Friday, July 28, 2017

La Panique

"Daddy, I'm dying."
"No, Runsk, you are not. Here, take this."

My Dad handed me a crumpled brown paper lunch bag, the ones my mom used to send sandwiches and juice boxes to summer school. 

"Put it up to your face, like this. And just start breathing in and out. Into the bag. Like this."

I was seven years old when I experienced my first panic attack. I did not know that it was called that at the time, and, to be honest, did not have a full comprehension until many, many, many years later when I went to Day Camp for Adult Mental Health.

I didn't know then that later on, when I grew up, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and Bipolar I would all end up on my rap sheet. What I did know then, was that my Dad would be an expert facilitator in managing my troubles throughout childhood and adulthood (up until age 28), and with his Psychology background, he would give me tools along the way that I would remember later on when I needed them.

It must suck. Like when you have kids and you start to recognize issues they experience because you have passed them on through your genes. I do not have this dilemma. I only have to worry about my succulent plant, Kate. Well, not completely true. I have to worry about being a good daughter, sister, auntie, friend, employee. But, folks, that's about it.

Doesn't matter, though.

I still get panic attacks. I had one for the first time in a year today.

The setting does not matter because, in fact, it never really does. The parasympathetic flight or fight can steamroll you in times when you think you are "relaxed." The way it feels for me is, I start to recognize that my anxiety is growing. Then, I start to breathe faster. Once I am breathing faster, then I start to panic. I start to panic that I might be having a panic attack. As this thought sets in, my head gets loopy and I see stars. I immediately look for Xanax, and if I don't have it, I am a tiny goldfish out of water, completely shit out of luck.

One time I had a panic attack so bad, that they could not get a proper read of my blood pressure in the ER, and then I was ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that the ghost of my dead dad was in the room, coaxing me to die and go be with him. So, there was that.

Another time, when I was young, I freaked out so bad at summer camp that they had to put me in a tent with a counselor (who was like, 15) and made me try to describe my symptoms while she just sat there on her cot, chewing ice. Thank you, Girl Scouts of America.

Lately I have been doing pretty well and also not feeling so depressed for about a month and a half. The downside to this is that my activity level skyrockets and I have to tamp it down with running, cigarettes, and non-stop CNN. (Which two out of the three do you think are unwise choices in that list of self-soothing activities?)

Anyway. Panic Attacks. 

It truly is all about the breath. Learning how to breathe. After I read The Chemistry of Calm that helped shed new light on alternative ways to navigate the anxiety and panic. Oddly, living in Chicago helped me loads - I am way more chill living in the middle of a big city than I am living in the suburbs. The suburbs terrify me. Can't you hear those crickets chirping!?

There are many things that cause me anxiety, and I am working with a new therapist to unravel those. It's interesting for me to learn, through CBT, that a lot of my anxiety comes from not only my unwillingness to adopt routine, but also from my own stigma and shame surrounding my own mental health. Today Pat told me that we should make a list of all the things I think I do that are "bad" and then talk about them and perhaps work toward disarming some of the landmines.

"Susan, a lot of what you are experiencing is psychological Shame. This is not biochemical. This is a learned behavior, and the more you allow yourself to feel this way, the more the neurons in your brain will align themselves with this negative, anxiety-producing energy."


So, yeah, shame schmame scheeememy, Brene Brown TED talk, blah, blah, blah. I get it. I do. But, I can't seem to unwire it. 

I've oft said that death is not what I am afraid of. It's regret. I am afraid of living with regret.

That's all I got right now. I am supposed to go to bed. We'll see.



  1. Susan I always enjoy reading your writing, you are so open and brutally honest that it helps others who are facing their own struggles. I wish I had your courage and could share some of mine but I can't right now. Maybe someday.