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The Fragrant Muse?

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Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, United States
I'm a Creative Soul and Happy Person. I have a passion for my Family, Aromatics, Fairy Gardens, Pugs, SoulCollage, Miniature Worlds, Visual Journals.


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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Anatomy of a Panic Attack

Edvard Munch. Anxiety, 1894. Munch Museum, Oslo

I've mentioned in previous posts that I'm prone to anxiety.  I've come to regard my anxiety as a valued messenger who shows up to tell me I'm off course.  My anxiety is feedback from my body telling me I'm out of balance, that something needs attention.  The worse the anxiety, the more I'm off balance in body, mind or spirit.  Usually, when I begin to feel a subtle sense of apprehension or butterflies in my gut, I journal to see if I can determine what needs attending to or help me unravel whatever is bothering me.  Sometimes I just know what's wrong and take care of it and the anxiety begins to melt.

This summer I've been doing too much, sleeping too little and consuming far too much toxic crap ~ refined carbs, junk food, strong coffee and sugar.  I haven't broken a sweat from exercise in months and I am perimenosal.  To top it off, I have procrastinated on responsibilities in favor of too much playtime both online and off. 

My body has been screaming its feedback in the form of generalized anxiety, fatigue and crankiness.  And I chose to ignore it.

The result was a meltdown on Friday July 31st, the likes of which I haven't experienced in years.

Here's how it unfolded.

I waited until the last day of July to have my car inspected.  It has been on my "to do" list for the past month, but I chose to procrastinate.  Afterall, it's boring and who wants to do the boring thing when there are so many more interesting things to do like surf the net, read blogs, sleep, surf some more then go out for ice cream.

At 3:00 that afternoon there was series of three simple events that, combined, were my undoing.
First, the mechanic called to tell me my car wouldn't pass inspection until they repaired this and that and this and that and bla bla bla and it would cost $600.   Secondly, while I was on the phone with him the doorbell rang and there were two people standing on my front porch.   One was a lady to collect a birdhouse I was painting for an auction.  She was an hour early and I still had to do a few finishing touches then sign it and her early arrival caught me unprepared.  Next to her was our mailperson with a certified letter telling me I was behind on the payment of a piece of property I own.  I wasn't behind because of no money, but because I hadn't gotten my ass to the post office to mail the payments.

I signed for the letter then ran in the house and grabbed the birdhouse leaving the finishing touches unfinished then ran back to the phone and told the mechanic to wait until I decided what to do.

I hung up the phone and sat in silence.  Then I began to cry.  And cry and cry and cry.  It felt pretty good for awhile, very cathartic.  But what happened next was the appearance of an old familiar enemy.  I was beginning to have a panic attack. 

“In panic attacks feeling follows thought so swiftly it is as if thought and feeling are one ”  ~Dr. Claire Weekes
It begins as a feeling of apprehension deep in my solar plexus then moves to my hands.  My fingers begin to tingle and the tingling sensation moves up my arms.  My hands begin to sweat.  Now I'm paralyzed and can't move and a warm but unsettling sensation of terror washes over me.   What happens next is hard to describe.  I get the sensation of being detached.  This feeling of detachment is surreal and I think you can only understand it if you've experienced it.  It's a sense of being unconnected to anything.  Removed.  And it's terrifying.  At this point I wasn't even crying, just sitting in a state of dread.  Some people have breathing issues but that has never been one of my symptoms, thank God.   Nope.  Just pure unabated terror.

Then it begins to fade, never last more than a few minutes.  And what is left is worse than that panic attack.  For days, sometimes weeks afterward I live in constant dread of its return.  A darkness settles on my heart and I do everything I can to feel lighter.  Apparently this cycle of anxiety, panic and depression is not uncommon.
Four days after this event, I got my period ~ after a seven month absence ~ which tells me that my PMS must have been extreme. With powerful hormone shifts and a system weakened by unhealthy choices, it's no wonder my body revolted the way it did.  Further I began to understand that I am feeling sad and even fearful about Gianluca leaving for college this month.  He's my youngest and his going off to school represents many things; the end of a chapter in our lives, a quiet house with no sports on the calander and teenagers hanging out.  And the fact that I am, indeed, getting older.
I have been diffusing my calming and grounding oils and and making new grounding blends for the massage room.  My clients think it's for them, but that's not necessarily true.
I began to read a book called The Mood Cure by Julia Ross, PhD and for the past ten days I have been following her protocol for lifting the dark cloud.  Her website is www.themoodcure.com

I've been exercising hard (one thing that always makes me feel better quickly), avoiding all caffeine, sugar and alcohol.  I am taking 5-HTP twice a day and have gone back to eating gluten-free (something else that changes my mood to from dark to light). I've stocked up the fridge with lots of fruits and veggies, high protein foods, flax oil, fish, nuts, brown rice and goat cheese.  We're going to eat healthier, by God!

