Sunday, May 22, 2011

Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia

A fellow blogger inspired me to write this post.  The topic is something most people in my current life don't even know I suffered from.  However, I decided to start this blog as a way to cope, meet others, and perhaps help someone else.  So my life has been an open book of sorts for the past 10 months...I figured I might as well share some of my past in hopes that someone will maybe learn a little.

When I was 18 years old and still living at home with my parents, I started getting these strange feelings.  It started off as periodic episodes of intense fear, that would make me feel as if I were about to die or loose control.  I would get heart palpatations, numbness and tingling throughout my entire body, dizzy, faint, vomit, uncontrollable diarrhea, hyperventalation, difficulty name it...I felt it.  The kicker is...nothing would set theses episodes off.  I would just feel this way completely out of the blue.  I kept it quiet for quite some time because I was so embarassed.  Eventually...those episodes...turned into a daily way of life.

I find that to be interesting since my head seemed to take that route years later.

I remember one day where nothing I did would distract me...and I literally thought I was going insane.  If I wasn't dying...I wanted to.  Finally, I took my mom out on our porch and told her what was going on.  As a nurse, and unbeknownst to anxiety sufferer, she told me it was anxiety attacks.  She gave me a half of a Xanax...and I freaked even more. 

Up until a few years ago...I did not drink, nor take any kind of medication for fear of feeling out of control.  I was scared to even take cough medicine!  Boy, ALOT has changed!

I was unable to be home alone.  My mom would leave in the mornings to take my little brother and sister to school, and I recall sitting on the couch for the 10 minutes she was gone, shaking and throwing up non-stop.

I couldn't eat, I had no appetite and I had a fear of choking on everything...which led me to look completely anorexic.

I would have the most irrational thoughts...and no matter what my brain body responded the way it wanted to...without control and against my will.

Eventually the fear of driving and leaving my house started.  One day I was stopped at a red light at a four-way intersection.  I then noticed cars surrounding me on both my right and left side.  I began getting hot, sweaty and I thought I was going to pass out.  So I did the unthinkable.  I slammed on the gas.  I slammed on the gas and ran that red light, right through a busy intersection.  After that incident, I decided to stop driving.  It led to me holing myself  up in my bedroom all hours of the day and night.  I wouldn't leave my bed.  But, I couldn't sleep.  I would stay up all hours of the night until I could non longer control my eyelids staying open...then sleep until late in the afternoon.  Every night before I did finally fall asleep...I would pray to God that I would wake up and all those feelings of doom would be gone.  Yet, everyday...I'd awake and instantly feel the panic.

After what seemed like forever of going through mom dragged me...kicking and screaming out of the house and to a psychiatrist.  This was obviously something I wasn't going to just get over.

The Dr. diagnosed me with Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia.  I was prescribed a daily dose of Paxil, and Klonopin as needed for the really rough times.  At the time, I knew nothing about those classes of medications.  When I learned that Klonopin was an anti seizure medication...I could not understand why the Dr. had prescribed it, as I certainly wasn't having seizures.  I threw it away.  Back then I was unaware that meds were used for more than one ailment!

I started taking the Paxil slowly.  Like ridiculously slowly...and not as I was supposed to.  But, remember...I had irrational fears of putting anything into my body that would alter how I felt or reacted.  I would cut it into tiny slivers.  I am certain I wasn't getting anything by doing that.  I did come around, put on some big girl least training pants...and started taking regular doses. 

Throughout that entire time, my best friend, Kelly, would come over and just sit in my room with me.  After starting the meds, and seeing a therapist on a bi-weekly basis, I began to be able to go out of my house a little.  I still wasn't able to drive, or be alone...but my sister and Kelly would take me to the bookstore (where I bought every book on panic attacks I could find), or to a movie, or to dinner.

I felt comfort in reading stories of others out there suffering from the same thing as I was.  I was not the only crazy person...and I was not going to die. 

I also never wanted to be around anyone who didn't know about my condition.  Which was only a select few.  I did not want to have a severe attack, and others not know what to do...or worse yet...not understand.  It was humiliating.

