When panic attacks

Girl in panic

Why Daddy Why?

A Child Screams
A Mother Cries

Why Daddy Why?

Shattered Glass
and Blackened Eyes

Why Daddy Why?

 Please STOP! I beg but no one hears
this Broken Child’s Cry

The Screams, The Cursing, Please STOP!
I Just want to Die

A Mother Hides Her Blackened eye
with Shades
and
 Sun hidden in the Sky

Where are the Dolls? the Laughter?
The Bicycle Rides?
the Memories of Those carefree years?

They Are With A Woman now
with Tears and Fears
of a Scared little Girl who
Died Inside

Written by: Karen

Fearful Beginnings

I am an adult now, but when I reflect on my life I remember being a nervous, scared little girl.  I was plagued with numerous fears and crippling asthma attacks. I was rushed to the ER more times than I can remember (now medical research has proven asthma is aggravated by stress).

I believe what started the panic attacks was the circumstances of being a child living in a violent, chaotic household. I was subject to witnessing my alcoholic father physically abuse my mother many times. I can recall being about 5 years old and the feelings of helplessness and terror as I stood in a corner and watched my father abuse my mother.  I would scream and cry, afraid he was going to kill her.

Symptoms Manifest

I remember going to my first therapist at 10 years old. My parents had separated for good this time. In later years when I asked my mother what made her seek out therapy for me, she said she saw signs that I was nervous; nail biting and frequent yawning.

I have since learned when you have anxiety, especially anxiety attacks, your body has a tendency to hyperventilate. When you hyperventilate, your body starts to feel like it’s not getting a full breath. As a response you yawn because yawning expands the rib cage and sends a signal to your brain that you did indeed get a full breath. In this sense, yawning is trying to tell your body to relax. 

A Life Interrupted

Throughout my life my panic attacks would manifest daily with intensity.  At other times, months and even years would pass by and I felt almost normal. Even when my life was in a state of upheaval the anxiety stayed away.

There was no rhyme or reason, nor warning as to when, or where a panic attack would occur.

A very difficult time for me was when I was 16 years old.  A junior in high school, I was having full blown, crippling panic attacks daily though I did not know what to call them then. I can remember being in class trying to concentrate and waves of intense fear would engulf me. I would dig my fingernails into my hand until it bled (I know now this was a form of self-harm) re-directing my thoughts to the physical pain rather than the terrifying symptoms of the panic: racing heart, cold sweats, dizziness, and feelings of losing control. My main goal was just to get through my class.

When I realized the situation was not getting any better, I finally told my mother and she found a therapist for me to talk to. I do not recall any specific details of the sessions. I do know I cannot remember hearing the words “panic” or “anxiety attacks” used nor was I given any medication.

The attacks eventually subsided on their own.

Panic Makes No Appointments

I have learned my panic attacks can happen when I am stressed, or calm, when I am angry or happy, when I am awake, or sleeping. It is a common medical condition, and affects more women than men.

My panic attacks peaked in 1996 with great intensity. Was it caused by stress? Yes, I believe mine was. It was an extremely overwhelming time in my life. I was separated from my husband, living on my own, working full-time and raising my 2 small children. I was having horrific, crippling panic attacks several times a day, and they would happen anywhere: on the bus, at my job, even grocery shopping.

I finally made an appointment with my General Doctor and explained what was happening. My symptoms of light-headedness, queasy stomach, racing heart, muscle tension, and feelings of losing control.

He gave me a prescription for Xanax; a drug used to treat anxiety/panic disorders.  He said to take it on a “as needed” basis, which I did.

The medication helped for a while but then seemed to stop working for me.  I returned to my doctor and he referred me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist spoke with me and recommended I talk to a therapist and take Klonopin which he prescribed.

Klonopin is an anti-seizure medication but also used to treat panic disorder and it worked! I could function again without the fear of going outside of my house and losing control. I could go to the hairdresser and not worry if I was going to have to leave due to feeling anxious.  I could do my grocery shopping and function like a fairly normal human being.

