Tag Archives: panic attacks

The Two A.M. Workout

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My family is closely acquainted with my anxiety.  It ain’t pretty.  The usual symptoms include yelling, strange facial tics, leg jiggling, and copious amounts of tears.  Episodes usually occur in airport queues, the St. Lawrence Market on any given Saturday morning, or cobblestone streets of otherwise picturesque Mediterranean tourist destinations.

Members of my family have been known to resort to calming tactics endorsed by The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan.  I am embarrassed to say the tactics work as beautifully on a 5’6″ Banshee as they do on a Schnauzer.

Last night, for the first time, I had an anxiety attack in the safety of my home, in the dark, while everyone else in the family slept blissfully on.  I’m not sure which is worse:  coming unhinged in dazzling Mediterranean sunlight in public or alone in the dark.

At first I thought it was just the usual 2 a.m. hot flash – which, by the way, is not a flash but more like a tsunami of heat spreading from my feet, up the length of my body until it reaches my brain.  Hot flashes wake me up and send me scurrying off to the loo to splash cold water for a few minutes.  No biggie.

Last night I went to the loo, did the cold water routine to no avail.  The heat rose and rose.  I flipped on the bathroom light, fully expecting to see steam shooting from my ears. Nope.  I gave up and started to return to my bed when my heart began to race as if I were in mortal danger.

I went back to bed willing myself to be calm. My heart rate went from fast to supersonic. I sat on the edge of the bed with my hands closed around my throat trying to prevent my heart from shooting out of my mouth and onto the floor (which would be bad for any number of reasons not least of which being when things fall onto my bedroom floor, I can never ever locate them again).

By now I was panting.  Marathon runners, Olympic swimmers, and women in labour do not inhale and exhale at the pace I did last night.  Husband snored on, undisturbed.  If sleeping through calamities (real or from my imagination) were an Olympic sport, he’d be a gold medalist.

Inexplicably, I decided that jogging up and down the hallway between our room and the bathroom was the thing to do.  Mind you, my hands were still around my throat.  I am not a natural runner at the best of times; last night was no exception.  My pajama bottoms (no drawstring anymore) continually fell down around my ankles, tripping me.  My balance was off because my hands refused to leave my throat.  My form was more awful than usual.

At this point, the cat decided to see what was happening.  She watched for a moment before deciding she had an opportunity to accelerate my demise by darting under my feet – what cat could resist?  In my confused state, I thought she wanted to comfort me.  Let the record show that cats do not enjoy being picked up, squeezed tight, and taken for a jog.

The hyperventilating, racing heart, and sweating refused to abate (small wonder).  Naturally, I decided to do a stair workout.  Thank God the cat decided to sit this one out. I would surely not be around to write this if she had decided to join me on our narrow staircase, in the dark.

Keep in mind while you picture this spectacle, that we are in the middle of a heat wave and our air conditioning is not on.

The panic attack abated; I found myself sitting on the stairs sweaty but hopeful that I had managed to burn a few calories. The cat observed me with bemused disdain.  Maybe she felt a tad sorry for me  – she slept curled at my side for the remainder of the night.

Could 2 a.m. workouts in baggy pjs be the next big thing?

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The Many Faces of Fear

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Very recently, I went to bed afraid that I would not wake up.  The problem wasn’t too many Tylenol P.M.s nor fear that the Russian space trash was going to fall on my head in the middle of the night.  I had chest pains, my head felt like it was about to explode, and it felt like someone had placed a vice around my neck. 

At the doctor’s office the next day, after listening to all  vital organs and hooking me up to various electrodes, the doctor declared my heart perfectly fine.  I filed away Worry #1 (certain heart failure) and promptly pulled out Worry #2 – what the hell was wrong with me?  One question from the doctor had all kinds of light bulbs going off in my head:  “Are you prone to anxiety?”  Oh, honey.  If you only knew…

I think I was six or seven years old when I had my first anxiety attack.  I was playing with friends in our neighbourhood and a cloud passed over the sun.  As a child I was pants-wetting terrified of thunderstorms.  As the sky filled with clouds in the late afternoon (as it often did in summer), I ran home screaming and crying and yes, probably needed to change my pants.  I don’t jump with glee as a storm approaches now but I’ve stopped screaming and do not need Depends when the barometer falls.

Fear of tangible things –  thunderstorms, gunshot-like noises, and donkeys – are easier to explain than the intangible fears.  Nameless fears – anxieties that have no root anywhere but in my imagination -creep in make themselves at home in my brain like unwelcome squatters.     

Is fear different from anxiety?  Yes.  It would seem that fear is a response to a known threat while anxiety is the response to a possible or imagined threat.  If I arrive at the airport late, my fear that I will miss my flight is a real possibility.  If I lie in bed the night before my flight and worry that I might miss it, that is an imagined possibility which will lead to anxiety.   I am most unpleasant before a flight, arrive sometimes 3 or 4 hours beforehand, and still pace the concourse in front of my gate, watching everyone and everything for signs of something amiss.

There are probably thousands of articles and studies on anxiety based disorders and syndromes. Lucky us, we’re the only species that worries, that projects those worries onto future events, and obsesses about events in the past.  General anxiety disorder is commonly linked to depression.  Women suffer from it more than men.  It can lead to serious physical ailments later in life (hypertension, coronary disease, some studies suggest links to Alzheimer’s). Yay, more to worry about! 

Luckily, we clever humans have come up with ways to cope such as biofeedback, yoga, meditation, and meds.  So, now at the stage in my life when the anxiety might do me serious harm, I need to choose a coping method and face down my nemesis, before it’s too late.

“All of us are born with a set of indistinct fears – of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and or the words “Some Assembly Required.” – Dave Barry

“Worrying is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” – Glenn Turner

“Grief has limits whereas apprehension has none.  For we grieve only for what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen.” – Pliny the Younger  (whether he wrote this before Vesuvius erupted or not I don’t know).