A few weekends ago, we had, well, a pretty typical weekend going on around here. Like to hear about it? Hear it goes.
By Sunday afternoon, there are still things to do around here, as usual, and we are busy doing them. Installing a new front door, we've about finished that (and to be clear, when I say "we", you know that means "Greg did most of it while I stood around watching"), and I am thinking about getting things ready for the week to come. No big thing.
In the morning my left foot feels rather sore, almost as if I had sprained it, which I find strange, but not entirely debilitating. As the afternoon goes on, at one point I notice that now my shoulder hurts the same way my foot did.
A short while later, I get a little nervous, as the same kind of weird pain is now attacking my hip. On the same side as my foot and shoulder. All down my left side - acute, persistent pain.
I get more than a little nervous, frankly.
In retrospect, I remember having a pretty specific thought pattern, and the farther we get from that day, the more clearly I can remember it, ironically. I remember thinking Hmm. Pain all down my left side. Shit. What if I'm having a stroke or some shit?
Anyway, as I'm processing this thought, my head starts buzzing.
My ears start ringing.
My chest gets heavy, and I feel like I can't get a good breath, no matter how deeply I breathe in.
I am nauseous.
And dizzy. I can't stand up without feeling like I'm going to fall over.
I'm sure I'm going to faint.
Oh - and that I'm going to die.
Without exaggerating, at this point I am having an internal monologue in which I am telling myself, Oh my god - I am dying. I'm dying right here in front of my kids and my husband, right here on my fucking kitchen floor. This is it. I'm dying.
While this thought is racing through my head, there is another running along beside of it, having a conversation with it, and his name was Logic. The whole exchange takes just seconds, but feels like eternity:
Logic: Cathy, don't be stupid, you're not dying.
Cathy: Fuck too, I am DYING. Just like Aimee. OhmygodOhmygodOhmygod.
At this point, in the real world, I am crying now, panicking like never before, and asking Greg to get help. He is quite certain I have lost it, or (and he's trying to ignore this possibility) that I really am, as I assert, dying.
Logic: Cathy, you are not dying, people don't just die on their kitchen floor at 36.
Cathy: Really? Because they sure as fuck die at 30 in their own bed for no reason. I'm dying and if you are smart, you'll get our ass to a doctor, post-fucking haste.
Logic: Cathy, you are not dying. Wait...shortness of breath, panicking, feeling ill - you must be having a panic attack.
Cathy: Uh, hello? I don't have panic attacks.
Logic: Uh hello yourself - remember the day they put your claustrophobic self in an MRI tube? You're saying THAT was not a panic attack?
Cathy: Ok, fine sure I did have that one -but I know why that happened, that was because of the claustrophobia. Not because I just have panic attacks willy-nilly. Because I don't. Besides, there was no trigger here today even if I DID have panic attacks - which I don't. Nothing panic-attack-worthy. Jesus Christ, I really AM dying.
This back-and-forth business continues in my head all the way to the Urgent Care Center. I get in, and get checked out.
Blood pressure - normal.
Pulse - normal.
Temperature - normal.
OxSats - normal.
Pupil dilation - normal.
Respiration and heartbeat - normal.
"Everything looks really great, Mrs. C - why are you here? What is really going on?" the doctor questions. I assure him that nothing is really going on, except for the fact that I was sure ten minutes ago that I was DYING. D-Y-I-N-G. No abusive husband, no on-the-verge-of-foreclosure-money-stress, no deaths as of late, nothing. Just dying, thankyouverymuch.
He's nodding at me. Nodding, and listening. Sort of.
Look, I'm pretty perceptive, folks. I can tell when a guy is giving me the eye like he thinks I'm a whack job. I've gotten it before. And that's just the eye that Doogie Howser here is giving me. Logic taps me on the shoulder, smiles knowingly, and nudges me to speak. Begrudgingly, I do.
"I had a panic attack, didn't I?"
"Um, yes," he says. "I am almost positive that's what happened. There is just nothing wrong with your body right now, all of your numbers are perfect. It's like you walked out of a medical textbook on panic attacks and walked into my office."
So despite having no single specific trigger, and no history of spontaneous panic attacks, it seems that's what happened to me. Doogie sent me home with instructions to take it easy, see a doctor and have tests done to be sure there was nothing else going on, and to go to the Emergency Room if it happened again. I spent the rest of that day and the next feeling mostly like I'd been hit by a truck, and unsure of how this could be happening to me.
I saw my (new) general physician-slash-internist last week, and she, after running some tests and blood work, is convinced that Doogie was right. She said that stress is often cumulative, especially in our subconscious minds, and we can't always control how it deals with that stress. The last year has been stressful, as they all are, but Aimee's death (and the anniversary thereof) always weigh heavily on my mind, and the strange left-side pain apparently pushed my subconscious right over the edge.
She also said that, often, having medication on-hand that has fast effects on panic attacks, can keep them from reoccurring, without ever having to take a pill. (That subconscious mind is a kooky one, and clearly one that is easily aggravated, and easily placated.)
So that's what's I have now - medication I can take, should I ever start to feel that way again, that can help me get past it more quickly. I hope to never need it.
If you've never had a panic attack, believe me when I say it's nothing like you think it is. It's not just a feeling that you can dismiss. I was rather dismissive of panic attacks in general before September 20th. I was sure one who had them should just be able to suck it up and get over it, right? It's not real, right?
I have never been more wrong.
Take the feeling you have at the instant that someone startles you - I mean really makes you jump out of your skin. That very acute, gasp-inspiring moment where you jump out of your seat and shriek "UUUUUUUGGGGHHHHHH!!!"". Got that in your head? Can you feel that instant? In a panic attack, you have that feeling - over and over and over. You need to get somewhere, but don't know where. You feel sick but can't find a way to feel better. You are scared despite having nothing tangible in front of you to be scared of. And to top it off, you feel like you are going to die.
In short, it sucks. It sucks a lot. And at the risk of being melodramatic, I encourage you to, if you know someone who suffers from panic attacks, give them a hug and thank your lucky stars that you don't know what it's like.