Panic Disorder: You are NOT alone!

Okay, WARNING!! I’m going to be completely transparent and it really makes me feel a little nervous but if I could help just ONE person get the help needed today, that is well worth the nervousness!!

So, backing up, I know that I’ve shared before that I suffer from panic disorder and I just touched on the surface of it. It started when I was 19 years old and I’m not completely sure of the reason that started it, but I had just gone through a major emotional time of my life with an engagement and awful break-up with some deep rooted reasons that shook my world.

I was a wreck. I felt alone most of the time, even though I was surrounded by family and friends. It was a time that taught me what it feels like to be crushed and needing to rebuild on faith alone.

 

So, that is when my panic disorder began, to the best of my knowledge.

I recall the first time it hit, I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep…and then all of a sudden, I could NOT breathe. I could not catch my next breath. It was like with every inhale, I would will to “catch up” to my next breath…

But. I. Just. Could. Not.

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It was the worst feeling I had ever known. I KNEW that if I couldn’t catch my breath, I would die. And the feelings only increased as my panic began to rise. I ran to my mom who tried to talk me down; as I paced around the room, working feverishly to catch my breath and just calm down.

I don’t remember how long that first panic lasted but it felt like an eternity.

And it didn’t end there. It would hit at random, some nights I was able to relax and fall asleep peacefully. Some nights, I would be awakened to the awful feeling of no breath. The cycle was tortuous and at that time there were few resources to turn to. I was alone, nobody could understand the enormity of the feeling as it crushed down onto my chest…and paralyzed me from anything else.

I would recite to myself during the day, that it was only episodes and these episodes would pass. I heard from doctors that I wouldn’t die from this. I remember being furious at the non-caring comment made by one doctor whom my mom took me to see. He diagnosed me with MVP. That is a heart murmur issue and he put me on heart medication.

I knew that this was not the cause of my episodes but when my mom explained to him what I would do and say in the midst of these panics, he just blatantly said, “She WON’T die. She just has to relax”…

As with any issues we face, life goes on and we have to deal with the ups and downs whether we like it or not. I did that and kept my panic hidden as best as I could. After I had my first two children, I went through another enormous roller coaster of emotions and thought I could never recover from it. It was at this time the panics came back with a vengeance.

Tortuous. Severe. Debilitating. My husband had no idea what was happening and in his lack of knowledge, made me feel it was “all in my head”. That, in and of itself, was devastating. I know now that he didn’t understand how awful that felt to me but at the time it was like I was on island all alone with nobody to turn to.

After my third child was born, I formed almost an “abnormal” attachment to him and would just sit and hold him and feel “safe”. I remember anytime I would leave the house and if panic would strike, I would focus on his face in my mind and breathe until I calmed down.

This was the first sign that I ever experienced that “maybe” just “maybe” I had a fighting chance of getting past this. I had no idea how it would be possible, because by now, I had almost come to the conclusion that there was some “ticking time bomb” always waiting to go “off” in my body at any given time and I just had to deal with it all. I had tried many different ways to handle it. Lucinda Bassett (is that her name?) created a cassette tape program with workbooks which I ordered from the radio advertisement that I heard it over. This helped me for a time but never for good. I figured that I was the exception to the rule that it would ever be “over”. But knowing that there was finally a “title” for the disorder was a weight lifted off of my shoulders, after almost 20 years!

In all stories that I’ve heard and all the studies I have researched regarding this issue, there is never ONE way to overcome this problem and the resolution for each person varies. Some can learn breathing techniques to help them overcome the panicky feelings, that didn’t work so well for me. Some have help in medications and therapy. I had one therapy session and the doctor was a bit surprised I had never spoken to anyone years earlier and put me on a low dosage medication to allow me to sleep and control the issues. But even taking the medicine caused me to panic. I found that just splitting the dosage in half and taking as needed has allowed me to overcome the chest clutching breathing issues and sleep without being torn out of my restful slumber to the gripping feeling of being held underwater.

