My First Panic Attack
Despite all the chaos in my life right now, I am still managing to throw myself into my book for a couple of hours on the train and before bed (ok, maybe once this week when I didn't fall asleep on the couch, but whatever) and right now I am plowing through Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.
Reading books about anxiety can go one of two ways for me: it can make me feel better and less alone for suffering from it, and even laugh at the absurdity of it all (much like Augusten Burroughs books do) or it makes me hyper-aware that my anxiety does indeed exist, that it came from somewhere deep and dark and that it is never, ever going to be a non-factor in my life. Monkey Mind is simultaneously doing both, which is great for the laughs but holy crap not the best timing for analyzing what I secretly refer to as my "anxiety monster". I know, not a very original pet name, but it makes it a little more childlike and a little less scary to call it that when in the throes of believing I am having a stroke, so that is it's name.
I am less than half way through the book but it has me thinking a lot about where my anxiety came from and when it really started being a factor in my life. I can look back to being very young and remember situations that definitely give me anxiety now, and I assume made me feel something similar then, but it was not until I was sixteen that I really started recognizing what was happening to my body; this is also when I sought out help for it and allowed me to start defining the feelings I was having. I have strong memories of panicking in response to situations as a young child, even appropriately so, but it was not until one event when I was sixteen that I remember having a response to something that was not tangible.
Growing up in Reno is probably a pretty good backdrop for a lot of anxiety stories, and that is just where this one starts. As a teenager in the punk rock community, my life revolved around basement shows and coffee shops, as did most everyone's across the nation. However, our coffee shops were inside of casinos and featured all sorts of bright lights, repetitive sounds, thick cigarette smoke and drunk people to make a sort of obstacle course of stimuli. This particular night my friends and I had completed about three hours worth of caffeine consumption and decided to wander around a particularly busy and hectic casino. I remember walking through and seeing the world tilt like a fun house mirror and the noise sounding like it was being funneled directly into my brain. Almost immediately I lost my sense of balance, my heart started pounding and my legs went weak as sweat began to form in the most painful way I have ever felt. Not knowing what to do I ran to the entrance, leaving my confused friends to bolt after me. I spilled out onto the sidewalk and sat on the ground, terrified of what was happening to me. I wanted to call an ambulance but was scared I would get in trouble with my parents (even though I was not doing anything I was not supposed to be doing). I remember two guys outside trying to make me feel better but were drunk and kind of annoying and my friends were totally unaware of the extreme sense of dying I was going through and boy oh boy was that a way to learn about panic attacks. I was in this all by myself and had no fucking clue how to get myself out of it.
Someway, somehow I managed to convince myself that I was not actually dying and maybe just had too much caffeine (definitely a fact) and I got myself home in my little 1974 VW bug. That night I tossed and turned and had crazy thoughts, terrible stomach pains and could not shake the sense that I felt like I was dying. It was terrifying. It still is, thinking back to that night 16 years later. I had no idea what was happening to me and was scared out of my mind with no idea as to what I should do.
It was within a few weeks of this night that I had another attack so bad that I nearly crashed my car and ended up having my mom take me to the ER for what we thought was an asthma attack only to learn that I was suffering from panic attacks (in addition to a generalized anxiety disorder). I will never forget that ride to the hospital, my poor mom helpless as to how to help me, yelling at cars to please hurry so she could get me in the care of doctors, unaware that I was not actually about to die.
Anxiety is SCARY. For us sufferers, for our families, for our friends and for all of those who suffer without knowing what is happening to them. For these reasons I have decided to start putting down a little more of my experiences and sharing them here. If one person relates, great. If one person gets help because of it, even better. If nothing, it helps me to look back over the beginning of my struggle with the anxiety monster and to show how I got to where I am now, which is a pretty good tamer of the monster, but still very much in the ring with it.
Oh, and I will be sure to let you know how the rest of the book goes, as long as I don't need too much xanax to get through it ;)