Monday, August 31, 2015


I’ve always been sort of proud of being edgy. I like having a little bit of rebellion in my heart; not enough that it gets me in trouble, but just enough that I feel like I’m not cookie-cutter.

But lately, my edginess has nothing to do with anything that can be viewed from the inside or outside as desirable. About a month ago, I was driving to work. It was Ben’s first day of school, and I’d just dropped him off at his friend’s house to walk to school. When Thomas was in elementary, this never would have happened. He would have wanted me there, and I would have made sure I was there. But Ben is a different kid, and so I dropped him off. We had also changed his school track from our second choice to our very last choice. He couldn’t be on the one with his friends, and so we picked the bottom-run choice so he could be with the kid across the street on his track. We had gone to Snowbird for a few nights the week before – our big “vacation” for the year. It was great – we hiked for hours, rode the trams and Peruvian lifts, the mountain coaster and Alpine slide to our heart’s content. It was a fun time, but it wasn’t the vacation we are used to. No beach running, in other words. No soul-soothing ocean time. (Not that it’s necessary to have a beach to have a good vacay, but this was the first time in 6 years that we didn’t go. Sigh.) In addition, I’d had a scary little episode on Saturday where I suddenly felt light headed and dizzy – like a drop on a roller coaster, minus the roller coaster. I was fine a little while later, but I didn't like the feeling and didn't know what to make of it.

As I said, I was driving to work. I thought I was handling the stress of the day quiet well, but suddenly I wasn’t. I had a moment just after I got on the freeway where I remembered that scary, light headed feeling from Saturday. Or maybe I actually felt the same feeling. But whatever it was, the actual feeling or the memory, it terrified me. I all of a sudden couldn’t keep myself in check. I pulled over for a few minutes and then talked myself back into traffic, but it was no good. I was making terrible choices, turning the radio up and down and trying to breathe and trying desperately hard to stay in control. I finally swerved to the inside of the freeway in a very wide, safe place, far from traffic. I sat there for almost an hour, trying to pull it together, trying to get my breathing under control, trying to muster the courage to pull into traffic.

I couldn’t do it. I found myself waiting for Shane to come and get me while a very nice Laotian police officer read his emails in his patrol car behind me, waiting it out with me until I had assistance. Shane came and was able to do what I couldn’t – get out of that terrible physical place. He drove me to an Instacare so I could see a doctor. I was terrified I was having a heart attack, or that something equally bad was happening inside my body. Because, after all, I’m edgy, remember? I don’t lose control. I don’t get scared easily and I always pull back into traffic. Hell, I’m the one who would come and get someone else from their stuck place on the freeway.

The doctor appointment was a disaster. I was exhausted from my time on the freeway, and when the doctor asked me “what kind of dizziness were you feeling” I just didn’t have the mental fortitude to answer his question. Slumped on the tiny exam room table, I told him I didn’t know. He sort of looked at Shane like – what the crap? If she can’t answer, who can? – but it was true: I just didn’t know. I didn’t know how to articulate the quality of my dizziness. And why would that matter? My ideal response would have been - I’m obviously dying, you idiot, and you want to know what the dizziness was like? I hate you.

And then he proceeded to tell me it was all in my head and that I wasn’t dying and that if I didn’t like his diagnosis, I could go to the emergency room (Hello $250 copay!) or get my head scanned at a clinic downtown.

I wanted to punch him in the face.

I still want to punch him in the face. But it’s for a different reason. I didn’t want to hear that it was anxiety and that I was otherwise fine. It’s not that I wanted something to be wrong with my heart – I just didn’t want it to be my head. Because hearts can have diagnoses on them that show what is wrong and might be fixed. Or I can take a pill. Or I was hoping for something that was body-oriented, because I don’t want to be that person who, well, can’t detect the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack.

So now I’m here, a month later. I’m still panicking. It’s changed. For the past week or so I have a really hard time going to sleep. I’ll fall asleep, but immediately jerk awake. I convince myself I can’t breathe. I convince myself that the tingling in my stomach means something is terrible happening or is going to happen. It’s consuming. I worry all day that I won’t sleep, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. I take tiny little normal body sensations and make them into something direly wrong, all the while thinking – What is wrong with me? Where is my edge? Why am I suddenly terrified of feeling too full, or having heartburn or of drinking too much water? How can I run 6.5 miles with no problems and yet hyperventilate just lying in my bed?

Last night was better. Or at least an improvement over the previous nights. But I am so f-ing tired of thinking about it and worrying about it and talking about it. I was hungry and tired on my way to work, which sent me into a frenzy (but: I did make it to work. I drove safely all the way to work, talking to myself about silly and not-so-silly things, because if you are talking you are breathing somewhat normally and it’s harder to feel out of breath or light headed.)

I want my edge back. I want to fast forward my life out of this place I’m in. I have had great kindnesses – Shane is being very helpful and we’ve come up with a way for me to express my anxiety to him so I don’t feel like I don’t have anyone to talk to about it. I got an excellent book recommendation that I’m hopeful will help. I have a therapist that I’ve talked to, and can go back to if I want. I can text or call my sisters and they are helpful and loving and encouraging. I also have my doctor (who recommended the therapist) who, if I wanted her to, would give me a prescription for an antidepressant (but I want to do it on my own until I find that I can’t. That may be wise or foolish – I don’t know. But I just don’t know if I want to take one.)

I wouldn’t wish this one anyone. If you’ve experienced anxiety and panic attacks, you have my empathy. If you haven’t, I hope that you never ever do.

If you have any advice or thoughts or tricks you can give me or you can just relate, I will be ever so grateful. In case you are wondering, the book I’m reading is called When Panic Attacks by David Burns. It is really good. He encourages you to write in the book, giving little quizzes and logs for moods. He is really intelligent, and the writing is good. It sort of feels like a self-help book, but thankfully leaves out all of the encouragement to “breathe deeply” that most of the other books on anxiety that I've read lately focus on. (I’m incredibly sick and tired of trying to breathe deeply. I think I’ve forgotten how, because now when I breathe deeply I associate it with panic. Fantastic. Just what I was hoping, I assure you.)


Britt said...

I'm so sorry Becky. I hope things turn around quick. I understand how scary it is to have a problem related to the mind. It's horrible to have a physiological response attributed to something that you so strongly desire to control. Our minds are so special! Any threat to "losing" them is terrifying! And medication, while often helpful, can be a roller coaster. Dealing with side effects, figuring out the dosage, trying to not become addicted or dependent... It makes you feel trapped. I tend to avoid medication, myself, so I understand your not wanting to go on medication right away. ((HUGE))

Melanie said...

I hate that you're going through this! I'm so impressed with your ability to write about it and put it out there. This must be why we're such good friends. I really need friends who can be who they are and talk about their pain openly. Please call me if you want to talk. Love you!

Feisty Harriet said...

I blow bubbles when I need to breathe deeply. It helps slow me down, forces me to exhale slowly to get the best bubbles, and--obviously--bubbles.