I know to some, this sounds incredibly simple to overcome. I remember feeling embarrassed to talk about it to anyone, which only makes it worse, in my opinion. I hope that opening up and just letting this out can help someone who is feeling alone and crippled by this problem. Seek out someone to help you; whether it is a trusted and caring family member, doctor or therapist. Get the help that makes YOU feel at ease; and not what anyone else tells you is the “answer”. You will know. And if all else fails, you are not alone. There are many out there who share this problem and have never talked openly about it so it could easily be hidden in people you already know and love and are close to.

I am tired of being held hostage to feeling like we have to be “normal” and never speak openly about any issues that we may have. It’s time to just be ourselves and I know it will only allow more people to open up and share their own issues…which is step 1 to a solution in any shape or form.

God Bless you and you are not alone.

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Curbing Emotional Eating Attacks

Have you ever been attacked by a craving?

Like, you are not sure what just happened but one minute you are sitting there minding your own business and the next part is fuzzy and unclear…

but once you “come to”, you have crumbs on your shirt and chocolate dripping from your chin and your fingertips.

What just happened here? 

This is something that I had suffered through for so many years and instead of looking into the reasons why it was happening, I was under the impression that working on my sheer “willpower” would help me to conquer this beast.

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not so much…

Let’s take a look at what happens when we are in the midst of a craving attack;  the cravings are driven by the chemical in our brain, dopamine. The brain seeks that rush again and again…and again! It works like a drug addiction…and “willpower” has no power over this at all.

But what do we do if we are trying to lose weight? What if we are focusing on replacing these attacks with healthier habits?  How do we stop these attacks and start to control their power over our brains?

Knowing our trigger points can help us understand the signs so we can work on creating a successful plan to offset the problem.

Here are some common areas that bring on the sudden attacks:

*Being under a lot of stress (ummmm…excuse me, LIFE???)

*Skipping meals and/or undereating (a big no-no but so many women practice it in hopes of losing weight)

*Not drinking enough water (seriously, who even drinks enough these days??)

*Boredom

*Lack of sleep

*Stuck in a rut

Start by learning to identify the feelings in a given moment and understand to separate those feelings from food. I will never forget one of my Weight Watcher leaders when I was just 15 years old, when I was obsessed with finding the cause of my struggles. She told us repeatedly, almost like our mantra, “if you find yourself standing in front of an open refrigerator or pantry and you don’t know what you are ‘hungry’ for; shut the door, go sit down and figure out what it is you are hungry for. Because it has nothing to do with food.’

This saying brought me so much relief through many painful times as I worked on conquering this massive and powerful beast.

So, how do we finally get control of these times? It’s all about understanding the emotions first and then having a game plan set up so we are set up for success. Here are some tips.

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1. Plan a workout schedule and stick to it. You wouldn’t cancel on a meeting or appointment that was important to you, why would you not stick to a workout program that would benefit your body and your mind? I like to plan out my workout time on my calendar in pen and I don’t let myself get off track with anything or anyone else at that time. If you have difficulty during your day or evening, get up an hour earlier and just get it done. If you are thinking that isn’t fair because you want to sleep that extra hour; then go to sleep earlier if you must. But the bottom line is you that we all have 2 decisions on our goals. Either we don’t stick to it and we move further from our goals; or we just do it and the magic happens. You are just as important as anyone else that you value in your life.

2. Let’s talk about your water intake, your stress levels and the amount of sleep you’re getting. Now, don’t get me started on the fact that most of us are lacking in all 3 of these areas…let’s find out why we need to pay attention here. Our will power is lowered dramatically when we are sleep deprived, stressed out and dehydrated. Do you think that’s BS? Think about a time of known weight gain for most…’the college years’.  Crappy food is everywhere, sleep is a second thought and stress levels are through the roof…and water? Who drinks water? There are much less hydrating beverages to be had instead. Those or us who are more active, need at least 1 gallon of water every day. We also need at least 7 hours of sleep per night…and I don’t care if you can tell me that you are “good” to go after just 4 hours. That lack of sleep will catch up with you. These will create major food cravings all on their own.

