the background of my mind, like listening to the radio in-between the dial of stations. It only is pronounced sometimes, like at night. Medication helps.
But lately I’ve been having unexplained symptoms. Painful stomach aches. A shortness of breath. A heartburn crackling fire that radiates from my breastbone out into my ribs and feels like my chest might shatter like an egg or a rock hurtling through a window. A swirling of thoughts that make me feel like I’m running around the room doing crazy off the wall things, while I also know that I am really just lying very still. With exception of that one “asthma attack” as an adolescent, the only other time I’ve had an episode like this was during labor, where the pain spiraled my mind into a complete crazy mess and I had to take meds to calm-the-fuck-down so I could birth the baby.
Maybe it’s a new manifestation of my anxiety disorder. Maybe it’s something else entirely. I don’t know. But in reading over the definitions again, of panic attacks, it seems to fit the criteria. So why is this happening out of the blue? And why, when the literature talks about this sudden wave of fear happening, don’t I experience that? I feel all these physical symptoms, and am bothered, uncomfortable, want them to go away, but haven’t (yet) spiraled into a fear of them happening or even register what I’m feeling as fear, more of just a general annoyance.
So frustrating. I know I’ve been off my medication for a few months, and maybe going back on will help. It’s just weird that my body is reacting like this, especially since I know, and utilize, all the good relaxation techniques and have been avoiding triggers like caffeine. I then wonder…am I really just having an asthma attack and not knowing it? Am I sick or sensitive to foods and that’s why my stomach keeps hurting? WTF body, WTF?!
In graduate school, one of my instructors made sure to emphasize that if a NEW symptom of an already diagnosed disorder, or if a NEW SET of symptoms (indicating possibly a new disorder) presents themselves, then it is most like a physical issue that can be addressed before jumping to the ‘I have a new mental illness’ diagnosis.
After waking up from my nap, feeling the tell-tale signs of post-nasal drip, I decided to google sinus infection + anxiety. Apparently others have dealt with sinus infections exacerbating anxiety, and even causing (contributing to?) panic attacks. Whoa. Guess it’s time to up the neti pot…sudafed…and possibly get seen by my Dr….
Oh, and start back on my antidepressants, too. 🙂