I have also been clearing the clutter in my house and just yesterday hired a home organizer to help us get the house finished this year (we've been under construction for 4 years).  She has a plan of action for every room in the house and is even going to create a new art room for me.  I have been reviewing anything outstanding in the way of bills, work deadlines, fall teaching schedules and, in general, getting organized again.  I've also been spending less time online, opting to sleep in a bit later or go to bed earlier.

Today is the first day I really feel like writing and it's also the first day I've woken up with no, I mean NO anxiety.

I don't know what this means in the way of my blogging presence.  I may pull back if I feel myself slipping back into overdoing it - especially if I start procrastinating and losing my grounding.

For now, I'm just taking it one day at a time.

Thank you to all my dear blogging friends who have emailed me with concern, love and support.  It means more than you know.


julochka said...

have that vague sense of anxiety today, but can't really get to the bottom of what it's all about...but it's definitely keeping me from doing anything productive. tried going for a long walk, eating something healthy (non-carb), and tried to figure out what it is, but it hasn't come to me yet. i do have faith that it will and there's been no panic, just a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. but that's bad enough, frankly...and i hope it leaves soon!!!

i guess we just have to hang in there, eh? i admire how you took steps immediately to turn it around. that's inspiring.

spudballoo said...

oh honey, I'm weeping for you :-( it sounds awful. I can't cope AT ALL with the sort of situation you described, I'm just not programmed to be flexible and let stuff like that wash over me (as MrSpud can, he's a brilliant 'grounder' for me like that). Thus I have no option but to be SUPER organised, I just HAVE to keep on top of deadlines, bills, stuff to be done, house tidy, cupboards sorted etc etc. Because I throw wobblers and make everyone feel awful if life gets on top of me.

I've got to figure out a way to spend less time online though. I love it, but it's tipping in to a bit of an addiction and is eating in to time I'd like to spend reading, taking photos, processing them, learning to sew etc. Hmmm. But how to? I feel so plugged in to blogging now, and flickr.

Anyway KUDOS to you for tackling it all so assertively and getting fast results too. You must feel so much better about everything.

My quick win tip; ditch twitter. It's kind of fun but you can 'waste' so much time there. I like twitter for journeys, when the children are doing something that doesn't require me but I need half an eye on them etc. Otherwise it's a time sapper I reckon.

Go through your reader and ruthlessly chuck out anyting that doesn't consistently inspire you/make you laugh/you learn from. Get it down to a really manageable amount and set a daily amount for comments like, 5 a day. You really don't have to comment on everything, I know it's nice to.

Or set a daily 'internet' allowance?

Hugs to you honey, lots of change going on but all the things you are doing are positive.

Wish you lived nearer, say, round the corner? Will you email me your address? I'd like to send you something xxx

Fidgeting Gidget said...

I'd noticed that you've been missing from the blogosphere a bit. Sounds like you hit a rough patch, but in my opinion, the first step is realizing what the root of the problem is and taking steps to fix it, and it sounds like you're doing that brilliantly. I hope that everything calms down--I think the home organizer is a great idea. Sending hugs your way!

Holly said...

I don't have any advise on this one, Liz. Because I can relate to some of it. But, not all of it.

And, it sounds like it was an exercise in seeing yourself once again...instead of always looking at everything else instead.

Not the best way to go at it, but Spirit gets our attention the quickest way when we need to pay attention.

So, look-it...you started blogging because it was supposed to be fun and interesting....once it seems like a job? Best to let it go.

I don't think you're leaning that way...just sifting through everything that is part of your day and deciding how to weight it all.

As for me? I'd miss you. You've taught me so much in such a short time I've been here.

I like Spudballoo's notion.

And, I think all of us are beginning to understand the toxic nature of being available via so many different electronic means. I'm fairly certain we weren't created for that sort of constant access.

At the same time, I don't know what the cure or answer is for this world we now find ourselves living.