The only downside of Klonopin (generic name clonazepam) is like all benzodiazepines, clonazepam can cause physical dependency.  No one told me this and of course over time my body built up a tolerance.  So the dosage had to be increased.

I thought I would be needing this medication for 6 months to a year. I started in 1996 and it’s now 2014 and I still require it.  My doctors have tried to wean me off of it but it is an extremely slow process.  You CANNOT stop cold turkey because this may result in severe illness.

Some Coping Skills

Do I still get panic attacks? Yes, but they definitely are less intense, and more controlled, and throughout the years I have learned some coping skills from therapists, doctors and on my own that I would like to share:

  1. If at all possible avoid all caffeine.  Caffeine is a stimulant and can trigger an anxiety attack.  If you cannot avoid it totally, at least try to diminish your intake.
  2. Music.  If I am driving or a passenger, I listen to enjoyable fun music I can sing to.  It often helps distract me so I do not focus on the physical sensations I may feel if I am getting anxious.
  3. I do not watch the news nor do I buy the newspaper.  I know it can trigger worry, which can lead to obsessing and fear-filled thoughts that can trigger a panic attack. I will turn on the news and watch the headlines, but I definitely will not watch the news before I go to bed.
  4. I also recommend taking B-complex vitamins, as they have critical nutrients for all things mood related. The right amount of the B vitamins can diminish anxiety and lift depression.
  5. Practice deep breathing. During a panic attack we tend to hyperventilate. Breathing deeply can help reduces stress. Try to take a maximum of 8 breaths per minute; take 4 seconds to inhale, hold your breath for 2-3 seconds, then take another 4 seconds to exhale.
  6. Pray/Meditate.  If you are a Christian as I am, I get comfort from reading the Bible, even if it’s just one psalm to quiet my thoughts and refocus my anxious thinking. You can also read uplifting, motivational books.
  7. Watch a comedy or a good movie you can lose yourself in.

I do hope my story encourages those who are suffering with panic attacks. You CAN get better, there are trained medical professionals who can help you. There are therapists to talk to and medication if needed.

You can get your life back, so reach out and don’t ever give up hope!

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Please leave a comment and I will answer each and every one.

Resources:

www.calmclinic.com

 

Poem credit: Karen

Image credit: Alessandra (abcdlish)

 

KarenK. Maria enjoys reading, decorating and spending time with her family. You can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karen93089343.

You can view all of Karen’s MHT guest posts by clicking here.

 


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Comments

  • Cindy

    Thanks for the great article. I started having panic attacks at 13 grade 9, I didn’t know what they were until I was in my 30’s. I used to think I was going to die or go crazy. I only found out when I one day had such a bad one I ran in my doctor’s office and said in a panic “I am having a heart attack” I am sure I must have looked funny, he kindly replied you are having a panic attack. Yes, I find stress can cause a severe panic attack. I find, reading, listening to music and going to church (I am catholic so I do rosaries) can really help. Also, I swim and that helps too, I take clonazepam. Panic attacks can be really terrifying and I find if it happens in a public place I feel so embarrassed even though I try to discreetly remove myself. Mine started when a situation with a swim coach happened at the age of 12, I personally think trauma can trigger it, I was going to a catholic high school on the bus and would have panic attacks the whole way home, felt like I could not breath, never told anyone at that time you kept it to yourself plus didm;t know what it was. Anyways, I moved to a school closer to home where I didn’t have to take the bus. Thank again, some really good advise in there I will try them out, I don’t want to rely solely on medication. Stress is definitely a big trigger.

    • KarenMaria

      Hi Cindy,

      Thank you so very much for reading my article, and I am so sorry you had to experience the panic at such a young age also, yes it is scary, and I agree, you didn’t really talk about things openly as much as today.

      I am glad you can find some peace through your church and prayer.

      Yes, I definitely agree that stress is a huge factor, in the trigger of panic attacks.

