i wanted to take a moment to explain my disease. i've gotten a couple of emails asking about it in the last few months and one most recently, so i've decided to blog about it.
4 years ago, i was diagnosed with panic disorder and GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). (click on the links to learn more about each)
i have had some form or other of GAD my whole life. i've been a huge hypochondriac since i was a small child and it's carried over into adulthood. just enough that if someone got some illness, i was absolutely convinced that i had it as well. i know it's a bit silly, but it's what i've always done. not as much in the childish way now of course...for example when i was younger my dad had apendicitis and when he went to the hospital i was making myself have symptoms because i JUST KNEW that i had it also. hehe. every time something happened to me, i would cry to my mother "am i going to die?" every. single. time. so if all that isn't enough for an onset of this disorder, i don't know what was.
my first panic attack came after a routine check up with my gyno 4 years ago. i had just broken up with my boyfriend and was in the process of buying my first house, so i had a LOT of change going on in my life. apparently my blood pressure was high when i went in and of course they told me to calm down and rest and they would take it again. well...hello...that's the first time anyone ever told me my blood pressure was high, so of course, i made it even worse and stressed out about it. i love my doctor - been going to her since i was 17, but something about the nurse and the doctor's reactions to my blood pressure freaked me the fuck out. she told me she wanted me to go to my general practitioner and see about it. i didn't know anything about blood pressure at the time, so in my mind, it was a death sentence.
so i festered about it as soon as i left the doc and continuing on my way home. i still remember it like it was yesterday. i could feel my heart beating in the back of my skull it was so bad. i was getting a headache and i know my blood pressure was through the roof and didn't go down for many hours. i picked up the ladybug from daycare and we got to the new house that i just bought. there wasn't much furniture yet, because i wasn't due to move until that weekend. i remember feeling "out of my body". my heart was beating so fast and my chest started hurting. here i was with my 4 year old daughter and i thought i was having a heart attack. i curled into a ball on the cold kitchen floor and called 911, then directly after called my folks.
the ambulance got there and the ladybug was petrified. as was i. i thought i was dying and she didn't understand what was going on. my dad finally got there and took care of her while the EMT's worked on me. my blood pressure was sky-rocketed. they didn't think i was having a heart attack, but were concerned because my blood pressure just kept increasing and wouldn't go down at all. they knew if they didn't get me to the hospital soon that it might cause some damage. i kept thinking i was going to die in the ambulance all the way to the hospital. i was terrified. so once i got to the hospital, they ran EKG's and all that fun stuff. they hadn't given me anything yet, but i was already starting to calm down and my blood pressure was falling. not long after running all the tests, the doc came over and said that my heart was fine and all the tests had come back normal. then he asked me if i have ever heard of a panic attack. of course i said no - i had never heard of such a thing. then he asked if i had any major events happen in my life recently that would cause me to worry or any major changes. well...bingo. they gave me some goooooooooooood medicine through my IV that immediately relaxed me and i was floating. not a care in the world. he advised me to go to my doctor that next week and discuss what had happened. so i made an appointment for the following week.
so i thought i was in the clear. panic attack. no big deal.
i went to work the next day and immediately had a panic attack. i had about 3 or 4 in a row that morning to early afternoon. i remember i ended up in my bosses office (she was totally cool) laying on her floor under her desk. i was so worried. i remember calling my dad, then my doctor to get in to see her right away. dad picked me up and we went to the doc.
my blood pressure was so high that when i had my leg crossed over the other in the waiting room, the top leg was bouncing up and down all by itself. i didn't know what was going to happen.
i finally got in to see my doctor and i told her everything that had happened. she said it's too early to tell, but more than likely i have what they call panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. you technically have to have the symptoms for 6 months before they will diagnose you....but she said since it wasn't only one and they kept happening, this was probably the case. she discussed several different treatment options with me. she then prescribed me with some medication firstly for the anxiety to try and control it and secondly for my higher blood pressure. (which might have been tied into the anxiety, but either way, it was better to get me started on something).
so we started on lexapro. and for immediate relief when a panic attack struck, she gave me klonopin. you have to understand that up until this point, i HATED taking pills. despised it. i was on birth control pills, but it was an act of God to even get me to take those on a regular basis. i hated the fact that i would be taking pills for something "in my head", but i knew i had to do something because the panic attacks were out of control. i was scared to go anywhere for the fear that one would strike at any time.
the first week i was still having the attacks regularly. the second week i was on it, the attacks subsided a bit, but i felt numb. i didn't feel happy or sad or anything in between. like i was walking through life without any emotion. it was the strangest feeling i've ever felt. that lasted for a couple of weeks. then i started to feel like myself again and the panic attacks had backed away profusely. i had several follow up visits with my doctor to see how i was doing on each of the medications. turns out most of the high blood pressure was anxiety related and the dosage she had me on had my blood pressure too low. so she decreased the dosage to a very minimal, but regulatory strength.
throughout the following months i still had several attacks, but they were not as severe as the first few that i had. the medication seemed to be working with my body quite well. the attacks laid off for a couple of months, then BAM. i got hit with an even worse string of attacks. these lasted for about 2 weeks. it was horrid - i was having a bat of agoraphobia and was terrified to even leave the comfort of my home or get in a car. at any point that i would get stuck in traffic, i panicked horribly. during the first 3 months of my diagnosis, i lost about 25 lbs. i couldn't eat anything to save my life. the weight loss wasn't bad, but the way i was losing it was certainly not ideal. and it wasn't on purpose that's for sure.
for the first 2 years, i seemed to go in spurts of attacks. i would have some for a couple of weeks, then it would taper off again and i wouldn't have another block of them for several months. but i had gotten really good at not fighting them and just letting them happen.
at one point about 2 years ago, i decided i wanted to try and get off my medication and use cognitive therapy through a program directly targeted to anxiety. talked to my doctor and she advised me to do it slowly and if at any time it wasn't working, i needed to get back on the medication. yikes. that was a bad idea - i was certainly not at a point in my life to try and do that on my own. i quickly went back on the medication.
it's been 4 years and 4 months since my first panic attack and here i am still on lexapro and my blood pressure medication. and i've never been better as far as my disease being under control. most people look at me and my disposition and ask the question "how could YOU ever have this? you are the calmest person i know". well.....in theory yes and in most aspects of my life i am a very passive and patient person. but there's this one thing that gets me - anxiety. and it's a real disease and it's something i have to live with for the rest of my life. i later found out that my grandmother had this quite terribly actually, but back then, it wasn't treated nor recognized as something real.
"it's all in your head. just stop thinking that way."
a word of advise - don't EVER say this to someone that is suffering from a mental disease...whether it be anxiety, depression and any sub-disease under either category. these diseases are real and they are not made up. just like cancer or MS or any other "physical" disease. they just happen to be mental diseases. but they are among us and more people suffer from them than you think ever existed. i've seen it first hand. once i was diagnosed with this disease, all sorts of people i know came out of the woodwork and have the same thing as i do. or discovered they were having the same symptoms.
a good resource for anxiety disorders can be found here: ADAA. i personally visit usually once a week. if you or anyone you know may be suffering from this, advise them to visit that site.
so that's my story or novel for that matter. i hope to one day be able to manage this on my own and start cognitive therapy to keep it at bay. i don't know when that time will be, but when i do decide to try again i'm definitely going to make sure i'm in the right place and time in my life to begin this sort of treatment. to those of you reading this that have, i admire you and your strength for being able to do it on your own. that's my ultimate goal and i hope to some day be there as well.
thanks for reading. happy weekend everyone.