I write this to tell those of you who are suffering with anxiety disorder that there is hope for you!
You can learn to control the anxiety, not the other way around.
I just turned 47 and I had my first anxiety attack when I was about 10 years old. I recall feeling nervous (heart racing, weak feeling, hyperventilating, feelings of impending doom), asking my parents, "Am I going to die?!" My parents would shrug it off with a, "No, you're fine! Go play!"-kind of attitude. Not really the best way to handle this situation, right? Back then, the panic attacks were pretty random and I NEVER had the thought, "OMG, what if this happens again?!" I don't think it ever crossed my mind like it did when I got older.
4th grade was the worst year of my life! My teacher was a complete *bleep* and my grandmother, with whom I was very close to, passed away from a heart attack. She had angina from years of smoking. It wasn't until I was in my 30's that I realized that it was probably due to my grandmother's death that brought on my anxiety issues. I recall my grandmother always telling my father that she was nervous and the next thing you know, Dad's taking her to the hospital. And eventually after one of those trips to the hospital, she never came home. So, I associated "nervous" with heart attacks and dying.
All through 4th grade I spent lots of time at the nurse's office with stomach aches or nervous stomach. No one took their kids to psychologists back in the 70's but I did see the pediatrician who sent me out for upper and lower GIs. I was put on some green liquid medication and to this day I have no idea what that was, but I'm sure it was something to just settle my stomach. I made it through 4th grade in one piece and the panic attacks were far and few until I turned 20 in 1984.
After the birth of my first child, about 30 days after his birth, I was running around getting ready to go meet a lady about buying a little Yorkshire Terrier. I was soooo excited because I really wanted my own fur baby! I had just had a baby with my now ex-husband (we were not yet married at the time) and I had convinced my parents to buy me a $600 pure bred Yorkie. LOL Insanity, I know! I remember being rushed and excited about getting out the door but I had to go to the bathroom first! ARGH! Something else to keep me from getting to this appointment! I was just really anxious suddenly. Sitting there on the toilet I felt my heart pounding and racing. I couldn't figure out why, though I was still excited about going to see the Yorkies. I couldn't calm myself down so I ran out of the bathroom and grabbed the baby already in the car seat and walked out the front door of my apartment. Suddenly, I felt alone and everything around me seemed surreal. I became frantic and ran to my next door neighbor, pounding on her door. There was no answer! There was nobody around, my heart was racing, everything was so fake and I was losing my mind. I began to drop the baby carrier when suddenly a man ran over and grabbed my son before he dropped out of my arms. The man took me to his wife who lived in the aparment complex across the way from me. This was the first real horrible anxiety attack of my entire life, November 1984.
The only physician I knew was my OB/GYN and he gave me a prescription for Valium. Yikes! That was horrific in itself. Sure, it calmed me from the severe panic attacks but I couldn't function to take care of my son. So, I found a family doctor. Meds are great but they just mask the problem. I found the best doctor while living in Tucson. He immediately dx'd me with anxiety disorder but naturally, I didn't believe him. I wasn't convinced that it was all just a psych disorder, that there had to be a physical problem with me. So, to humor me, he ran every test to prove that I did not have luekemia, heart disease, brain tumor, etc. With every test, he proved to me that I was physically healthy. I had to learn to control the anxiety but we also had to find its cause(s).
My doctor put me on a low dose of xanax (probably .25 mgs) and inderol. I got my life back. Oddly, as mysterously as the first major anxiety attack hit me in November 1984, they disappeared 9 months later. I believe hormones after pregnancy had a little something to do with the severity of the anxiety.
