Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In the Still of the Night...

...your eyes flutter open, your heart is racing, your arms are numb, your chest feels like a boulder is sitting on it, you're nauseous, cold and clammy, you begin shaking uncontrollably, and you feel a sense of impending doom and helplessness. A heart attack? No... The residual effects of a nightmare? Perhaps... but in my case, it's usually a panic attack - and thankfully it will peak in about 10 minutes and resolve within 20 - usually.

Today is International Panic Day so I'd like to share a little bit about panic, or rather, panic disorder. Panic disorder affects one in 113 Americans, including me. More specifically in my case, panic disorder with agoraphobia - meaning that when my disorder is rearing its ugly head, it is often difficult for me to leave home for the simple reason that I'm afraid I'll have an attack somewhere public where it will be difficult, if not impossible, to easily work my way through the attack.

I wish I could say it was as easy as telling myself to stay calm or "put my big girl panties on and deal with it", but it's not... and unfortunately, even the medical community still classifies panic disorder as "behavioral" or a "mental health" issue. While there is a conscious, cognitive factor to the disorder, it is so much more than a simple state of mind or conscious behavior. And the truth is that no one really understands why some people have panic disorder. There is a familial component - meaning that if your mom or aunt or grandmother had this disorder (sorry guys, I know you have them too, but women are affected twice as often!) , there is more of a likelihood that you will too. There is also some belief that people can develop the disorder as a reaction to prolonged periods of stress due to the physiological chemical cascade that both positive and negative stress can produce. Finally, there are physical causes - some of which, fortunately can be controlled or eliminated completely - and by the way, this is one issue that you really can say is "glandular"!

I mentioned a chemical cascade earlier - and I've learned that, at least in my case, hormones tend to play a MAJOR role in the frequency and severity of my attacks. Not surprisingly, my first series of attacks began when I was pregnant with my youngest 23 years ago and in a very stressful period of my life. Because of the pregnancy and the limited knowledge in the medical community at the time as to how to treat the disorder, I had to deal with the attacks sans medication back then. Nowadays, medications used to treat this problem often include beta-blockers (to regulate heart rate since even a moderate sudden rise in heart rate can kick off an attack and we tend to be overly aware of those rises), antidepressants (specifically SSRI's like zoloft, paxil, celexa, just to name a few), a mild tranquilizer for those especially rough or what I like to refer to as "rolling" panic attacks - where they come one right after another for several hours, and cognitive therapy (relaxation techniques or conscious changes in physical behavior to break the cycle of physical reaction). The hormonal cascade that runs amok with this disorder involves a release of adrenaline (the fight-or-flight hormone that is essential to our basic survival abilities) , possibly caused by an abnormal activation of the amygdala (a part of the brain which coordinates our response to danger). This part of the brain sends signals to the hypothalamus, where the pituitary gland (the master gland that controls all of our other glands) is located. The ensuing response is automatic, and in people with panic disorder, exaggerated.

Ongoing studies and research are being done to find the cause of this abnormal reaction - and hopefully once a cause is found, a cure won't be far behind. Until then, those of us with this disorder will continue to try to find the best way we can individually deal with the symptoms, and I, for one, hope to spread some understanding of panic disorder as the physical illness it usually is and help others to understand that dealing with it is not as simple as it may seem, although with proper medical treatment and a little acceptance and support from those around us, panic disorder is manageable. For now, one of my favorite helps is try to keep calm and carry chocolate!

A special thank you goes out to all of the wonderful Etsy shops whose pieces illustrate my story! Be sure to stop by and visit them to see all of the other great items that lie waiting to find their way into your heart!

Awake 5x5 Print by ValeriaH
BIG GIRL PANTIES Scrabble Tile Pendant Charm by queeniedesigns
serotonin - depression and anxiety necklace by bethtastic
Panic Banana plush by houseofdarkly
KEEP CALM AND CARRY CHOCOLATE scrabble tile pendant by


Wild Mama said...

Thanks for posting this useful information. I had no idea that today was International Panic Day and I appreciated your post. Thanks!

Patti said...

You are very courageous to share this with us, and I found your explanation has helped me to understand this frustrating and frightening situation. Your ways of coping are wonderful!

Joy (The Art Of Joy) said...

Hugs! Thanks for taking the time to share this valuable information! Much appreciated!

Kathleen said...

Wow - thanks for sharing all the info. praying for you! Great jewelry - love the chocolate one =p

Dreamspirations Gallery said...

I'm very familiar with this as I started having them around the beginning of July '09. I wasn't sure what was going on with me until I decided to look up the symptoms online. I did not go to the doctor because I hate manmade pills and knew that they would try to put me on something!

I also got to where I didn't want to leave the house though sometimes I was able to control it. I really want you to know and others also that a friend of mine suggested St. John's Wort. I was sceptical at first but tried it anyway.

I started off taking one a day. I stopped having full blown attacks but I would still get that ugh feeling you get before it escalates which was almost on a daily basis for me... then a couple of days before Halloween I upped it to twice a day one in the morning and one in the evening trying to keep it around the same time.

Halloween night was my Very last attack! I've had the ugh feeling maybe twice since then and that was in Nov/Dec. I've been fine ever since. I don't know how well it would work for you but it's worth a try! You can get a bottle of 300 mg St. John's Wort in any vitamin section for around $4.00.

Of course if you are already on a certain drug you might wanna ask the doctor if they will clash but I wasn't when I started taking it. For all of you who know what it is that you are going thru and haven't been to the doctor yet please know that this alternative WORKS!

I've been trying to tell everyone I know since I found out so I'm very happy you posted this and hope you overcome this soon! I completely understand.... like I told my husband I would not wish this on my worst enemy! 'Cause it does make you feel as if you are gonna die. I was having Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, felt like something very bad was going to happen and then it would go away.... poof!

So lot's of Blessings to you :)

NICO Designs said...

Thank you for sharing your personal story and the relevant information. I especially like the chocolate pendant:)

mysticwynd said...

Just a quick note about St John's Wort - it's been shown to be extremely effective for many people in the treatment of depression, anxiety and panic disorder. In fact, one of the physicians that I was seeing for treatment of my panic attacks is a huge proponent of its use. (He even wrote a book about it - (http://www.all-natural.com/nat-proz.html)

I, unfortunately, cannot use it because of another health concern. I'm a believer in natural therapies as well, but if anyone is considering any type of herbal therapy, check with your dr first - especially if you are on a current prescription drug regimen for this disorder or any other disorder. Drug interactions with herbs - and even interaction with other herbs - can be dangerous...natural does not necessarily equate to safe.

I realize most MDs will balk at herbal therapies, but I've also noticed that many are finally becoming a little more open minded about their use.

At the very least, since herbs are not subjected to the same strict quality control that other over-the-counter medications are, (and there are even problems there!), be sure that you are purchasing them from a source you can trust! Do your research - be well and be safe!!!

Ruthie said...

*hugs* I deal with panic attacks too - but no where near as bad as you do!

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