Tag Archives: panic attacks

Putting Myself Out There

Despite how busy summer has been I have found myself doing very few of the things I wanted to do. I’m fully aware that feeling helplessness doesn’t look good on me, so I decided to try a few things outside my comfort zone in an effort to feel more in control of my own life and to pep up a potentially dangerous sense of boredom.

For better or worse, my sense of curiosity has always been able to steer me into the mindset of, “well let’s try _____ and see what happens!” Sometimes the results have been wonderful and sometimes they have been devastating, so when I went to work trying to decide what new thing to try I wanted to be a little conscientious of that fact. Ideally trying something new and maintaining whatever scrap of emotional and mental stability I have is the goal, but knowing that living with treatment resistant symptoms of bipolar disorder means that any little detail could potentially rock my brain-boat is challenging. I have often found myself opting to do nothing at all because doing anything is potentially risky (in terms of creating instability in my mental health) but, tired of doing nothing, I decided the reward was potentially worth the risk.

I have been described as having an “overactive imagination” and more than one therapist has told me that when things are perfectly fine my mind has a tendency to imagine problems that aren’t really there… these days I would consider this description to be something like a cute version of saying, “psychosis”. For a time I thought this might lend itself well to writing fiction, but back in 2007 when I tried my hand at writing a novel I found that I lost track of where the novel ended and reality began. The problems in the story became the problems of real life, and I abruptly vowed never to venture down that path again.

All this time I’ve been writing nonfiction instead, and while I’ve enjoyed writing for this blog the past five years I feel like I am constantly moving toward the point where I wont have anything more to say without being redundant. I’ve been learning a lot about myself and writing in the process (and I don’t expect to stop any time soon) but part of me has wondered if I could write about something else. Anything else, really. I admit there are times where I don’t want to think about my own mental health. I want the freedom to think of other things, of other problems, and for the love of Pete, to talk about something other than myself.

With a little experimentation I found that while writing fiction that takes place in a modern setting (like my writing in 2007) is too close to my own life for me to separate myself from it, writing about situations on other planets or in places I’ve never actually been seems to create enough distance to keep my mind from getting the two confused. It seems that following an odd story down a rabbit hole makes perfect use of my (previously useless) problem-generating brain because stories need conflicts to be interesting.

Writing any fiction at all certainly took me out of my comfort zone, but in the past few weeks I decided to take things one step further and I joined a local writing group. Frankly just getting out of my apartment to meet with them was a huge step and even though I was anxious as heck to make my first appearance I did my best to remind myself that they’re strangers, so who cares if they like me anyway?

It turns out they are all quirky, imaginative, and intelligent individuals and just passively listening to them share about the different projects they are writing was both interesting and encouraging. Within an hour or two I found myself holding conversations with people casually and I left knowing that I wanted to go back again.

Of course, I put it off a little. Since it is a critique group I knew that at some point I would have to share something I had written, and when I’m working on something I’m typically very private about it until the final version is completed. Even though I don’t like sharing something unfinished because of how vulnerable it makes me feel, I have had a lot of questions that I knew would probably be answered if I just powered through my anxiety and shared my work.

So the thing I did this week to step out of my comfort zone was to read something I had written in front of a group of people and listen to their feedback. I had a knot in my stomach all day leading up to the group and every five minutes I could feel myself changing my mind, thinking, “well… I’ll print these read along pages and bring them, but I don’t have to read them.” Then, “well… I will tell the moderator I have something to read, but maybe they wont get to me before the group ends.”

Finally, that night at the group after an hour and a half the moderator asked me, “do you want to go next?”

I knew that if I left without reading I would feel twice as anxious the next time around and I knew I couldn’t handle a double dose of anxiety driven irritable gut another day. I had already gone through 5 or 6 tums and it seemed there was little to do but press on.

