The Panic Attack, Written By Sarah, 2010
Never will you feel as alone as you do when you experience a full blown panic attack. As I write this chapter, I am slowly coming down from one. My hands and feet are ice cold. My chest feels slightly numb and warm – similar to that feeling you get after being outside on a cold winter’s night and your body heats up by the fire. My chest is the only part that feels warm though. Each limb, my face, my fingers and toes are freezing to an uncomfortable degree. I’ve just spent the past hour on the toilet. Woken up with a jolt at 1:56 am, I knew what was going to ensue. My stomach began to rumble, and painful gas pains ran through my stomach as though little hands were inside of me clenching areas of my intestines. I laid there breathing…thinking…wanting this feeling to go away. My husband was beside me, curled up like a child in the fetal position. Content and fast asleep. Why not me? I just wanted to close my eyes and fall back into a deep sleep where fear no longer existed. I whimpered quietly, knowing that wasn’t the plan for my immediate future. I tried to meditate. I pictured myself sitting on rock by the water. Tall trees surrounded me and I could see the orange sun setting. Butterflies and dragonflies flew around me like out of a fairy tale. Then reality hit. Within minutes the inevitable was about to happen. I walked quickly to the washroom and sat on the toilet. I opened the drawer next to the toilet where I found one of my many journals. I write in it while on the toilet because most of my fear stems from illness. I’m afraid beyond belief of illness. I haven’t vomited in over seven years. I never want it to happen again. I fear I may literally die if this happens. Realistically I know it is impossible…but try convincing someone of that at 2:00 am when they’re on the toilet exploding with diarrhea and intense gas pains. So here I sit, experiencing the aforementioned. I have to actually WORK to not sob. I am scared beyond belief.
Fight or flight. That’s what they call an attack. Your body reacts to fear the way it would if confronted by an armed robber…or being chased by a rabid dog. A little switch goes off in your brain yelling “Danger, Danger”! Your body then proceeds to create the amount of adrenaline it would take to fight off that armed robber or rabid dog. Only there’s a catch. Nothing frightening or harmful is happening to you. You are simply sitting alone. And in my case, I’m alone on the toilet. The “switch” went off while you were comfortably sleeping and now you sit here alone, scared beyond belief. There is no armed robber or rabid dog. Only you. Alone at 2:00 am on the toilet, doubling over in pain from gas cramps and fear. I wrote in my journal vigorously. I tried to jot down every detail of how I felt during that time. That way, when I have an attack in the future, I can compare the stories and see the truth. That this is just an attack and it will pass. I am not sick. I am not dying. I will get through this. Does it work? Sometimes. Other times it helps for a minute or two, and then my brain begins to yell “Danger, Danger” again and convinces me to believe that illness has finally struck. During this present attack, I am able to convince myself that illness isn’t lurking. I feel hunger pains, not nausea. I am having diarrhea and gas pains, but I also suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and ate enough hummus this weekend to last me a good month or so. That’s all this is, Sarah. It’s simply gas pains and a little diarrhea. Life threatening? Hardly. However, I begin to cry. My body is shaking and getting cold now. My feet bounce off the cold floor below me as my legs dance around with the shaking. It is difficult to write in my journal as my hands too begin to tremble. I’m yawning and sobbing and just want my warm bed. I secretly wish my husband could hear me crying right now and rescue me. I wish he could be here, sitting beside me as I cry with every pain in my stomach. And he’d do it if I asked him. But it’s 2:00 am and he has to work in the morning. I want to call my mom and dad. I’m thirty-two years old, but they’ll still take my 3:00 am calls at the drop of a hat. They’ve never stopped being parents, and are there for me the second I call, crying out “sorry” after they’ve picked up and said “hello?” “Never be sorry”, they always tell me. But I am. I feel guilty on a daily basis. I fear my husband will one day tire of this and find someone more “stable”. I fear my daughter will one day realise that not all mommies are like this and that if I was a good mommy, I’d get over these problems and stop crying. I fear my parents will grow tired of the 3:00 am calls. I fear my friends will roll their eyes when I discuss my fears. My husband tells me I worry too much. I know I do, but then why does it feel so impossible to end this vicious and unrealistic cycle of thinking?
I sat on the toilet for what felt like the entire night. Realistically, it was for approximately thirty minutes. I crawl back into my bed and accidentally knee my husband in his back. I forgot that earlier that night I was already experiencing a lot of anxiety and my husband purposely curled up closer to me than usual so that I wouldn’t feel alone. Now I’ve woken him up. “What is it sweetie?”, he asks half asleep. “It’s hitting me again…I’m so scared…I have pains and a headache and I’m just so scared”. He holds me and reminds me that this too will pass. It always does. I sob on his arm and shake. Every few minutes I am able to feel my body relaxing, but then it is jolted by a pain or a gurgle in my stomach and I sit straight up. I go to the washrooms once again, where I experience nothing more than gas. I begin to feel my body relax now and am finally convinced that the queasiness I feel is absolutely hunger. I wait a few more minutes and then proceed to exit the bathroom. I made the decision this time that for tonight I must move into the living room and sleep on the couch. I will only keep my husband up longer if I begin to cry again.
I hate this. I hate every lingering moment of my attacks and anxiety. When you go to therapy, you are told to “accept” your anxiety. The sooner you accept it the sooner it will pass. Well, I’ve accepted my physical symptoms several times but apparently I am not doing a thorough job because the anxiety continues to intervene in my every day life. I’m scared and frustrated.