Hi All. I've spent a little time reading your posts and in the chat rooms, enough to see that there are some really awesome brave people here battling with the same stuff I battle with on a daily basis. Thanks for all of your inspiration. I guess it's my turn to say hello and introduce myself...please bear with my long story.
I am 43 years old and have fought with Panic Disorder and Anxiety for almost 10 years. I started having panic attacks after a back surgery in 2005 - my mother had died earlier that year and I also had a very high pressure job in NYC at the time. With my back injury came pain meds, and I got kind of hooked on those and was mixing them with a lot of drinking. Then, the back surgery. The first night home from the hospital was my first attack. I was sure I was dying, and went to ER. Even after many of these episodes, I still could not be convinced I was having "just a panic attack." The symptoms were SO physical - couldn't breathe, tingling/numbness in hands, heart felt like it was going to explode, I felt like I was going to pass out - just sure I was "at the end."
Things calmed down for a bit, and my boyfriend at the time proposed. Then I lost my job (probably a good thing!) So in the course of about a year: I watched my mom die, I got back surgery, I lost my job and then had a wedding to plan. Probably a lot! Not to mention many many years of simply not taking care of myself properly. My doc prescribed Lexapro, but told me the side effects included weight gain and loss of sexual appetite - 2 things no bride-to-be wants to hear! So I didn't go on it right away (DUMB!) Instead, I had a massive attack the day before my wedding, and then had to come home early from the honeymoon because I was sure I was dying. Again, was still not completely convinced it was "just anxiety" causing everything. And I think all of us have this in the back of our minds no matter how far along we get in our therapies - that maybe there really is some medical reason behind it.
I started therapy and went on Lexapro, and things were better for a while, but I did not really take great care of myself. Still drinking a lot, not a lot of exercise, etc. It wasn't until a few years later (after going off Lexapro) that the attacks came back with a regularity that affected my functionality. We had moved to Boston and I got another stressful job in television (but less stressful than NYC.) And I had gained 30 lbs, too. I was really ready to do whatever it took to get better at that point, and totally embracing the fact that anxiety was causing it. (This was after a few trips to the cardiologist, who told me that he wished HE had my heart. My heart is perfect.)
I would do ANYTHING to avoid having one more panic attack. They are JUST THE WORST things ever! It's during this time that we look at the blackest parts of ourselves, and have to face it all alone. We look death in the face. It feels like you're dying...the scariest thing in the world to me.
I got hooked up with a GREAT doc in Boston area who specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and the first question he asked me was "How much exercise are you getting?" We started by changing a lot of my behavior, and what better motivation to have than avoiding panic! I started walking, doing yoga (at home!), I stopped drinking caffeine and alchohol, and stopped eating meat and started cooking good things. I think I needed to learn how to take care of myself and love myself in a way. These physical changes helped balance things, but I was still having attacks. We worked on CBT, and I learned so much about controlling my thoughts and not letting them become anything more. It's a lot of self talk, constantly doing battle with anxiety that wants to squirm in and take over if you're not paying attention. You have to be really vigilant. I kept a log of EVERYTHING I was doing and when I would have an attack. I never went back on medication during this time, only if I was having an attack, and then I would take diazepam in a low dose.
I lost a lot of weight, and quit my stressful job, and moved back to my hometown where my parents live. Part of the problem with my situation in Boston was that my husband has a job where he travels a lot, so I felt like I had no one up there. Being here is being 'home' in a way, and there's someone nearby if I need it. It's been well over 2 years since I've had a panic attack, but I really am a different person. I wish I didn't have to be so vigilant but I worry about the panic coming back, and of course that causes anxiety and some depression that I can't live totally freely.
I've gotten a lot better, and in some ways I feel I've "beaten" anxiety...but I think it's something I will always have to live with. I need to have the 'perfect recipe' for good balance in order to be anxiety free, and that's a lot of work. It's great to be on the other side of Panic, though. For all of you still experiencing it, I want to give you hope that it's possible to change and overcome this awful thing. It takes a lot of work but I did it. I still need to feel supported though, and I still sometimes feel like anxiety has won if I don't go do something because I know it will be too much for me.
I think this site is great and want to thank those who set it up for doing so, and for all of you who take the time to reach out and make us feel like we are not alone.
Keep fighting the good fight!