Hugs to you and Reiki energy winging its way.

Jelica said...

i actually know what you mean by that detached feeling and it's the most awful thing you can experience. glad you are better and things are balancing out.

Optimistic Pessimist said...

Liz - this was so well written, and really detailed about what you've been through. Sending you lots of virtual hugs and hoping to be able to give your real ones soon!

I am delighted to hear you woke up this morning with no anxiety!

Sounds like you're back on track again by taking the steps you needed to take. You're so strong!

I have been and will continue to keep you in my thoughts.

The Fragrant Muse said...

Thank you, each and every one of you! I feel like I have a strong band of sisters here and your lack of judgement and loving support are amazing!

It took a bit a courage to "bleed in public" like this and I've never actually put into words what happens when I have one of these beastly episodes. Luckily they are rare. But I am ever the teacher and if anyone can learn from my experiences then I'll share them.

tippyrich said...

Liz, you're an amazing woman. It's been years since I've experienced anxiety to this extent; but I have experienced it and my heart goes out to you. Knowing what to do in such an instance is only half the healing; having the discipline to do it is the other. You my dear have both firmly in your grip and you'll be fine. What an example you are! Thanks for being generous enough to share the details so that others like us will know how to combat this foe. Take care of you and know that you are loved. ♥

smith kaich jones said...

Well, I get this totally. I have dealt with a pretty severe panic/anxiety disorder since I was a teeny kid, not diagnosed until I was in my 30s (everyone just thought I was really shy). It's bad enough that I have medication to deal with it. Mine always manifest themselves with belly stuff - I get unbelievably ill, and it can last a couple or 3 hours, and I am always convinced that I am going crazy. (Which - lol - sometimes makes me feel like well, that'll be okay - I'll get meds & I won't have to do anything but make baskets and wander around & smell flowers.) I am 55 & I have hit menopause - the anxiety has grown worse for the last few years, and finally, finally, I allowed my ob/gyn to talk me into estogen/progesterone therapy. It's been a tad over a week now (and I had to talk myself into taking the progesterone, terrified it would make me sick, thus triggering a panic attack.) It is amazing. My anxiety level is down immensely, and within 2 days I was able to cut my meds by 1/3. Obviously hormones were aggravating things immensely.

My heart goes out to you - it takes forever to get over an attack; it sucks. You are doing things you need to do - you will be okay. And always remember that this too shall pass. Although I know it's hard to remember that when you're in the midst of an attack. I know every trick in the book, and sometimes they don't help, but usually they do. Hang in there.

:) Debi

Kitty said...

Liz, I almost started crying when I read your post. I have very similar symptoms, especially in regard to feeling as though I have abruptly left my body. I tend to be very weak in my lower third chakras, as if I am ready to take flight at any moment. I am so impressed by your level of awareness. Can you imagine what it would be like if you were not so acutely aware of what's happening? My friend landed herself in the ER last week with numb and tingling arms, totally freaking out as she experienced her first panic attack. By sharing your feelings and experience, you have helped many. Peace and love to you as you realign yourself. Namaste, kitty.

Sara said...

Oh, what a horrible feeling! I've quit jobs before that caused daily anxiety attacks but I don't know how I would handle it if it was something I couldn't get away from! Thank you for sharing this as I'm sure it will help others.

marinik said...

Liz..I'm sorry you went through that, but am glad you've taken steps to help the situation, you seem to be on top of it. The house project sounds great, and a little art room for you...well that's just awesome.
Hope things get better...
take care

Anonymous said...

Anxiety disorders are astonishingly common. They include Panic, Phobias (including Agoraphobia and Social Phobia), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. For many people self-help is a viable way forward and this is why we wrote our book Free Yourself from Anxiety. We aim to show you, step-by-step, how to set up and follow an individually tailored self-help programme.

Part one looks at lifestyle, because very often the way you live is contributing to Anxiety. By making simple changes you can get yourself fit and ready to tackle your Anxiety driven behaviours.

Part two shows you how to challenge your Anxiety in a safe controlled way, by setting small goals that take you gradually towards letting go of anxious behaviours.

Part three shows you how to recognise your anxious thinking, challenge it, and ultimately change it.

Part four explains how to delve into some of the deeper issues that may be driving Anxiety. We also suggest where it might be appropriate for you to seek professional help.

Our aim in this book is to be as comprehensive as possible. Each reader will be able to decide which aspects of the recovery programme they need to complete and which are not relevant to them. In addition we have only discussed proven safe techniques.

