I can’t really tell you when this issue began in my brain, but I can pinpoint the exact moment when it became an issue.
I was living in L.A., driving home from the beach, heading East on Olympic Boulevard. Suddenly, the hair on the back of neck stood up. The pain in my left armpit intensified. My heart began to race. My vision became blurred. My breathing became forced. I felt like I was going to faint. I was convinced I was having a full-blown heart attack. I told my then-roommate that I was about to pass out, and to grab the wheel if I did.
Fortunately, I made it hope safe, and chalked up the whole issue to fatigue and dehydration.
Until it happened again three weeks later, while working on a soundstage during a very popular show at the time, at a very predominate studio. I was dating the co-host of this show and he offered to take me to the ER. I said no. I was embarrassed beyond belief. Again, I chalked it up to poor nutrition and dehydration.
After a third incident, I realized something more serious was going on.
My co-workers had the decency to drive me to the nearest hospital, where I was tested for everything under the sun.
Every test came out negative. I was in perfect physical form; heart, lungs, liver, kidney, the works. The doc gave me a Valium and told me to go home and get some rest. I would spend the next few years with doctors being told that there was nothing physically wrong with me, that I just needed to relax and pop a pill when necessary.
Fast forward to 1999. I was preparing to marry the man I though was the love of my life, yet dealing with physical pain I’ve never experienced before. And my ‘weird attacks’ were increasing. It got to the point where I couldn’t even get into a car to go somewhere without something happening.
Here I was, newly married, what should be the best time in my life….yet I felt completely paralyzed.
In 2000, my then-husband and I moved across the country so he could further his career. I spent weeks house-hunting for the perfect abode so we could start our life together. Yet the whole time, the attacks got worse. They would happen at random, without warning, and completely debilitated me.
A few months into our move to this new city, I had enough. I was done being told to “just relax”, because “relaxing” wasn’t fucking cutting it. Something more was going on within my own body and I wanted a clear, concise answer.
I booked an appointment with my new primary physician, expecting the worst but hoping for the best. I told her of my symptoms. She sat and listened. She reviewed my medial charts. She then asked me about my personal life. How was my marriage? Was I really happy? What expectations was I responsible for? How did I feel about my self-image? Did I feel repressed?
HUH?! Um, what the hell does that have to do with my physical being?
So I took a chance, and answered all her questions. Honestly, openly.
She looked me square in the eye and said there was nothing physically wrong with me, I just had a mental imbalance that was irritated by exterior issues. She diagnosed me with having anxiety disorder, which displayed itself in the form of panic attacks. These attacks are usually genetic, and could happen at any moment, not necessarily while in distress. Yet outside stressors could aggravate my condition.
This was a huge awakening for me. At last! Someone who knew what the hell she was talking about. I thrilled with the diagnosis, yet pissed beyond belief. So this shit is genetic?! And I have no control what was going on with my brain?! WHAT THE WHAT?! I wanted to scream at my parents for passing on this disorder and rip my head off for not cooperating with the status quo.
She put me on a low-dose medication and recommended I talk with a therapist. She felt that once I worked out my mental issues, my physical symptoms would subside. I had no clue how seeing a shrink would help my issues, but I trusted her advice. I left the office with a script, a phone number, and a sliver of hope.
I started the meds immediately. Yea, that wasn’t fun. The biggest side effect was the shakes. I couldn’t hold a fork nor a makeup brush properly. For the first time in my life, I had no control of my motor functions. And for someone that uses their hands quite often, this sucked. Those first 2 weeks became a struggle between brain and body.
Yet, when that drug kicked in, it was wonderful. I finally regained normality. The horrible thoughts that would run through my brain every moment of every day just stopped. My physical symptoms just stopped. I was able to continue with daily functions that previously inhibited me. My therapy sessions gave me an outlet to vent my frustrations.
After a year, I finally I felt I had a grasp of my condition…until I got pregnant.
In May of 2001, I found out I was expecting. I told my primary doctor, who instructed me to slowly wean myself off of the drug I was on. I freaked out and quit, cold turkey. My fear of hurting the baby was more than hurting myself. Surprisingly, I went the whole pregnancy without incident. Until 6 months after Little Woman’s birth.
I was sitting in my beautiful new kitchen, trying to feed my daughter some lunch, when ‘those’ feeling hit me. The hair on my neck and arms stood up. I became dizzy. I found myself gasping for breath. I knew exactly what was happening and became scared. My worst fear was to pass out with an infant in my care. I managed to call my then-husband and told him to come home NOW, something was wrong.
A couple of days later, I was back in my doc’s office, being prescribed the same meds I was on pre-pregnancy. My doc was honest with me and said that I may live with my condition for the rest of my life.
This was a huge slap in the face. I broke down and cried. This wasn’t going to end. This wasn’t going to fucking end!
Eventually, my meds saw me through the deterioration of my marriage shortly after the birth of our daughter. I honestly don’t think could handle the mental weight that was thrown on me during a divorce.
Much like my marriage, all things must come to end. This included medical coverage. 6 months later, I found myself with no way to afford my prescribed medication. Once again, I had to quit cold turkey. Yet this time, involuntarily.
At that same time, I was living alone with my daughter in a small one-bedroom apartment, the best I could afford, trying to regain some semblance of a normal life. This was the most difficult time in my life, yet at the same time, the most freeing moment I’ve ever known.
And the best part? I stopped having panic attacks.
I suddenly became aware of the situation that was choking the life out of me and causing me so much pain; physical, mental, the works. It was the toxic relationship I had with my then-husband.
Like, DUH! How did I not see this happening?!
I took my last anxiety pill in March of 2005. And I’m proud to say, I’ve never needed one since. I am almost 10 years panic-free, without incident.
Yes, I am still susceptible to have another attack; my imbalance could always present itself at the most random moment. I understand this and live with this everyday. But I now am empowered enough to have the knowledge to understand and control my condition.
For those that suffer, I know your pain. You are not alone, so take comfort in that.
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