I decided to take a leap of faith and even though it was wildly uncomfortable, even though my hands were shaking and my ribs were contracting as I powered through a panic attack while I read, I reached the last page in a triumphant (and slightly dissociative) stupor.

I never used to have problems reading aloud, not when I was in school. I gave so many presentations, so many speeches (even publicly at the state fair) that I never expected to feel so overwhelmed when speaking publicly. I know my anxiety is much worse these days, but I also think that the unfinished nature of my story and the effort I had put into it were huge in informing how nervous I was.

I also know that my Achilles heel is judgement. I’ve never taken criticism particularly well, never felt good about the idea of being examined and torn apart. I feel like I can say that I generally feel good about who I am, but there has always been the fear of judgement present in some form in my life. Fear of God’s judgement as a child, fear around the judgement from my peers in school, fear around critiques in college, and fear around the scrutiny of Social Security and the government as a disabled adult.

By the time I stumbled into the critique portion of the reading I had catastrophized the whole situation so much that it inevitably went much better than I expected. Some of my concerns were confirmed, some new issues were brought to my attention, but for the most part everyone seemed excited about what I had written, which acted as a cork in my odorous anxiety bottle.

My boyfriend, sweet as he is, went to work right away when I got home to remind me that I don’t need to take any of the advice I was given. I don’t need to change anything I wrote if I don’t want to. I know he has continuously witnessed the way other people’s opinions have acted like quicksand for me in the past. The defiantly obsessive portion of my brain loves to latch on to those statements without letting go, and I immediately found myself wrestling with them as they echoed (ironically) in my mind, “redundant, redundant, redundant…”

The difference now comes from the knowledge that has come from my DBT group. I know that when I’m closed in with the garbled echoes of disappointment or disapproval or judgement I can open the windows in my brain-house and let that stuff escape. I don’t have to be hosting the equivalent of a mental dinner party six years from now and set an extra place setting for “redundant” because it’ll be long gone. That’s the hope, anyway.

Having said that, I don’t know if I will read my writing aloud again any time soon. I need time to practice letting go of these comments, time to sort them out of the “terribly important, don’t stop thinking about this,” pile into the, “backlog” bin. If I can manage it without much incident I expect to have another go, because having the opportunity to practice letting go of, “this sentence is redundant,” is infinitely easier to me than having to let go of considerably more cruel and pointless scrutiny. Anything I can do to help myself learn and grow is good, but anything that also helps me learn to be less reactive and less prone to destabilization is a serious win.


Now With Even More Damage Control!

My ability to write right now is severely limited, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.

First I want to note that my stomach pain and problems seem to be stable-ish at the moment. Granted, I am not eating anything acidic, dairy, beef, or caffeine (so pretty much carbs, carbs, some peas, and more carbs) but my stomach seems to be coming around. I’m hoping that over the next few weeks I can introduce some small bits of more exciting food to it (condiments! flavors!) and see what will happen, but as it is now it appears that stopping the Seroquel has also put an end to my stomach’s apparent suicidality.

There are several symptoms I have been experiencing however that have not improved.

Though the reduction of wellbutrin from 300 mg to 150 mg earlier this week did reduce the amount of blurry vision and inability to focus I was having, it did not seem to touch the dizziness, nausea, eye pain, and (what I have now pinpointed to be) sensitivity to light and sound. The sensitivity to light has become severe enough that I can’t use the TV, computer, or even my iphone without turning the brightness all the way down, wearing sunglasses, and then only using it for a few minutes at a time before stopping again. Failing to do this results in intense dizziness, eye pain, and increasing nausea.

Having to wear sunglasses indoors makes me feel like a doofus. Strangers keep accusing me of trying to look cool, which (believe me) is pretty much the opposite of how I feel right now.

Even now I am writing a paragraph of this post at a time, hanging out in the kitchen for several minutes, and then coming back to write more. Needless to say, unless things change drastically soon my posts will probably be fairly few and far between for a while.