Throughout the book we have used the words of Anxiety sufferers who are in various stages of recovery to illustrate our points

The authors

Emma Fletcher is a UK-registered counsellor with 20 years experience of helping anxiety sufferers and of training counsellors and volunteers on anxiety help-lines. She remains firmly committed to the self-help principle and believes that much of her work consists of giving her clients the tools to enable them to live more effectively. This book is an attempt to bring those tools to a wider audience.

Martha Langley is a professional writer and journalist. She has more than 10 years experience as a volunteer on helplines for people dealing with Anxiety and has also been a one-to-one mentor and recovery group leader. This has given her an insight into the difficulties faced by people trying to put self-help techniques into practice. Her aim in Free Yourself from Anxiety was to explain these techniques, to explain the reasoning behind them, and to make practical suggestions that will give every reader the best chance of recovery.

Free Yourself From Anxiety ISBN 978-1- 84528-311-7 is available from bookshops, book websites and Amazon US on
http://www.amazon.com/Free-Yourself-Anxiety-self-help-overcoming/dp/1845283112/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1247762277&sr=8-4 or Amazon UK on

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Anonymous said...

I can appreciate you analysis of panic attacks being your body's way of letting you know things have gotten too far out of balance. Great observation! Wonderful writing on a horrible condition. Thanks!

Delena said...

I can relate too. I get total full on panic attacks in line-ups. This deeply affects my life style. Shopping is a nightmare if there are line ups at the registers, I just can't get into one. I can't stand in line for food buffets, etc. etc. I take nothing and do nothing but avoid what I can. I have had these for nine years. Most people don't even know I get them.

Janet said...

yep, that'd be enough to push me over the edge. now, tho i'm not having any anxiety or panic attacks, i do need a kick in the drawstring pants to get up and exercise and cut the crap out of my diet. are you up for a challenge? ;) xoxoxo

tippyrich said...

Liz, 'hope you are feelin better each day. 'Just wanted you to know that you're still in my 'hopeful thots! ♥

Maggie May said...

oh my we have a LOT in common. i have used the Mood Cure and she is wonderful! the 5HTP was something i also did. i take fish oils daily-i recommend it. i hate the fear of panic almost as much as the thing itself, i know. i also do much better when i'm gluten free or only 10% gluten in my diet. this seems to have a connection to hormonal balance.
feel better,

B said...

Oh, honey, I'm sorry you've been through all this... but I'm so impressed that you've instantly tried to do everything you could to make yourself better. You're truly inspiring.
We must learn to take care of ourselves, don't we? Why do we always put others first, until we have a wake up call?
Thank you so much for describing exactly how you felt. You're very brave and I hope this helps others (it's helping me!)
Please, keep blogging, but on your own terms and time, of course! :)

McGillicutty said...

Dear Musie... hang in there it happens to us all at some point in time. Take the opportunity to get yourself where you need to be, sounds like you're already getting straighted out.
You are so right to listen to your body, something that most of us aren't that good at, me especially.
Spud has the right idea, we'd so miss you if you weren't to blog at all, give yourself a little time every couple of days or so (like Fridays)!!!!
There's lots of good vibes coming your way..... besos!!!!!!

Linnea said...

When I was reading your post on The Joy Diet, this post came up as one I may also want to read. I clicked on it immediately because I have panic attacks, too -- have since I was 15. My high school years were torture, and through a confluence of influences I've gotten to the point where I rarely have them. Like you, though, if I get out of balance one quickly shows up to let me know.

Your description of how a panic attack feels is excellent. You're right; it's hard to describe that sense of unreality to someone who's never experienced it.

I hope things are better now.

Wild Roaming One (WRO) said...

Liz, you have an abundant amount of self-awareness to delve into the causes of your anxiety! I'm so grateful you sent me this link, and I can't wait to dive into that website and how I can abait my own. Thank you so much...I'm definitely coming back to poke around and see what other idea you've written about (I'm an aromatherapist and herbalist too!)

See you soon,

Stacy said...

Oh girl! I hear you! You are such a Libra. I resonate with what you are saying of course. I laughed out loud over the car procrastination because "it's boring." Unfortunately, that is one of my biggest battles. If it isn't fun, I don't want to do it. And Libras are oh so talented at justifying almost anything we do. One of our charming shortcomings ;-)