A Recent Panic Attack

Every since having Luna (remember that whole traumatic experience?) I have been battling high blood pressure and anxiety. The anxiety was expected. I’ve always had very high anxiety, so I just assumed it would be a little extreme after having a baby, with all the crazy hormones and whatnot. I did not ever think I’d be in the hospital for 10 days, be put on tons of medication and end up seeing a hypertension specialist at Vanderbilt. Since coming home with Luna, and a new list of prescriptions, I have  started (been ordered to) take my blood pressure daily.

For the first couple of months it was very low, like “my body only moves in slow-motion” low. The doctor cut my meds down and it stayed on the lower side so my meds got cut back again. (Woo!) About a week after cutting out one pill my blood pressure shot up. It was through the roof all night, and it sent me into a panic. And, in case you weren’t sure, having a panic attack isn’t a good companion for high blood pressure, nope not one bit.

My doctor is very cool, straight-forward and blunt. I called him late at night (bet he regrets giving me his cell number now) and tried in my calmest voice to say “Oh hey, so my blood pressure is high and also I am freaking out a little, okay a lot. Should I be worried about dying?” My doctor basically said, “Stop it. You’re fine. Take your medicine and chill out.” He so does not get “anxiety” or “panic attacks”. Anytime I mention it he just says, “Why? I don’t understand. You’ll live to be a 100. Calm down.”

His inability to relate or understand is somehow very calming to me. That night, I managed to go to sleep, but anxiety took over the next day. I don’t know what it is about health problems, but anytime something comes up with my health I completely meltdown. I kid you not, but for 2 straight days last weeks I was incapable of almost anything. I physically and mentally shutdown. I could not write, get dressed, run errands, clean, eat…nothing. I hate admitting this because it sounds lazy and selfish. It’s all so dramatic, but I truly can’t help it.

know that the more I do, the better I feel. I know how to take deep breaths, think positive and do all of that crap, but nothing would work. Whenever I panic, like for real panic, it seems impossible to reverse the effects. My mind was consumed with images of my funeral, with thoughts of Luna being raised without me and a constant stream of negativity. It’s awful and weird to admit these fears that reveal themselves during an anxiety attack, but they’re real for me. I don’t think I went half an hour without breaking down in tears for those two days.

I could feel myself sinking. As I got lower, everything good in life seemed further away. Husband, Luna, my life…they were all just above the surface as I struggled to keep my head above the water. By day two, I could see a little light. I could see the stress on Husband’s face when I broke down, and I knew I had to start taking steps. I remembered two very important words of advice at this point.

The first is a quote from my Grandmother’s journal.

I’m convinced that I will never be without problems of all sorts, but still I must never see the dark pit again. Only an idiot is continually happy, joyous and has no problems; but stupidity is another thing. A stupid person hangs onto that first step and enjoys all that muck he is in. Boy, this second step feels better all the time.

The second is something my Mom told me after having Luna.

Focus on the small victories.

I took their wise words and consciously made an effort to start climbing up that ladder and focusing on my little accomplishments. I forced myself to stop the negative thoughts. They still came, but each time they did I replaced them with something positive…like Luna’s face, dancing, good music, a smoothie, and yoga. I then took action. I forced myself to exercise (hallelujah, does that help!), I only talked about happy things, I hugged and kissed Husband A LOT and before long I actually began believing the positivity.

It wasn’t instant, but I was coming to life again. By the end of the week I was back to my regular kind-of-anxious self. By the time I went to my specialist this week I could actually laugh about my freak out and talk to him without crying. My health still isn’t where I want it to be, which is disappointing, but it’s not horrible either. I’m mostly healthy. I’m happy. I’ll most likely make a full recovery, but if I don’t that’s okay too. That’s why we have doctors and drugs, right? I think my doctor is probably right…I will live to be 100.

Cheers!

So Zen

keep calm

It has been about two months since I have had my anxiety medicine. I quit taking it for two reasons. One being, the doctor suggested getting it off it at the end of my pregnancy anyways. Two being, I am too lazy and stubborn to find a new physician here, tell her my issues and get a new prescription. I know it’s wrong and childish, but it’s the truth. I’ll find a doctor soon.