I don't know how long exactly I suffered before I began to actually live again.  But...I did.  I went on to have a somewhat regular life for awhile.  I began working, formed a romantic relationship, moved out on my own...and got pregnant with Brendan at 21.

While I had the occasional anxiety attack, I had learned tools to "talk myself down."  If I picked up something to read, or called Jen or Kelly to distract would eventually go away.

I continued Paxil throughout my entire pregnancy and through the year of breastfeeding.  Thirteen years ago, the risks to a baby were unknown.  These days...there is actually a class action lawsuit againt the makers of Paxil for several reasons.  One of which is that it causes birth defects in the fetus.  Brendan was born healthy.  He was born without a Pectoralis Major muscle in his chest...and as he gets older may need surgery...but more of the cosmetic kind.  I was told he'd probably suffer from weakness in his arms...but that is not the case.  He also suffered from terrible reactive airway disease as a young child...which did require surgery at All Children's...and now is on 2 steroid inhalers and albuterol daily.  Is that from the Paxil?  I don't know...and honestly, I don't care.  Most babies born these days from Paxil exposure suffer from cardiac anomalies and more critical illnesses such as Pulmonary Hypertension.  So if his issues are related to the SSRI...we got off easy.

I did well for awhile.  I was able to care for my son without too much anxiety...and as I said, I led a relatively normal life.  Until I stopped breastfeeding.  I am unsure if it was the switch in hormonal balance...but the panic and agoraphobia started up again...4 years later.

That period did not last nearly as long, and I had a great support system, as always. 

Over the next 10 years or so, I continued to take the Paxil.  Not necessarily because I felt I still needed it...but because everytime I tried to wean myself off of it...I went through horrible withdrawl.  No matter how slowly I did it.  Google it.  Seriously!  There's a class action lawsuit for the withdrawl aspect as well.  It was torture.

Only when I started seeing a neurologist was I switched to Cymbalta.  Then to Prozac...which I am still on.(but also now...for pain control).  After 16 years...I seem to be unable to come off of an SSRI without major complications.  Which means, yes, I did go through Zachary's pregnancy and year of breastfeeding on Paxil as well.  He wasn't missing any muscles...but had seizures as a baby.  Unrelated to the meds though.

My panic disorder and agoraphobia disappeared years ago.  While I do still feel anxious alot of the time, and have an occasional panic attack, such as when I have to fly...I have no problems popping some pills to calm me down.  Luckily they do go away after...although I never feel I am ever totally out of the woods.  I could have another period of my life ruined anytime, anywhere by uncontrollable, irrational fear.

I feel like if I came through it...anybody can.  Really, it's difficult to put into words how bad I was...but I was B.A.D!!!


S.I.F. said...

Good for you for finding your way through that friend! You are amazing!!

Migrainista said...

This has been quite a journey hasn't it? I'm so glad that things are more under control now. I'm just starting to address some anxiety issues in my life. While what I'm going through is no nearly as severe as what you had to overcome, I am encouraged by your story of triumph. Thank you for sharing with us!

Heather said...

Oh Jessica!!! What a wonderful, amazing woman you are! I am so glad you are doing better and that the medicine seems to help! I hope you are having fewer attacks these days!

I hope you are having a good day today.

Jessica said...

Thanks girls!

Yea...I don't get panic attacks anymore...but it was hell when I did.

Hoping they never return!

It's been about 11 years now since I went through that!

Della said...

I may get a little anxious in crowds, but never anything like this. I just cannot even imagine going through what you did. You are made of strong stuff to make it through it.

It also takes a big person to accept taking a little pill for help.

You are awesome Jessica! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. To experience that, and then to have the chronic pain on top of it, and you still stay strong and go on, just proves it ;)

Heather said...

Thank you for sharing this story! It's scary how the body can act on its own sometimes. I'm glad your anxiety and agoraphobia are better now.

Buy PGX said...

Look for healing therapies so you can recover from anxiety.

Margeret said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It is great that the medicine is working for you. I suffered from agoraphobia and was afraid to take medication so I looked for alternatives. I found a lot of great advice at about treating my agoraphobia. It has been really helpful for me and I recommend that others with agoraphobia check it out.