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Panic Attacks. Through the Monsoon

19 Mar

After my son was born and I began having regular panic attacks, I  started a private blog that I called “Through the Monsoon”.  I didn’t want anyone to read it then, and I don’t want anyone to read it now.  I still have that blog and I write very train of thought but it is strictly for my eyes only.

I digress.  Through the Monsoon.

So I heard this song called “Through the Monsoon” by a young German band called Tokio Hotel (kind of a boyband with instruments. I may have had PPMD, but I wasn’t quite immune to the charms of a boyband).

Kind of emo.

And by “kind of”, I mean “completely”.

Perfect for how I was feeling.

I latched on to the lyrics and I played the song over and over, thinking of my kids as the “you” and the “monsoon” as PPMD.

Running through the monsoon, Beyond the world, To the end of time, Where the rain won’t hurt

Fighting the storm, Into the blue, And when I lose myself I think of you, Together we’ll be running somewhere new

Through the monsoon. Just me and you.



So lately I have been having some mad panic attacks. In fact, I am currently in a state of hyperarousal where my anxiety is so profound that I feel every physical sensation very acutely. My entire body is wound so tightly I feel like a an elastic band.


My muscles ache. My jaw is clenched so tight I feel as though I am wearing down the enamels on my teeth. My fists are clenched. I hyperventilate. I feel sick and tired.

I feel sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

The worst part of it? I have no idea why I feel this way.

And that  is the nature of panic.

One of the things that I hate more than anything is that my panic disorder is not particularly situational, rather it is genetic, biological, chemical.

I don’t panic on elevators or airplanes, in crowds or while driving.

I really don’t have a large amount of internal stress at this point in time.

I know that there are times when I am triggered more than usual or times when external and internal stress is high (ie, in the Post Partum Period, returning to work after mat leave, moving to a new house, the death of my mother in law), but overall, there is no real rhyme or reason to my panic and thus nothing that I can specifically do about my behaviour or change about my environment.

Because I believe so strongly in cognitive behaviour therapy, I do a lot of thought records and worry trees in an effort to understand my thoughts and work at getting better. I track my feelings. Sometimes I can identify things like fear of having a panic attack in public or fear of leaving my kids. I read Mind Over Mood again. And again. And again.

I work so hard at getting better that when I’m not better, I just feel discouraged.

And it sucks.

In the past little while, I have had several people say to me in that voice,

How are you? How are YOU? Are you doing ok?

My response is always to smile very big and say,

I’m amazing. I’m actually doing really well.

I am a much better actress/liar than I give myself credit for.

I also really don’t want to have a conversation about it, and when I do, I talk about it to my people.

In the meantime, I look forward to my first massage since Christmas (I think), and a doctor’s appointment tomorrow after work.

Panic Attacks. Post Partum Mood Disorder

8 Feb

My son was around 6 weeks old when my friend panic returned with a vengeance. I was getting on so nicely and I thought I was in the clear. I really did.

Then Santa brought me the gift of more panic attacks for Christmas 2007.

I could not sit still. I could not relax.

I remember being at the dinner table in my mom’s living room on Christmas day literally willing the minutes away. I just wanted to be somewhere under a blanket without people talking to me and asking questions.

And then it happened again at New Year’s. And again. And again.

And it was spectacularly awful.

All panic attacks are spectacularly awful for people who have them. For me, I felt like I couldn’t breath. I could not physically get in a breath, no matter what I did. I would bend over in the hopes of getting that air in. My heart pounded. I wanted to ask people around me – “can you hear that pounding? Can you SEE my heart beating really fast in my chest?”

I twitched, involuntarily. It is as though my jaw and lips moved of their own accord. My muscles were always tense as though I was on guard for something. I was nauseous and had stomach issues.

One night I tried to “sneak out” of my condo with my son by telling my husband I was going to the walk in clinic due to a sore throat.  I was really going to the hospital. His friend was over and our daughter was sleeping so we left his friend to watch our daughter while we (and our son) drove to the hospital and sat outside. And waited. I was really concerned about what his friend would think of me. I still wonder.

“If anything bad happens, we are right here at the hospital”, my husband told me.

You are a fucking asshole, I thought. “You don’t know how I’m feeling”, I would scream at him.

“I know I don’t know what you’re feeling, but I know what’s happening to you, and I’m here for you”.

I really hated my husband in that moment.

We ended up going for a walk around. And then we got ice cream. And then we went home.

Two days later I went to the hospital for real. I went with my son, sure that something was terribly wrong. They ran all the tests and they were all normal.

I followed through with my doctor and it was clear to him and to his resident that I was not well. He increased my meds (I had checked with mother risk for breastfeeding compatibility) and I had an appointment to return the following week.

I was back at the ER before that next appointment. This time, after all the tests had been run, they asked if I wanted to speak to the people in psychiatric services. I’m not sure if it was the baby, my hysterical crying, or the fact that I was begging for help that tipped them off, but needless to say, I said yes.