Since both my regular doctor, my GI specialist, and I thought these symptoms were also associated with the Seroquel (which I have been off for two weeks now with no improvement, and actual worsening the last few days) there are several theories floating around.

One theory (from my GI specialist) is that I might have some kind of bowel disease. I will probably be subjected to the pleasure of receiving a colonoscopy in the next two weeks to check for that.

After seeing the ear doctor (to check up on the theory of some kind of inner ear problem and finding nothing) his theory was that it might have to do with an eye problem.

After seeing the eye doctor (who found no evidence of any abnormalities) his theory is that it is a neurological problem -or- a side effect of one of the other medications I’m taking.

Going back to my GI doctor she agreed seeing a neurologist is also a good idea, since I have a history of weird headaches and headache symptoms and this could potentially be all of the symptoms of a migraine without the actual headache part. Apparently that can happen, albeit rarely.

In the meantime, my theory is that it has to do with one of the drugs I’m taking, so I am systematically phasing all drugs out and then back in individually to rule them out as culprits for this issue. The ones I have left to scrutinize are lithium (which I’m not particularly worried about because I’ve been taking it several years now), the wellbutrin, and ranitidine (an acid reflux medication). Both the wellbutrin and ranitidine have potential side effects involving dizziness, vision problems, and vertigo, and these weird symptoms came on right around the time I increased the wellbutrin and started the ranitidine.

Though the side effect thing really gets my goat, if these symptoms are a side effect I think I would be grateful at this point. Really the alternative would involve something potentially being seriously wrong with my brain or bowels which (let’s face it) doesn’t sound like a good time.

Plus I think it is the responsible thing to do to really scrutinize my medications at this point because I have a long history of getting weird side effects and it is much easier (and financially viable) to stop taking something for a week or two (with my doctor’s consent) than to move forward with brain scans and swallowing radioactive bullets and whatnot. Obviously, I will do those things if I need to, but why go there if it isn’t actually necessary?

In conclusion; things are better and worse. Thankfully I’ve switched back to depression this week because I couldn’t go to all of these appointments half deranged (let alone fully deranged). As usual, I am trying to do the best I can… and though “best” in this situation involves a lot of panic attacks and crying, I at least have sunglasses to hide my tears behind.

Still Waiting for an SSDI Decision

After the SSDI hearing in February (but pre post-hearing mental breakdown) my attorney told me to expect a letter in the mail with a decision in 3-5 weeks.

In the midst of the intensely depressed meltdown that followed, I checked the mail each day (some days twice) in hopes of hearing something. Every day since February 13th I have put my mail key in the mailbox and experienced a panic attack being triggered. The faster I put the key in and open it before closing it again, the more quickly the panic attack ends.

This has been the routine every day (except Sundays, and as I mentioned, some days twice because the mail didn’t come on time) for nine weeks now.

The intense depression dissipated. The notion that my life would end if I wasn’t awarded SSDI has passed. I’ve formulated a new future in my mind, a future where I don’t have the things that I wanted… and that is ok with me now. I know that leaving my home and having to find a new one farther away from the city is part of that future, but in the last couple weeks (without the depression) it doesn’t feel like the burden it felt like before.

I am no stranger to a sense of paranoia, of distrust, and I admit I was beginning to become suspicious of my mailman. After all, he works so inconsistently… what if he lost my decision letter? What if he was sitting in his little white hatch-back eating fried chicken reading it? I know. But that is where my mind goes!

Two weeks ago someone (Corey? A friend? My sister? I don’t recall) suggested I call my attorney’s office to see if they had any news. I agreed this was a great idea, but was so hypomanic all this time the days kept slipping past, faster and faster, and I forgot (several times).

When I made up my mind to call the office, I couldn’t remember the name of my case worker. Once I remembered it, I couldn’t remember if I was remembering it correctly, and my fear of phone calls was compounded by the thought that I would call the office and ask for someone that didn’t exist.