      I hope that some or all of the suggestions work for you, I like you do not want to rely just on medication. I pray one day I will not need the meds, but am grateful that there are medications that can help.

      Thank you so much for your comment Cindy, and I hope you continue to make progress, and one day we will talk and both be doing even better than we are now, I believe we will! Take good care of yourself, Karen.

      • Cindy

        Hi Karen,

        Thank you for your kind reply, I only just read it so I am sorry to taken so long to reply.
        Yes, it is nice to talk to others it is healthful there is still so much stigma which is quite sad. I am so happy you shared your story and thank you so much for your kind reply. I am afraid I had a rough night and didn’t sleep too well, so been resting today.

        Hope to talk soon. Cindy 🙂

        • Karen

          Hi Cindy,

          No worries, I understand, I actually have been awake all night…insomnia, sometimes worse than others.
          Thank you so much for commenting on reply, that is very kind of you..Yes it is sad the stigma attached to any type of mental health problem. Hopefully that is changing.

          I am sorry you did not sleep well, and hope you got some rest…I will probably fall out early tonite..lol.
          It is a long day with no sleep.

          So nice to speak with you again, too. feel free to write anytime 🙂

          Karen

          • Cindy

            God Bless you Karen, unfortunately I didn’t get peace from my church, I live in York region which is not understanding….honestly, i swim a lot used to be a competitive swimmer, swim each day 1.5 miles, I feel like swimming Lake Ontario for mental health (i actually have been picturing it) I would love to do something I used to swim 5 hours, I know if I train I can do something, right now I am swimming 1/5 miles but I really want to bring awareness, there is so much stigma, I work for a big corporation (which i had to endure so much bad thoughts of mental illness, it is disgusting)…I want to do something that will help others I have experienced terrible stigma and I want to do something that can help those in need……swimming lake Ontario will be nothing compared to the pain I have suffered through others opinions, I have heard in the work place how mentally ill people are psycho and what not, i hope this isn’t disturbing but I do believe the awareness of Mental Illness needs to be raised, people who suffer mental health issues are the sweetest people and we need to have a voice, people have the wrong impression….anyways sorry to go on, but I have been through much…..but I want it to be for good, that is what keeps me going…I loved my brother and sister so much beyond comprehension but I know they are at peace….now I am going through a bad time so I pray I will get through it and help others….God Bless Karen you are young and your whole life is ahead things will change:) x

      • Cindy

        Hi again, I feel bad you answered me two day ago and I didn’t know. Anyways, my sister died when I was 15 and I am afraid that also played into my panic attacks she was only 21 and her death really affected me, I think I have had a bit of a relapse because I have learned new things about her death which has caused me to have nightmares which causes panic attacks. Anyways, not looking for pity, I am almost sure most people with Panic attacks have had some trauma, I am sure some people just get them, but I think mine stems from trauma, plus I lost my brother 6 years ago and that was very difficult.
        So I believe prayer helps a lot and I like to pray for others too, I will keep you in my prayers. Cindy

        • Karen

          Hi Cindy,

          Please don’t worry about not replying right away…we all have many things we must tend to in life.

          I am so very sorry to hear about your sister, 21 is so very young..I can imagine, this was extremely traumatic for you. I also am sorry about the nightmares you are experiencing now. Cindy I hope you have someone you trust that you can talk to, it is important not to carry all of that inside.
          I am also sorry for the loss of your brother.
          Yes you have gone through very traumatic and tremendous loss, and I agree that trauma definitely can cause panic attacks.
          I am 99% sure, mine were caused by witnessing such horrific violence toward my mother from my father at such a young age. Trauma leaves scars, yes you can live your daily life, but these events don’t just vanish from memory.
          I will keep you in prayer also Cindy, and thank you for praying for me.
          I know each day it is important to work on steps to recover from trauma, grief counseling, or someone you can trust just to listen.
          Please if you need to talk I am here, I check my comments daily.
          Take care of yourself, and thank you so much for your encouraging me.