In 1987, just hours after the birth of my 2nd son, I had a full blown anxiety attack in my hospital room. ARGH! I told my new OB/GYN I needed xanax and inderol and that's what I got. This time, the attacks were far worse than I had ever experienced and this time, I found a psychiatrist to help me. Along with that, I got into group therapy because the anxiety was so bad that I became agoraphobic. I woke up one day from a nap, got the kids packed into the car, backed out of the driveway and drove up the street not even 1/4 mile and BAM... full on panic attack! I whipped the car around, hoping I'd hit a telephone pole so someone would help me, but managed to grab a xanax instead and popped that into my dry mouth and tried to swallow that. I managed to somehow get myself and the kids back into the house where I remained for about a year. I could no longer drive the car and I feared leaving the boundaries of my property. If I had to go shopping, my mother would come get me and she'd take me. I'd panic the entire time! I couldn't go into stores if I couldn't see outside. I'd have anxiety attacks right there in the store and cling to anyone who would help. And oddly enough, every person I ever approached for help was wonderful enough to help me during my crisis! I'm still amazed at how people really cared and they didn't even know me.
I went to group therapy which actually did wonders! Dr. Newman (Norwood, MA) would do relaxation techniques in group. His voice was so calming and I could recall his voice when in a panic, "You're not going to die, it's only a panic attack." I learned to calm myself down, slow down my heart rate, breathe easier.... and I took baby steps getting behind the wheel of the car again. Eventually, I found the power to get back out in to the world on my own about a year after becoming agoraphobic. I got a grip on the anxiety attacks with little tricks. When I felt that gripping feeling of panic coming over me, I would run to the nearest sink and put the hot water on and run my hands and arms through the hot water. I would feel instant relaxation. If not too freaked out, I could just jump into the shower to calm down.
Well, by 1989 I had switched from xanax to klonopin and the anxiety issues were conquered, so I thought. I was in the shower and while rinsing myself down with the hand held shower head, I became very much aware that I was doing this symmetrically. Holding the shower head in the right hand, I rinsed my left side down and then passed the shower head to the left hand and rinsed the right side down. I don't know why I cared about how I was doing this, but something made me do this more than once. And when I was repeating this again, I got a little aggrivated by the actions because it was causing some anxiety if I tried to just stop. So, I think this was my first conscious awareness of anxiety disorder manifesting to OCD... which is a whole other ball game though still related to anxiety disorder. I'll go there on an OCD thread one of these days.
The anxiety attacks have been a part of my life for years, though not as bad as they were after the births of all of my kids (4 children). I'm certain hormones kicked the anxiety levels up. I still take klonopin on a PRN basis and have no addiction issues with it. My doctor wrote me a script for 60 .5 mg tablets back in May and I still have about 6 pills left. I only take half of a pill when I fly or feel a bad anxiety attack coming on that I just cannot handle with a soak in the hot tub alone. Another good trick for anxiety is to take a dish rag and soak it in water, ring it out completely, fold it in 3rds the long way and then fold that in half. Toss it into the microwave for 1 minute on high. Take it out of the microwave and unravel it to cool it off a little and then fold it back into 3rds, then wrap it around my neck. The tension and anxiety just melts away. I'll reheat that thing a few times and just pace around the house until the anxiety subsides. I'll also fill the jacuzzi tub with hot water and go soak for a while and that really helps.
I was recently diagnosed with ovarian cysts on both ovaries. Oddly enough, just prior to that diagnosis, out-of-the-blue anxiety attacks had started up. I hadn't had those in years! I guarantee you that the cysts are causing my hormone levels to go up and that's what triggered the panic attacks.
Over the last 37 years I have learned how to manage my anxiety. Recognize the signs of the tell-tale signs of an attack coming on and nip it before it becomes a full-on panic attack. The hot water trick does wonders!! Breathe through your nose and out through your mouth and pay attention to your heart rate. You'll notice your heart-rate slowing as you do that breathing technique and you'll become calmer. It takes practice but it does work! If you're hyperventilating and don't have a paper bag to breathe into, cup your hands over your nose and mouth and breathe into them as if they were the paper bag. It still does the same trick of having you rebreathe the carbon dioxide to get you back to breathing normally. You'll find your own tricks along the way too I'm sure.
It's always a comfort to know there are people you can run to when you're in a panic