I finally made the call on Wednesday. The name I remembered was the right name, but the case worker said it isn’t uncommon for the decision to take this long, if not longer. 

The words she said rung in my ears:

“They haven’t made a decision yet.”

As much as I want to know the conclusion of all this fun I can’t help but feel pleased with the fact that there is still some element of mystery. Mystery in the sense that if they want to approve my claim, take your time! On the other hand, if you want to deny it, do it as soon as humanly possible.

At any rate, I’ve been waiting to go into more detail about the hearing until I received my decision letter… which of course I thought would be sooner rather than later. At this point, if the deep contemplation going on over there has things leaning in any way in my favor, take nine more weeks. I really don’t mind.

Anxiety Begets Anxiety

Yesterday I was in the office of a G.I. specialist, as my stomach has been hurting quite a lot lately. You see, I’m an eater. A foodie. So… it is an odd occurrence for me to have to try and convince myself to eat something. Lately it has been so painful in the moments after eating that my desire for food has shut down.

<enter G.I. specialist>

She said she wanted me to do an endoscopy (where they put a rod with a camera down your throat to look at your stomach) to which I replied in a favorable way.

They put you out for that, right?

I couldn’t imagine them not.

Well it is scheduled for tomorrow, and as I read through the mound of paperwork they gave me about the procedure (which contains a lot of instructions but not a lot of actual information) my heart skipped a beat.

Semiconscious sedation.

My pulse quickened, my throat constricted, and someone threw another log on the fire in my stomach.

All night all I could imagine was having a panic attack right in the middle of the procedure while that thing was down my throat.

Heck, I practically had a panic attack yesterday morning from getting an ultrasound of my stomach.

I don’t seem to have any say in when these things happen, all I can do is some deep breathing and closing of the eyes (and can you do deep breathing with a scope down your throat?).

This morning, still panicky, I called the doctor’s office to see if I could switch to full sedation. The receptionist said I could, but I could no longer have the procedure tomorrow.

And here is my dilemma. The more time that passes between now and the procedure, the more anxious and panicky I will be. If we had done it yesterday, I was cool as a cucumber, practically sedated on my own, but the notion of anticipation doesn’t bode well for me.

At this point I am waiting to see who will win out. The anxiety about the procedure itself, or the anxiety around waiting for the procedure to happen. I know either way it is going to be wildly uncomfortable, and I am waiting to speak to the nurse to get more details about the procedure before I make my final decision.

Of course, there is more to it as well. I need a chaperone because of the sedation, and getting that straightened out has really been the hardest part. Having to schedule a new appointment all over again would undo the work I did yesterday, and my chaperone wouldn’t be for sure. Without a chaperone, they will cancel the appointment when I arrive.

It’s an edgy morning. I’d better force-feed myself some breakfast.

SSDI Update – Application Acknowledged

Something finally happened. No verdict has been reached in my social security disability case, but at least my case has been acknowledged.

I am someone who has a very difficult time talking on the phone to people I don’t know. I get really severe anxiety in many situations, anything from calling my workplace (in the past), to making a doctor’s appointment, to even ordering a pizza. I don’t know what it is, but that anxiety has left me having panic attacks (both about the prospect of talking on the phone as well as talking on the phone itself) on more than one occasion.

That said, I think you can understand that if I knew someone from the social security office was going to call me, I would have been a mess. I suppose at that rate, not knowing was a little bit helpful, but I was totally and completely thrown off when I got the call.

Then came the actual talking. The man on the other end of the receiver had questions about my condition. He wanted me to recount why I had lost my last job, how severe my symptoms were, and then (to my surprise) he asked about chronic headaches -something he was reading about in my medical files.

The bits about bipolar disorder I really think I can understand for the most part. Reflecting on being off my rocker in October is much less embarrassing now that I’ve had some time to really think it over, and I’ve had this blog to help me piece it all together.

