I am a robust, healthy person, almost never run down or ill, and I tend towards a strong sense of inner strength and vitality. I have always believed in self healing, and have always had a pretty even keel when in rough waters. I also live a varied and occasionally adventurous lifestyle, at ease in new circumstances, and felt for a long time that I was mentally, spiritually and emotionally sound; the opposite of hypochondriac. Most people I meet tell me I have a soothing effect on them and I inspire confidence.
Well, one afternoon while I was amicably chatting among some acquaintances I began to feel a tightness in my chest and abdomen. The sensation persisted for a long time. I recall being in mid-sentance when I suddenly lost control of my breath as if I were choking and had to cough. I took a sip of the wine we were all having, thinking it would help ease my throat, but instead I had difficulty swallowing. This was awkward, so I excused myself and went to get a glass of water instead.
When I got up I realised I was very lightheaded. There also began a noticeable buzzing in my ears, too. I got some water, even dabbed some on my temple and neck, drank a glass and then went back to sit down again. It was soon after that I recall feeling rather uncomfortable. The tightness in my abdomen felt now like the tight grip of a large hand. I was experiencing difficulty breathing. Sharp pains began in my chest and left arm. My palms grew clammy and I began to sweat all over. A barrage of sensations came upon me very quickly. I tried to breathe slowly and calmly but the tightness made this difficult. I was also growing nauseous, tired and extremely lightheaded. Its frightening and uncomfortable to even recall this now.
At some point someone looked at me and gasped "are you alright?" That was the first moment when I recall thinking I ought to be concerned, because apparently I had lost all color. Someone said "your face is all white."
I had the wine glass in my hand and thought maybe it was a reaction to the wine. I don't really like wine, nor alcohol in general, and I'd only had a few sips by this point. Could I perhaps have eaten something bad? I leaned forward. I was feeling stiff in my neck. My head was throbbing. A numbness overtook my arms and spread to my hands. My heart jumped into a full throttle pounding, while my fingers curled in upon themselves and I dropped the wineglass which broke on the floor.
After this my memory becomes foggy. I just remember my heart pounding like never before, and a whiteness or flashing light in my vision and loud ringing, and the terrible paralysis in my hands. I think I got kind of frightened then, too. I mean these physical sensations were so incredibly intense and there were so many of them all at once that I hardly had time to become frightened.
After some length of time I began to come out of it. I was on the floor. The hostess managed to inform me I was a jerk for breaking her expensive wine glass. I was too exhausted to speak. I had no way to explain what had happened. The strange looks everyone gave me were making me uncomfortable, so as soon as I felt strong enough I got up and left. I was stunned by all of this, but I've dealt head-on with an array of strong situations (though nothing remotely like this one) and felt it would all pass and eventually what was behind it would come to light.
Within a month or two, however, these 'attacks' were happening with an uncanny irregularity, sneaking up on me when I'd least expect, like in the shower or during a meal. It was then that I really began to associate fear with these experiences, especially because the symptoms grew much worse each time. The manual paralysis was particularly unnerving, especially as it was also spreading to my neck. I'd heard of panic attacks before but assumed these were the mental aberrations of overactive minds. I even read about them a bit and felt that I was experiencing something with some similarities, but far more extreme and visceral than what I had read about so far. I am now looking with some hope to determine with certainty that I am in fact experiencing panic. The doctors I have been to have given me mixed opinions, one even going so far as to prescribe Propranolol to regulate my heart! but when I heard about acute panic disorder something clicked. Still, the symptoms continue to evolve, and in more and more increasingly unsettling ways....How frightening. Panic attacks are indeed unsettling. The fear of having another panic attack can be one of the worst parts of the whole experience.
The body seems to get into a pattern where panic is a new "normal" response that starts happening habitually.
I'm glad to hear you have sought medical attention. It must be very frustrating to get varying opinions when all you want are some answers.
It is impossible to tell what may be effective in reducing the panic attacks or breaking that physiological cycle, but here are some things that you may want to try, provided your physician gives you the okay to proceed:
- When you feel the first indications of panic attack symptoms, try to increase them by exercising. This can have a paradoxical effect.
- Use regular exercise to raise your heart rate a few times each day. Initially just the sensation of a faster heart rate can be uncomfortable because it feels too similar to the panic attacks, but if you persist this can help re-train your body.
- Have you stopped doing things that you normally do for enjoyment? Many people find that as soon as they begin experiencing panic attacks, it is like their worlds get smaller because they withdraw from the things they usually enjoy. Getting back in touch with your adventurous side can be very valuable.
- High adrenaline activities also provide a healthy experience of the symptoms that have become frightening. Everyone knows that it is normal to feel panicked while bungee jumping!
- A few relaxation scripts that may be relevant:
Relaxation to Relieve Anxiety
Relaxation for Coping with Panic
Overcoming Panic Attacks
Retraining the Amygdala
I hope this helps.