I remember saying “please don’t take my baby, I’m really not that bad”. The thought of removing me from my child made me feel so much worse.

The nurses and doctors were AMAZING. They took me to a room in the ER that was quiet and private and let me talk and they adjusted my meds and referred me to a group run in the hospital. It was really a turning point for me. They were totally non judgemental and not frightening in any way. It was validating to me that despite the fact that I was sick, I wasn’t alone.

I realized at that point, that while I did not have post partum depression, I did have a Post Partum Mood Disorder (anxiety and panic).

Part 6 coming soon.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Panic Attacks. And then I got pregnant.

30 Jan

So I was talking about how panic attacks really suck.

I was rolling along having a really shitty time when I started doing some talk therapy along with medication. Initially saw a counsellor that I hooked up with through my EAP (Employee Assistance Program) through work. After that I started seeing a GP psychotherapist.

I really liked both. I gained insight and some useful tools and I was doing better. I never felt 100%, but I was nothing like how I been in the past. I could see friends easily and get through days with limited anxiety. I smiled and was often happy. My hospital bag was still packed by the door, but I rarely thought about it.

And then I decided to get pregnant again.

And I was great during my pregnancy. I swear I had few cares at all despite having a high risk pregnancy. I have a blood clotting disorder – prothrombin gene mutation – that had been discovered when my daughter was born 2 months premature. As a result, I was on fragmin (a blood thinner) and saw, in addition to my OB, a perinatologist and an internist. I was seen in the high risk pregnancy unit and seemed to have appointments all the time. My placenta had clots on it, and the blood flow to it wasn’t great. My blood pressure was high, I had to go off work, but I felt fine. I was at the hospital twice a week for monitoring and spent a week in the hospital prior to the birth of my son at 37 weeks, but mentally, I felt better than ever.

Once my son was over 1 month old it all started again.

If I thought I was bad before, it was nothing compared to how I was at this point.

Part 5 coming soon.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Panic Attacks. Triggered by my own writing.

27 Jan

I need to add a trigger warning to these posts.  If not for other people, than for me when I edit and reread them.

I wanted to put these posts out over the course of a few days but I am finding sifting through old memories incredibly difficult. Way more difficult than I could have ever anticipated.

My 4 year old son takes skateboarding lessons and we were at the skatepark Wednesday when I started to panic. His lesson is from 4:30 to 5:30. I kept staring at my phone, willing the time to move faster. It moved slower, I’m certain of it.

I was shaking so bad, I felt like everyone could notice. My mouth was dry and my breathing shallow. My chest was heavy and my heart was racing. Another mother, someone I had never seen before, was chatting to me, and I have no idea what she said. I smiled and nodded but I wanted to bolt. I wanted to go onto the ramps, grab my son and leave. I was happy when she left.

I’ll just wait 5 mins, tell the instructor that my daughter is sick, and we’ll go. I’ll wait until 5PM. That’s normal. 5 more minutes.

I started thinking that I might collapse or pass out. What would happen to my kids? The instructor is responsible. He would help my daughter call my husband. The owner’s wife was there. She would comfort my daughter. The dad of the other boy in the class is nice. He would make sure the ambulance was called and my kids were safe. He would play with my son.

I needed air. I needed it so bad but my breathing was so shallow. I google mapped how long it would take me to drive to the nearest hospital. It wasn’t far. I could make it in 15 minutes and it wouldn’t be busy at that time, would it? Maybe my doctor would see me. No, I was too embarrassed to call him and tell him I had failed. Again.

I cannot express how discouraging it is to get to this point, after being well for so long. I was better. 

I went outside and didn’t feel the cold. I didn’t feel anything but each and every body sensation. Pain. Choking. I was going to throw up on the cold ground by my car.

If you looked at me, talked to me, hung out with me, I don’t think you would ever know that I have panic attacks and anxiety. I have been told repeatedly by people that they had no clue and I don’t seem sick or sad or anything. Doctors have told me that because I am high functioning, it is easier for me to mask it and hide things. Easier for me to get done what needs to be done, like work and taking care of my kids.

I called my husband.

Something is really wrong this time, I told him. You know what it is, he told me. I think it’s my heart, or my throat. If it were either of those things, you wouldn’t be walking around in the cold, chatting with me, and you know that. Keep walking. And keep talking.

I walked and I talked. I went back inside and talked to the owner’s wife and to the other dad and to my daughter and to the instructor. I cheered on my son. We left at the normal time. I felt marginally better.

I cried the whole way home but I don’t think my kids saw. I really hope they didn’t.

One of my closest friends, D, called me. I had been wanting to talk to her but I couldn’t bring myself to answer the phone. I didn’t want to burden her and I knew she would worry. I spoke with my other friend J, and never said anything. I didn’t want her to think I was fucked up. I didn’t want to burden her.* My husband and I have plans to go out with people on Friday night and I have been thinking on how to get out of it, working it over and over in my mind. What can I say that sounds plausible and not insulting to people who I really like and really want to see but just can’t right now?