The good news is that I have yet to need it. My mind has been more calm than it has been since I can remember. This pregnancy has somehow brought on a sense of calmness that I never even thought possible. I have had zero panic attacks in over 3 months, my nightmares have lessened (I actually had a dream I was vacationing in France the other night… I NEVER dream like that) and even my blood pressure has been low.

For the last 5 years my blood pressure has been on the higher side at every single doctor appointment. The doctors usually chalk it up to “white coat syndrome” and high anxiety, but I can’t help but worry that my family history of heart disease reached me at an early age. However, since my first prenatal doctor appointment I have had ideal blood pressure. I look like the poster child for a healthy heart. I’m so relieved and feel so good that I went to the baby doctor by myself for the first time this week.

This must seem so ridiculous to most of you, but this is an enormous step for me. I was not even nervous, like, at all. In the name of full disclosure, I will say I have had moments of worry, but “normal” people worries. I have worried about breast-feeding, having a healthy baby, raising a child with Husband, etc, but these moments pass. I have not dwelled, worked myself into a panic or anything. Husband has not even once suggested I take my medicine. I don’t even know if he realizes I’m not on anything.

I don’t want to suggest that getting pregnant is the answer to anxiety disorders. I know this isn’t true. Pregnancy can often cause more anxiety; I assumed it would in my case. Pregnancy isn’t the answer to any “problem”, I know that, but it’s possible that it’s motivated me to stay on a healthier track. I workout at least 6 days a week, eat healthier, get more sleep, drink way less coffee and even think more positively. I have been careful not to put myself in situations that typically trigger panic attacks. I have been honest, maybe to a fault, with everyone. Mostly, I am focused on being the best version of me I can be for our family, and it’s working.

Less stress has made a huge difference, as well. Clearly, cutting out my work hours and allowing myself time to relax has both hurt and helped. I need to be busy and I like schedules, and the guilt of doing less has brought on it’s own sense of stress, but I’m learning to find a happy (and healthy) medium.

When my Grandmother passed recently, I was in the middle of a lot of intense moments. I worked with my Mom and sister in the funeral home to help write and edit her eulogy. We put together the photo collages in the director’s office and organized the food in the family room. I held my Mother and my Sister when they needed it, made small talk with relatives I haven’t seen in years and typed up my Grandmother’s entire journal. When everything began I thought the weight of the situation would break me. I thought, “this is it, call the doctor, call a therapist, a downward spiral is sure to hit”, but it didn’t.

Weeks have passed and I’ve yet to crash. I’m like a pregnant Zen master. Where did this come from? I now have a slight worry that the world will come tumbling down once the baby arrives, but who knows? Maybe, I’m taking a permanent turn towards peace and calmness. Or, maybe I’ll just have my ups and down throughout the years. For now, I just want to enjoy these moments.

If you are dealing with high anxiety, panic attacks or even just too much stress try to remember that it will pass. There is a light at the end of your tunnel, and eating healthy, exercising, keeping a healthy mind and living honestly will get you through that tunnel a bit faster. I’m so thankful for the last couple few months of zen-ness.

Cheers!

Panic in the Stairwell

This last week has been stressful, and I have not denied it a bit. I assumed that admitting the stress and venting a little has been helping me deal, but today I had a rude awakening. All day I felt ill. I was nauseous at work, dizzy and feeling so achy that my boss offered to let me go home. I refused because 1) I don’t like to feel defeated, and 2) going home just meant doing different work.

When I got home, I was ready to continue tackling my extra long to-do list and began with laundry. (Yay, for being able to do laundry in the building!) After loading the washer, I decided to take the stairs up so I could cross “cardio” of my list. After walking one set of stairs I broke….my chest hurt and panic hit me like a truck. All of my positive and realistic thinking exercises kicked in and I was quickly able to convince myself that it was not a heart attack, just a panic attack.

I decided to sit in the middle of the steps and just breathe. In and out…this too shall pass. Of course breathing turned into thinking.. why? How is doing laundry causing me to freak out? Why now? How am I to get everything done if I’m wasting these precious minutes sitting in a stairwell praying no one else decides to be healthy and skip the elevator? 

Then, two words struck me, “everything done”. Of course, I’m panicking, I’m overwhelmed. I’m a control freak and I have no control over what is happening in my new home. I’m simultaneously losing control over my responsibilities at work. I’ve heard the phrase “everyone is replaceable”, but I tend to be a little cocky when it comes to my profession…NO ONE can replace me. I worry that the next person won’t do it my way right. (Secretly, I worry that they will do it better…) It’s so hard to lose control.