The chronic headaches I have, however, are a different story entirely. I found myself at a loss for words, really unable to describe what neither myself (nor the doctors) understand. My head hurts, is really all I can tell you, and it hurts every day. Some days I can’t function because of it, other days I just push through. Subjective, yes, I know.

I don’t know if it was my anxiety or the man I had the conversation with or if I was just blanking out sporadically, but I have a vague recollection that I only answered half of the questions he asked. He was talking fast, my responses were slow, and I recall not having answered many of the questions before me moved on to the next.

That fact left my stomach in a series of painful knots as soon as I hung up the phone, and I spent the next two days fretting over what had taken place. Was I helpful to my case? Had I hurt my chances by not talking faster and answering more? I didn’t even know someone was going to call me! If I had known I could have prepared!

But… maybe they don’t want people too prepared. That could be part of it.

This whole thing has been very elusive and tricky and, at times, difficult to understand. Who are these people who decide who is disabled enough to warrant federal aid? I’d like to believe they are fresh, bright people with a substantial desire to help others… but I’m sure that is just brazen optimism on my part.

It is hard to willingly put yourself in a position where people are judging you without having mixed emotions I think. Feeling hopeful but defensive really leaves one open to having their feelings hurt.

In any case, I decided to stop thinking about it because the initial denial rate for SSDI is so high (and I certainly expect to be denied initially) that my awkward phone conversation couldn’t have really hurt me in the long run.

I know there is still a long way to go on this thing, but the best I can do is move forward and not allow it to drive me (entirely) crazy.

10% November

Well, here we are again.

As you may have guessed, the response to my particular health situation varies highly based on the person who is responding to it.

I met the new store manager yesterday, and just now (within 24 hours) I am being told that my needs at work cannot be met (scheduling and shift length) because she doesn’t know if I am capable of doing all the tasks related to this job.

The parameters in which I was hired are now null and void. The new manager will not accept an employee working simply 10 hours a week (which I am currently, and struggling somewhat) and asked me if she scheduled me for 15 hours if I could also do some “light work” in the back of house on other days.

This is not a good morning.

Last night I went to the emergency room, but not for what you’d think (a little ironic considering my last post). I apparently had an episode of vertigo, and then continued my evening by hyperventilating. Instead of just blacking out like any normal person, I topped it off by having the mother of all panic attacks.

I’ve had panic attacks before, in fact I’ve had two in the last 4 hours.

But this, this was beyond the realm of any manageable panic attack. My whole body froze up, but not just for a minute or two. It was as if every muscle in my body was flexed and I was stuck in these ridiculous poses (like some kind of life size Gumby doll). Not only was it excruciatingly painful, I couldn’t seem to get any of my body to do what I wanted.

Have you ever had moments where your brain told your hand to cover your yawn and your hand just laughed instead? It took two firemen to get me into the ambulance, and I decided to go to the hospital because the symptoms from the  combination of the vertigo/hyperventilation/panic attack (which I didn’t know at the time what it was) led me to believe I was in some kind of mortal jeopardy.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Just the most bizarre, frustrating onset of awkward symptoms I have ever had in my life.

Honestly I am a little proud of myself, because even when I thought I might be dying I kept a pretty good attitude. I appreciated the irony of every little moment and found myself cracking jokes between gritted teeth. For a moment I was worried I might be experiencing the most terrifying manic episode ever because there were little hints of delusions, a moment or two where I thought someone might kill me… but for the most part, my mind was fairly calm. It was very dream like.

I’m sure the statement I get in the mail from the hospital will be everything BUT dreamlike, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.

So, follow that up with my new boss this morning?

How frustrating. She allowed for zero negotiation, and that basically means I need to get out of there asap. I can’t allow myself to get to the point where I let her talk me into doing things I am uncomfortable with, which is basically what happened on the phone today, but I am equally as terrified to try and find another job I can actually do and will take me.

Oh, and my therapist cancelled our appointment tonight because she’s sick.

Happy November!