Realistically, I think this resurgence is due to rehashing what went on and working through those feelings again but I think it’s important to tell my story, because my story may help another person. My story may help me.

I did phone my doctor and my psychiatrist and my massage therapist and booked appointments with all three. I also pulled out my thought records.

For anyone going through panic, anxiety or depression, I cannot recommend a book called Mind Over Mood enough. While it’s important to have someone trained in CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) to talk and work through the book with, if you can’t find someone or the wait is long, read this book and do daily thought records. They help(ed) me a lot. There are a lot of really great, trained people in Toronto who do CBT.

*I have have really bad cognitive distortions in the moment of panic. I know I can call my friends at any time and they will be there for me just like if they called me in crisis there is nothing I wouldn’t do. I just hate feeling like I may burden people. I feel like if I can get through that moment, I will be fine later, and it would have been silly to have burdened them at that time.

The above video shows my son skateboarding at an earlier date. ❤

Part 4 coming soon.

Part 1

Part 2

Panic Attacks. The Journey Continues.

26 Jan

After my panic attack on the way to Ottawa, I went to see my family doctor. I was adamant about not being on medication. Medication was for crazy people. I was normal. Normal. I have a really great doctor, who booked longer sessions for me, where we sat and talked and drank tea and he humoured me about me not needing medication.

For a while I was fine. Until I wasn’t.

I started having panic attacks frequently. When I wasn’t having an actual attack, I was in a really high state of anxiety. My physical symptoms were out of control. I wasn’t keeping track of my thoughts at the time, the way I do now, but my most prevailing thought was that something was the matter with me, I was dying, and I would leave my daughter motherless. Every twinge was something, until my breathing was so shallow that I was essentially hyperventilating. My muscles were always tense, I grinded my teeth. I was hot and cold. I was sick all the time with colds. I kept a bag at the front door packed with things for me and my daughter, clothes, books, toys, diapers, and a Roots hoodie that I never wore. Each night in the evening, I showered and washed my hair and put on a nice pair of pajamas. I was ready to go to the hospital if I needed to. I was nothing if not prepared.

I was absolutely consumed with the idea of never being able to see my child grow up, of her not knowing just how very much I love her, and how I would do anything for her. ANYTHING.

That year, I attended the ER at least six times. If I went in the middle of the night, I brought my daughter with me. The thought of us being separated made me worse. The bond I have with my daughter remains strong today. Two times, I drove to work, and had to turn around and go to the ER. I cancelled plans with friends because I was scared about something happenting to me.

At the ER, I had a need to see my ECG results. My blood test results. My chest X-ray results. I just wanted confirmation that they were normal. That I was normal. And then I would be almost ok. Until I wasn’t.

While I basically hid everything from friends and family by withdrawing from activities, just keeping things on the surface, and faking how I was doing, my doctor was another story entirely. I couldn’t keep it together even in the waiting room. Or the car on the way to his office. He was seeing me at least weekly and I was put on medication. I knew I needed it, even if it did mean I was crazy. At this point, I really believed I was crazy. How could I feel this way and not be crazy?

2005-2006 was not a good time. Not a good time at all. Despite having the best daughter any person could ask for, a great husband and wonderful friends and family, and a fulfilling career, I was so unhappy inside. I lived in fear constantly. I cried all the time.

I was so tired. So very tired.

Part 3 coming soon.

Part 1

Panic Attacks. The journey begins.

25 Jan

I have panic attacks. They suck.

May 2005. I was driving to Ottawa with my mom and (then 2 year old) daughter in the car to visit my brother. I suddenly felt as though I was smothering. I could not get in an entire breath and my heart was racing. It was as though I was both watching what was happening from somewhere else and feeling each sensation so acutely. I pulled the car over and calmly (my exterior was so calm despite my interior being in turmoil, something that would prevail even today) told my mom I couldn’t breathe and needed to get help. I got out of the car and called 911.  I stayed with the operator pacing on the side of the highway. My mother stayed with my daughter.

An ambulance came and took me to a hospital outside of Ottawa with my mother and daughter following behind me. After heart tests and blood tests and other tests, a really nice doctor asked me if I had a history of panic and anxiety. Until that exact moment, I had never thought so. I began to cry and shake hysterically. And then my journey began.

February 2001.  I was sitting in a seminar room in History 421, Russian Revolution, at Queen’s University. I felt like the room was getting smaller, closing in on me. The professor sounded far away, like she was speaking in a wind tunnel. I wanted to get up and run.  My heart was racing and my palms were sweating. I was going to be sick. I was going to go crazy right there in that room.

A few years ago, my mom brought me some old boxes and in one of them, I found  my old journals.  Funny, how at the time, and even looking back, I never thought of myself as an anxious person, and yet, reading the journals, I so clearly was.

I have panic attacks. They suck.

This is my story.

Part 2 coming soon.

Photo Credit

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