Anytime I have ever quit a job I have been cursed with horrible nightmares. Once I dreamed all my students were locked in a glass building while being chased around by scary men with weapons. I was trapped outside the building watching the whole scene. There was nothing I could do, but watch and scream for someone to help, I was helpless and useless.  This is the common theme in my dreams every time I leave a school. It’s silly because there are hundreds of wonderful teachers who can do just as great a job (if not better) than I’ve done, but I guess that’s hard to accept.

Eventually, I stood up from the stairs and like a prince on a white horse, Husband came to my rescue. His spidey-sense must have alerted him because he called immediately. He just wanted to talk, and talking to him is exactly what I needed. He assured me that I was not dying. Then he told me about the deer in our front yard that he watched from our deck, how much Belle loves running free in the grass and how I have way too many clothes to unpack (NOT true).

I managed to pull myself together (thanks xanax) enough to finish the laundry and a good bit of my list. I rewarded myself with a long bath and a good book. The absolute most relaxing activity is laying in a steaming hot bath with a good book. I like to soak in a tub that is so hot I am sweating and read for so long that the water turns cold. Oh, how I have missed having a bathtub.

Tomorrow will be a better day. I’m sure of it, and if it’s not I plan to make someone else’s day better. I just read this quote from Glennon Melton’s new book Carry on Warrior, and it’s perfect.

“When you feel scared because you don’t have enough money, find someone to offer a little money. When you start to feel like you don’t have enough love, find someone to offer love. When you feel unappreciated and unacknowledged, appreciate and acknowledge someone else in a concrete way. Whey you feel unlucky, order yourself to consider a blessing or two. Then find a tangible way to make today somebody else’s lucky day.”

Cheers!

Snow Day

Last week was an intensely cold week. NYC stayed below freezing ALL week. I wanted to stay inside wrapped in blankets all day every day, but sadly I am a dedicated employee and forced myself out of the covers to walk to work each day. Husband was working out of town for a few days, so I made plans to spend at least my half-day off Saturday doing nothing.

Anytime Husband goes out of town I plan to take advantage of my alone time by cleaning the entire apartment, working out every day, and reading lots of books. By the time Saturday (my last alone-day) rolled around I had not cleaned a single thing, worked out zero times, and had not even bothered to look for my Nook.

No problem I thought, after work I will clean hardcore, do a yoga DVD, and spend the rest of the evening reading while cuddled on the couch with Belle. No big deal.

Then, it snowed.

I really wanted to play in the snow. I really really wanted to let Belle play in the snow.

I have so much anxiety when I do not complete a task or to-do list that I almost had a panic attack trying to decide between playing in the snow and cleaning the apartment. Luckily, Husband called mid-crisis and told me it’s cruel to not take Belle to the park on a snow day.

So….we went.

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Turns out that Central Park was hosting its annual Winter Jam on Saturday! Winter Jam is a free festival that offers concerts, quidditch matches, food trucks, winter markets, skiing lessons, and a whole lot more! We had so much fun walking through the festivities.

There were pro snow boarders showing off their skills.
There were pro snow boarders showing off their skills.

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The "ice lounge"
The “ice lounge”

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We even found a puppy food truck that served organic, holistic, and lactose free dog treats. Lucky Belle had her own bacon peanut butter flavored ice cream!

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She LOVED it.
She LOVED it.

I had to carry my spoiled frosted pooch home because the salt on the sidewalk (used to melt the ice) burns her feet. Anyone know of good dog shoes for small dogs??

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I made it home in time to clean the apartment before Husband got home, I considered my walk through the park a workout, and I read several online menus before ordering dinner. I considered my goals accomplished and have no regrets spending a snow day in the park!

Cheers!

A Few Steps Towards Recovery

Living with high anxiety is not easy for anyone, but simply recognizing and accepting this struggle can make the battle that much easier. When I admitted to myself, and the world, that I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. That weight was heavy with all my secrets, lies, and tears over the years. I cannot explain the feeling; I had to let it all go. Being honest and open is much easier than living under pounds of secrets.

