May 11, 2011

Panic Shmanic

By Veronica

Okay - so you might recall my discussion below about panic attacks. I think I have solved the mystery. There might be some other related issues, but the "attacks" are definitely hormonal. Here's how I know:

I had to fly to Minnesota for business a few weeks back. I arrive at the airport, park the car, check luggage, go through security, find a seat. I'm not the best flyer but after flying 15 hours at a time back and forth to HK, I'm able to be comfortable with the routine.  So, I pull out my book (One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - and that choice was inspired by some list on FB. The kind of list where others have done/read/seen 85% more than you? As if anyone cares whether or not I read this book...but I want to be culturally relevant! For Lisa: UGH!)  Reading my book (strange with weird cover art), I check out other passengers - looking for the "ringer" as my friend, Mary Beth, puts it. The pregnant lady, the priest - the person we need on board to make sure we have a safe trip. Lots of business people and then viola! The pilot flying in uniform. Yay! The Ringer!

Doesn't matter. All of a sudden, I feel a little woozy thing and that's it - I'm on the roller coaster and taking up the whole front seat. No seatbelt, up the first hill I'm climbing, chink chink chink as the car jerks towards the top. I'm frantically pushing down on the imaginary break on the passenger's side of the car, scrambling to find the handbrake, but the car keeps heading for the top. I put my headphones on and listen to BelleRuth's soothing voice, I do deep breathing, I'm fighting as hard as I can....still climbing and now the plane is boarding. I should have been an actress. I'm calm! Look at me casually get my things together while my heart beats its way up my throat. No shaking when I hand the boarding agent my ticket - I even smile at her! Hi! So glad to be here! Walk down the hall to the plane - smile at the flight attendant while my knees start to buckle and everything inside says "RUN."  To my seat (6C- aisle seat), next to a middle-age guy, slim, on his phone. I tuck my backpack and purse under the seat in front of me and now I really am on the roller coaster ride and I'm not going to make it.

I'm slow and deliberate in my movements. I can't have my headphones on during take-off so I must have some sort of distraction. I pull my purse out and start pawing through it - pretending there's something in there I need. Hmmm...what am I looking for? it in this pocket? Frown, hmmm, nope. How 'bout self control - did I pack that in here? What about this envelope - nope, not in there. And now - the flight attendant is shutting the door and its over. I am full on panic. I can't get control of my thoughts, my feelings, and I know I'm going to be the crazy lady on the plane that makes them go back. I think about calling Minnesota and saying my dad just went into the hospital or that inclement weather had us grounded (who cares if they check the Doplar Radar?) No! No! I am fighting in my head. Stay calm, the flight is short, don't give in! The flight attendant won't let you off unless you make  a real scene and then the passengers will tackle you and HATE you!

I pull out my small  notebook and a pen. I slide my purse (the picture of calm!) under the seat in front of me. I flip open my notebook and begin to casually write a to-do list for the next several days. Then the plane begins to taxi and I really think I can't do it! I can't! I start to write a little faster. Now we're speeding up (usually my favorite part!) and I know I'm trapped for the next 90 minutes. 90 MINUTES of psychological warfare with myself. Now my writing is just scribbling and I'm flipping pages as fast as I fill them and I'm sure the man next to me can tell something is wrong. I'm just short of moaning and drooling.

Here is the transcript of what I wrote. Please feel free to laugh as it really is funny:

I think this is what is making me nervous - in my mind the title of consultant - paying this person extra money to be an expert. (The plane wasn't moving when I wrote that's what follows on the next line as the plane taxis) Panic attacks last 10 minutes. they are my flight/fight response over-responding. I can let go of that over-response because I am safe. I will not be sick. I will not have any physical problems. I will relax. I look forward to seeing K___ and A____ and all the others. When we land, I will (flip page) get my bag from the luggage area and find the taxi stand. The hotel is located in Roseville - maybe 30 minutes from the airport? Flying is easy. I like to watch the flight attendants - they know their job and enjoying flying. (flip page) Once I get the cab, I'll give him the address (I feel better already) and I'll relax on the ride to the hotel. I've already packed for Athens and mostly for Savannah - I still need a white bra and shoes for my dress. I'd also like a new jean skirt - something comfy and casual (flip page). I like the feeling of success - not giving into my fear. Flying is safe and relaxing. The flight attendant knows her job and so do the pilots. She is already up and busy. Soon, I'll listen to my iPod! Food and drink - coke and m&ms - I should drink water and save my snack for later(flip page) So, what happened today that had me so panicky? The take-off was smooth - we were at our altitude quickly. I felt worried but writing helped. Listening to BelleRuth - Relaxation - going to try napping.

Okay - so that's all my gibberish. The visual is key - me, writing as fast as the plane is going, not rocking but hunched over in my seat, scribble scribble scribble, page flip, scribble scribble scribble.  As the flight continues, I continue writing - trying to think of all the flying I will be doing in the next few months: back to HK, we're going to Guam in June and Australia in July and back to the U.S. in September! Then I tried to list all of the flights I'd already been on in my lifetime. Finally, I was able to get back to my To Do list, drink my Diet Coke, eat my m&m's and then we were there. The flight attendant knew something was up because she kept engaging me in conversation - eye contact, reassuring smile, she probably has a checklist in her head of Scary Passenger traits....

Back to the hormones - the next day I woke up to my period and guess what? I have felt fine ever since. No panic. No problems on the flight home. Completely calm and rational. Every day has been "normal" and balanced. I did find a replica vitamin, Stress Relief, that is akin to the Nutricalm recommended by Jamie (another poster on this blog) but haven't taken it regularly yet. I had a glass of wine last night that triggered a small bit of woozy/panic but I recovered quickly and was fine.

So, I've opted to get Xanax because despite my alternative methods, I can't go through that again. I'll continue to work on my guided imagery, affirmations, yoga, running, healthy eating, vitamins - but if all of that leaves me helpless in the face of full on panic - I'm gonna have to bring in the big guns. If chemicals are doing me in, then I'll fight back with chemicals. And you know what? Thank God for it - I think of all the women that didn't have the option of Xanax or Valium or whatever. No wonder they had fainting spells.


  1. Sounds like you have a plan, and I think that's one of the most important things (figuring out how we'd like to tackle the problem). I'll be curious to hear how the combination of healthy lifestyle choices and xanax works for you! (And by the way, how are you liking 100 Years of Solitude? I found the family tree completely necessary to keep everybody straight! :))

  2. Lisa - my doctor in HK also recommended acupuncture, which I haven't done yet, but plan on doing once we get back. So that will be an interesting (hopefully successful) addition. One Hundred Years - I think the cover art (head of a woman/body of a man?) reflects how I feel about it - ambivalent. I like it, then I don't know what I'm reading about, then I like the dreaminess of it, then I'm annoyed. Why did they name so many people the same name? And - for record keeping purposes, today I read a fb post that ended with: "double ugh!"