          Karen

  • Bob Brotchie

    Hi Karen.
    Thank you for sharing such powerful and clearly distressing experiences, I think this will be of significant benefit to those who read your words.

    I see many clients who are also experience similar ‘visits’! ((I prefer to call them something less ‘violent’ than ‘attack’!) although I certainly recognise there is nothing subtle about anxiety, having attended many hundreds of patients in the emergency setting over two decades!

    Your sage advice contains much of that which I share with others; you certainly know your stuff after all these years!

    Regarding the medications. Do you think you might ever have seen a reduction in the episodes of anxiety without these? I am pleased to see they contributed to breaking the cycle, but feel for you and your withdrawal.

    Wishing much deserved peace.

  • KarenMaria

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you so very much for reading my post, and also commenting. I very much appreciate it. I do hope in telling my story, I can help others out there.

    Yes I understand your wording, attack it’s brutal, but at times, I have felt like I have been in a fight, the panic was so sudden, intense and so draining.

    Wow, so you have much experience in people like me, I am sure many people think they are having either an asthma or heart attack, as I have in the past.

    As far as the medication, the doctors in the past have been reducing the klonopin, I was on an even higher dose when my father died in 2005.. I remember one of my doctors saying if I could be panic free for one week we could reduce the dosage even more, I unfortunately have never gone one whole week without a panic attack, though it may be a mild one, I am hoping when that day comes., discussing with my doctor to wean me off completely, as you said I know it is not an easy road to withdraw from the klonopin since I have been on it for so long.

    I thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement, and one day I believe, will be doing even better.

    Thank you again for your comments.

    Much peace to you,

    Karen

  • Michael Groves

    Hi Karen. We have so much in common from panic attacks to our shared faith. Just like you my panic started back in childhood. My brother was murdered in a fight and was pushed of a balcony where he received critical injuries. He was 19 when he died. My problem was that as I was the next oldest male I was constantly compered to him. It seemed to me that no matter how I did I would never measure up to my brother. As we all know when a person dies they are elevated beyond what they were really like while alive. I once remarked that had my brother not being killed then I think I might have killed him myself because of the problems his death caused me. This constant comparison caused me to be anxious and to have panic attacks for no reason what so ever. I struggled through school and then started working at 11 years of age. This only increased my panic and anxiety. Not being good enough is not a nice feeling.
    Way back then I was not a Christian but having being reborn I have now found peace with myself. I blame no one, as ever family member was dealing with the death of my brother and we all deal with death differently. My faith gives me so much comfort and like you I love the word of God. I know that my struggle is only temporary and this enables me to endure as I will have a new body which will be incorruptible where I will never feel pain again, no know sorrow, no tears, only joy everlasting in the presence of our Lord and saviour Jesus. It’s great to be a true believer and anxiety and panic attacks can’t destroy the joy that being saved means to every repentant sinner. He has also blessed me with a traffic wife and daughter who have taught me much about the love of God for me. As always you have my best wishes and my prayers. Be encouraged as you are fulfilling your God given purpose writing your blogs and helping others reveal their pain. Thanks

  • Karen

    Hi Michael,

    I want to say first, I am so sorry to hear about your brother’s death. Death is hard at anytime, but to be murdered and so very young must have been very painful for your whole family.
    Yes, you were definitely traumatized, that was a very heavy burden for a little boy to carry.

    I have children and try never to compare or elevate one over the other, each is unique, and it only causes sibling discord and as you said in your case a feeling of never being good enough.
    Yes, Michael, faith will see you through, I am very happy that you have found peace through Jesus.
    He has been there for me when no one else was, and God blessed you with a beautiful family, I am so happy.What a wonderful testimony you have!!
    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story, and leave me a comment.
    I pray that the blogs can help people, to know there is hope, though tough at times don’t give up.
    God bless you Michael, you have encouraged me so very much.

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