Now that I am less focused on hiding, I am more focused on staying healthy. There are many actions I take each day to keep myself from venturing into the dark-side.

#1 Think positive. I have to constantly remind myself that everything is okay. Because there are so many negative thoughts and scenarios constantly scrolling through my mind, I have to stop them with numerous mantras: “I am happy and healthy.” “I can do this.” “Breath.” “Everything will be okay.” It may sound ridiculous but repeating these thoughts, writing them down, or saving them in my Notes app, helps me everyday.

#2 Exercise. This is just a given. We all know that, “Exercising gives you endorphins.  Endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” Wise words from Elle Woods. After the terrible heartache I went through years ago, my doctor suggested I take anti-depressants. I was very leery of this route so he made me promise to do some form of exercise everyday and check in with him every couple of weeks. Done. It did me wonders.

#3 Make time to do things I enjoy. I learned how important this is while living in Albania. It is still a challenge to make time for things like reading, dancing, writing, movie watching, and especially relaxing, but I am so much happier when I do. I tend to feel guilty when I take time for myself, but it gets easier and easier with practice, which is why I have a Weekly Dose of Glamour.

I typically pick one day a week to really relax. This day is usually a no-make-up, pajama kind of day. By 5 pm, Husband is so ready to get out of the apartment that he will do anything I am willing to do. This usually involves Starbucks, a walk, some fancy stores, and maybe an exhibit.

This Sunday we walked a few miles, all around the Upper East Side. We window shopped down Madison for at least an hour and I used my new Aviary app to snap some shots of the beautiful items we spotted. I love this app so much more than Instagram.

I love walking down Madison. There is no better street for window shopping.
I love walking down Madison. There is no better street for window shopping.

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Why, hello beautiful
Why, hello beautiful.

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I walked really fast during our 3 mile window shopping adventure so I counted it as my cardio for the day, and went home to put my pj’s back on….what a great day.

I still have other skills to practice like getting enough sleep and seeing a doctor regularly…I’ll get there. One step at a time.

Cheers!

Why am I scared of Restaurants?

restaruant anxiety

I have lived with panic attacks long enough that I can usually tell what situations will warrant high anxiety. I know that doctors, hospitals, sick people, TV shows set in hospitals, and any conversation centered around death or disease always trigger my anxious side, and often lead to an attack. This makes sense because I am terrified of dying and feel out of control in a situation where I have no control.

However, there are a few locations that very frequently give me the same feeling…locations that are not fixated on illness: restaurants and movie theatres.

These places have only been giving me trouble for a few years now, and it has mostly been a mystery for me. I love eating, spending time with friends, and relaxing in front of a big screen, so why do I tend to freak out while doing these things??? It’s just not right.

A friend of mine has the same problem, but she knows why her anxiety strikes at these times. She feels claustrophobic and forced to stay in her seat for fear of disturbing others. These feelings drive her crazy and make her entire experience one big ball of anxiety.

I understand this, but I cannot relate. I do not get claustrophobic. I do not care if I disturb others to get up to go to the bathroom….so why, WHY do I panic? Where is this coming from? I am sure it stems from a terrible experience I once had or relate to restaurants and theatres, but I cannot put my finger on it.

It doesn’t happen every time either, it seems mostly random. It is worse when it’s a big group as opposed to just Husband, and me but that’s the only detail separating the calm from the panic that I have pinpointed.

For anyone who is lucky enough to eat at restaurants without panicking here’s an idea of what it is like for me during an especially anxious dinner….

I arrive, happy to see people and happy to order lots of food. We wait for food, have great conversations, and I start to get slightly uneasy. The food arrives and everyone is excited to finally dig in, minus me. All of sudden, the food I once desired seems impossible to stomach. I’m sweating, my heart is pounding, I feel nauseous, and am 98% positive I am going to pass out. I force myself to eat a couple bites because I start fearing that people will notice something is wrong. I go to the bathroom because I feel so ill. I take deep breaths, splash water in my face, and feel the cold water run over my burning hot hands…anything to make me feel calm. I manage to stay upright through the rest of dinner, and start checking my phone only to distract myself from my own negative thoughts. What seems like 8 years later, the check comes and I can finally leave.

What sucks, is that once I get home, I feel awesome and ravenous. All I want to do is eat, which drives everyone else nuts.  Didn’t we just spend $50 on your dinner that you barely touched???

