Thursday, October 10, 2013

Anatomy of a Panic Disorder Part 2; You're Doing it Wrong

*This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Feel free to go back to part 1 here, if you haven’t read it already.

Okay. Deep breaths. In. Out. Let’s go.

I’m probably going to bounce around a bit here, just try to bear with me, okay? All of these conditions that I have, essentially like to come out and play with each other and cause a clusterfuck for me. I’m going to try to keep it all straight, but sometimes you can’t. And by the end of this piece, you will see that they are all pretty much one big mess anyway.

I said in post 1 that I was diagnosed before middle school. What I didn’t say was that I had my first panic attack in kindergarten. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that I was having a panic attack; I just thought that the entire world had flipped the fuck out and attacked me for a while. I told my mom about it and she brushed it off, said it was nothing and wouldn’t happen again. Mama didn’t respond this way to be heartless. You see, my 5 year old self had just explained to my mama her own worst nightmare. She had been suffering from her own panic disorders, to the point where she had been unable to leave the house for a period of years, and she thought that if she didn’t give it a name for me, didn’t give it any credibility, didn’t “feed the beast” I guess, then it wouldn’t happen to her baby as it had been happening to her. Mama was wrong.

               I was too young to process it all really. The horrible thing had happened when I was in school. I loved school, but the horrible thing happened while I was in school, so I didn’t want to go ever again. But I had to. It wasn’t as simple as school being the problem though. For the first time ever I was being asked to socialize, and I was discovering that I just couldn’t.  This talking and playing together thing that all the other kids were just effortlessly doing, was absolutely not working for me. I couldn’t.  Welcome Social Anxiety Disorder. I was being asked to accomplish new things and follow new directions. I was a very smart kid, and certainly capable of all that they were asking me to do. But suddenly I was worried. What if I didn’t make my letters right? What if Suzy was better at coloring than me? What if I actually wasn’t smart, and I was doing it all completely wrong and everyone knew it? Welcome Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And as a result, welcome the Panic Attack. See how they all smoosh together?

               As a kid I learned that I couldn’t go to sleepovers – I’d make it until about 2 am before I called mom to come get me. I couldn’t do the afterschool functions like parties or dances – I literally made myself sick with the nerves of trying. I couldn’t raise my hand in class, join any clubs or play any sports – I would be expected to talk. Out loud. While everyone looked at me. No. Oral presentations were an absolute nightmare. I skipped school, talked my way out of it with the teacher, or just took the E even though I was a straight A student. All the things caused the panic attacks, and the attacks caused me to avoid all the things. Simple. Fast forward a few years to when I was a young teenager and throw in hormones and seasonal depression. Then I had all the things plus an overwhelming desire to not get out of bed. Ever again. My poor mother had to physically pull me out of bed more than once. And every year I missed so much school that they threatened to fail me.

               At some point my mother accepted the fact that I was suffering from many of the same things she had been suffering from. She took me to a doctor, they put some names on some of my crazy and discovered that pills hate me. My dear, well intentioned mother gave me some advice. Again, she was doing the best that she could with what she had. It went something like this;

                              “It’s a mental thing, honey. The panic attacks are going to happen all the time. Anytime there are too many people or too much noise, or sometimes for no reason at all. Try to fight through it. You’re not really going to die. It just feels like it. And sometimes makes you wish you could. But you can’t.”

               Really, really bad advice. “It’s going to keep happening no matter what” and “just fight through it.’ Worst advice ever. But it was the best that she had, and it then became all that I had.

               Now the funny – not at all funny – thing about all of these conditions is that they feed off of each other, cause each other to kick in and worsen one another. That’s confusing, I know, but here’s what I mean;

1.      You go to Kroger, worried that you’ll have a panic attack
2.      You have a panic attack and you either
a.      Fight through it hoping to God it goes away once you’re out of the building
b.      Get your ass kicked by it and abandon a full cart of groceries in isle 6 as you run for the door hoping that the screams that are inside your head don’t escape until your inside your car
3.      But you survive it
4.      You realize that you cannot go to that Kroger anymore because you will have another panic attack
      5.      Repeat steps 1-4 with every fucking place else

That’s how my mama ended up staying not leaving the house for years. At my worst I made it 6 months before my then husband literally picked me up and deposited me (kicking and screaming unfortunately) in the middle of our front yard and held me there until I stopped. Actually, I pretended to be okay with it and ran back inside as soon as he let me go. But I didn’t want to end up like this, I didn’t want to be this, I didn’t want to do this. So I fought it.

               I did avoid certain places and things that I knew would bring on an attack. Certain restaurants where I had experienced particularly nasty attacks, driving somewhere for the first time by myself (Before Siri could give me turn by turn, obviously), and small intimate gatherings were a no go. Everything else, I tried. Usually had an attack, sometimes fought through it, sometimes was beaten by it. I learned some tricks, though. My baby sister was born when I was 14. It didn’t take me long to discover that I didn’t panic when I had the baby with me. I don’t absolutely know why, but my guess is that my subconscious knew that I had a little person depending on me and wouldn’t allow me to lose my shit. So I brought the baby with me. Everywhere. Poor kid is 15 now and absolutely hates to be idle, she always wants to go, go, go. Oops. I learned that smokers had a very convenient, legitimate reason to periodically remove themselves from the situation. Looked like a great idea. And, it’s much easier to say “Be right back, gonna grab a smoke” than it is to say “If I don’t get the fuck out of here RIGHT NOW I am going to snap and this may be the one time that I don’t come back from the crazy.” I still smoke a pack a day and wish I had never started. I learned that if I was drunk, or even buzzed, I could almost handle a social situation. I still worried about it before, freaked during, and replayed it over and over in my head finding everything I did wrong after. But if I was not sober, I could participate some, it was a little less painful. I learned that if the attack didn’t go away when I left the situation, then I had to go home. Back to mom’s. Even after I moved out. Home was my safe place and mom was my safe person. I learned that relationships are even harder when you expect your boyfriend to put up with all of the things that you can’t do, all of the places that you can’t go, and all of the times that you have to go home (especially if you feel like you don’t deserve someone who will. But that’s a whole different post, isn’t it?). But I generally did better with a boyfriend around, so I pretty much always had one. And when I found one that would deal with all of my issues, I put up with whatever kind of treatment I got, because I’d likely never find anyone else willing to deal with the crazy anyway.

               I went on like this for years. Missing out on so much, not enjoying the things that I couldn’t miss out on, and barely surviving things that other, normal people did every single day without even a thought. Constantly fighting panic and feeling extremely powerless and defeated anytime I let it win. Always tremendously, crushingly, unhappy and stressed out because I had to deal with all of this. Why the fuck couldn’t I just be normal? Everyone else could mingle at a party, even actually have fun, ride elevators, put gas in their cars for fucks sake, without issue! But not me. I was broken, and everything, all of the normal things, would always be hard.

               You guys, I was doing it WRONG. Part 3 will tell you how I am learning, finally to do it right.

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