3. I know I mentioned stress above but I believe it’s important enough to hold it’s own title.  I know we all deal with stresses. It is ‘life’ for goodness sake. But think about the times when you are stressed more than normal, these times make us so much more vulnerable to food cravings. Stress may not be something you can always control, but you can help your body handle it as best as possible. Exercise is a proven method to eliminate the negativity caused by stress; in fact, you feel immediately better after you are done. Ever hear of those “happy endorphins”?  Some basic activities that bring upon a feeling of euphoria are yoga, meditation and simple stretching. Plan to attend yoga classes twice a week when you are under extra stress, or just in general. Even if you only have a few minutes to relax; just breathing in a quiet place with your eyes closed for 10 minutes will lower stress levels dramatically.  Hence my Weight Watcher leader’s quote about “go sit down and figure out what you’re hungry for”, just sit and breathe…

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4. Stop the cravings! When you think of the food culprit, day or night, just firmly think “STOP!” Then picture a healthy and fit “you” instead. Do this repeatedly, even if you feel silly. It’s really sillier to NOT work on these areas so suit yourself…lol  If you make this a habit, your brain will soon begin to dismiss the foods and the cravings will begin to lessen.

5. Sometimes you just gotta have one. Diets don’t work because they focus on depriving ourselves of what we enjoy most. Every so often, go ahead and indulge in your favorite sweet treat. But instead of gorging on it in the privacy of your home, go out and eat it with a fork and a spoon in front of other people…with dignity. Enjoy the flavors and the richness of the dessert. I bet you are satisfied before you even finish it.

 

My Panic Disorder; Part 1

So, where do I start?

It seems like it’s always been an issue with me; panic and anxiety.  I remember the issues starting at the age of 18, but not sure if it was any earlier.

The earliest memories I have of my anxiety was when I’d try to fall asleep at night and I’d wake up in a full panic; sweating and out of breath. I would try to “catch” my next breath but it seemed like I would run out of oxygen.  This would only make me feel more out of control and I would begin to worry that I was going to die. I would begin to move around to get out of the feeling and this would only increase the issues.

My mom at that time was really worried about my episodes. I would be inconsolable and fight any help from anyone and wouldn’t want anybody to look at me as I was in the height of panic.  I called 911 a few times and was rushed to the emergency room; only to be told later that I was fine.

It’s so difficult to try to explain the feelings and sensations and I know that those of you who have experienced this issue will understand completely.  The irony is, that when I felt “good” and think back to the previous episode; I imagined that it must have been something I could have handled better.

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But the next episode would hit and all rationale thoughts and feelings would be out the door.

The worst part of it all, was that there were no explanations for my episodes at that time.  I remember visiting the doctor multiple times and explaining these issues and they would sit there, puzzled, looking at me with no help for what it could have been. That would make me feel more anxious; not knowing and thinking the worst each time. How did they know I wasn’t going to die when they didn’t even know what was wrong with me???

One doctor sent me to a heart specialist and they have me an EKG. From that test, they concluded I had a heart murmur and put me on medication to help me.

That did nothing for my episodes. I would go into full panics and then wonder what was going on when I was clearly taking care of my “heart issues”.  Being 19 at that time and tired of being run around; I stopped taking my medication. That made my mom angry and scared that I had just stopped taking medication that was prescribed to “help” me.

It turns out I didn’t have MVP. (not “most valuable player” but “mitral valve prolapse”) lol

It was through my years of searching for an answer that I began to stumble upon the mere idea that I might have a panic disorder. When I was pregnant with my second child, I remember hearing a radio commercial of a woman who was explaining point-blank my mysterious “issues.” Could this be it? I wondered.

She was selling a program with cassette tapes and workbooks that was meant to “heal” your anxiety issues and allow you to live “episode” free.  I ordered that plan asap!

And, it did help me to understand the many reasons that were responsible for my anxiety. I realized it went so much deeper than just a “quick fix” and although I knew at that time what was causing my stress, I was in for another many years before I finally got to the bottom of it and able to live a “normal” life without ever worrying about dealing with another episode again.

I will share more in my next post about what I did to get help and how I finally overcame this powerful hold over my emotional and psychological state of panic.

Tell me below if you suffer or suffered from any form of this or if you know someone who has. My reason for sharing this now is to help anyone who may be fighting the battle alone and not knowing how to get help. You are not alone and it is treatable.