After lots and lots of soul searching and deep thoughts the best reason I can muster is that I am scared of dying in a crowded place. My biggest fears in these public places is that I will have a heart attack and either no one will notice or no one will be able to help. Also, I fear having an attack in a public place. If I am going to freak out I want to at least be in the comforts of my own home.

I have no remedy…yet. I have no answers…as of now. All I know is that the more I go, the more honest I am with the people around me, the better I feel. I’ve got to be with a friend who gets the crazy and lets me hold the popcorn. I need someone to know I might not make it through the movie, to make it through the movie.

Anyone else ever experience this? If so, please share! I love not feeling alone, and I’d really love any advice you may have.

We will be watching a Walking Dead  marathon from the comfort of our own couch tonight. Wohoo!

Cheers!

Panic at Work

For the first time ever, I had a panic attack at work.

I don’t typically write about my job here, but I think you have probably inferred that I work with children most of the time. LUCKILY, I was in an office type environment during my panic attack. Feeling completely out of control and on the brink of death while working was a brand new experience, one I think is worth sharing.

It all started with someone else being sick, as most of my panic attacks start. I won’t go into details, for fear of panicking someone else, but a co-worker of mine has been very ill recently, and I had the misfortune of being caught in a conversation of hearing every detail. Anytime I get caught in similar conversations I want to say, “Oh, I’d really not like to hear about your sick friend because I’m afraid it will make me anxious.” The truth is I’m more afraid of sounding like a heartless bitch or crazy person, so I just sit silently and try very hard to nod and secretly ignore every detail.

I never do though…forget every detail. I usually remember each sign and symptom, dwell on them, look for them, and eventually convince myself that I too have each symptom. One symptom from this particular situation was fainting. This particular symptom was the one that stuck with me.

While working, I was convinced I was blacking out, I felt hot, weak, dizzy, and absolutely positive I was going to pass out at any moment. I was ready to tell my co-worker to call 911, and prepared to describe my symptoms in detail to the EMT. My obsessive thoughts worsened, became impossible to stop, and when I didn’t faint, I began to panic in its place.

The worst part about having a panic attack is losing all sense of logic. Logically, I know I am just having a panic attack, I know I will survive, and I know how to stop it. In that exact moment though, logic is out the window, and all I can think to do is call Husband.

Poor Husband…I hate hate hate depending on him to bring me to my senses. I feel a sense of guilt and humiliation anytime I use him as my remedy. All I needed was for him to remind me that I AM okay, that I am NOT dying, and that it’s JUST a panic attack. After this, logic started to slowly find it’s way back to me, and I could finally begin the magical steps that force the panic monster to leave.

Step 1: Breathe. I literally remind myself to breath, deep breaths, in and out. Deep breaths actually force your heart rate to slow down and your body will begin to relax.

Step 2: Reminders. I tell myself it is a panic attack, it is not death, it will end, and keep breathing.

Step 3: Allow only positive thoughts: This is by far the hardest step. After all, negative thinking is what brought me here in the first place. I typically repeatedly think, I am healthy, I am alive, I am breathing….over and over.. It’s all about changing that negative scroll rolling through my brain.

Step 4: Acceptance. I am very hard on myself after having a panic attack. I feel embarrassed, angry, exhausted, depressed, and shameful. It’s important to remind myself that my feelings were real. The panic attack was real, and it’s okay that it happened. I used to try to quickly forget it happened, toss the blame to something unrelated, and brush it all under the table. Now, I’ve learned that these attacks have roots, and my job is to find the roots, dig them up, and expose them. Validating my emotions is all part of the healing.

After all this breathing, thinking, and healing, I was left slightly broken and very tired. I realized that I panicked because I’d been dwelling on the sick co-worker, which is probably why it happened at work, and I was ready to get out of there.

Thankfully, returning to work has not been difficult. People who have panic attacks often have trouble returning to a place where they had an attack.  A couple years ago, this would have been worse, but recognizing my emotions and pinpointing the root of the situation has been incredibly helpful.

Hopefully, this was a first and a last for me. I don’t think there is a good place to have a panic attack, but work is definitely one of the worst places to have one.

I am healthy, I am alive, I am breathing….

cheers