The Worst/Best Part Of Having a Panic Disorder Is You Can’t Hide It Forever

I had a blow out panic attack in my doctor’s office today. He knew I had anxiety, but I don’t think to the extent that it is there. Likely because I’ve done an extremely good job of concealing it for a long time.

Or maybe he did know and was just taking it one step at a time. I don’t know, I’m not the doctor but I think it’s probably that because he walked in the office after the nurse had made me lie down, and the first thing out of his mouth was “HEATHER…WHY are you worrying so much right now?”

The thing is that very few people in my life know about just how bad my panic disorder is. In fact, very few people even know that I have one. My husband does, but even he didn’t grasp the full effect it has on me until today, when in the doctor’s office I was made to lie down on my left side until my blood pressure and heart rate went down, because both were THROUGH. THE. ROOF. as I sat in there hyperventilating, completely unaware of what was going on.

The first panic attack I can remember ever having was when I was 11 years old, visiting my grandparents at their new home near Yosemite. We were in the grocery store and suddenly I just had a terrifying feeling like I was in a dream and my heart was pounding. I had no idea what an anxiety attack or a panic disorder was at the time. And I just dealt with those types of situations over and over again, as the years went on, until I finally researched what was happening to me just 6 years ago.

So it started when I was 11, and I am now 34 and have only known what has been going on for 6 years now. I mean that I knew what was going on (that I was having a multitude of symptoms I could not explain), but I didn’t know why it was going on (that I have a panic disorder).

And since knowing why, I have done literally nothing legitimate to take care of it.

Why? Because when I started trying to figure out what to do, I was told by closer family and society in general that this should be kept “private” or that I should be ashamed of it. That. I. Should. Be. Ashamed. Of. A. Mental. Health. Issue. Completely. Beyond. My. Control.

And that I should just calm down.

Also, in a situation with family that gossip about each other’s personal and health issues TO NO END – where you can’t sneeze without everyone hearing and speculating about it – the need to keep things utterly secret so as to avoid all that unnecessary speculation was paramount. I don’t like it when people speculate about my personal life.

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Incidentally, I started writing my blog roughly 6 years ago too. Coincidence? I mean come on now. 6 years ago was when I also developed the coping mechanism of making fun of everything and joking my way through my unrelenting anxiety, which was getting worse and worse by the day.

But the jokes can only go so far, and of course people that think you should be ashamed of your uncontrollable panic disorder also like to shame you for just being yourself to try and cope with it. Suddenly the speculation turned to being that about my blog and I started to wish I could *just* write for bloggers and strangers, because whenever close family or friends read it I would get text messages and emails in response, as well as “unfriended” by many online.

Then only recently, I realized that to cope with the social spectrum of my panic disorder, I had made it a habit to just drink wine. I don’t mean – like – alcoholic status drank wine, but anyone that has ever known someone with an addiction knows, it often starts as a way to cope. Which is exactly what I was doing.

And I’m not going to lie – I love my wine. But if I were to be completely honest, as delicious as wine tastes, it gives me a headache and makes me feel like crap. And yet I still drank it as a social lubricant. Often.

Until I realized what I was doing, that is.

Now, it has been months since I drank wine. I don’t tell as many jokes anymore, because I never know who is going to read them or how they are going to respond; so basically I’ve stopped being *myself* in as many venues as I needed to to feel comfortable.

And I worry endlessly about everything.

I worry about money, as I talked about in my blog post yesterday.

I worry about the health and safety of my kids, and how one little thing will set off a chain reaction of other problems, many of which amount to more money worries. This is mostly because of a couple things that have happened in the last few years that should have been as simple as a bruised knee or a minor cold, but that got blown into huge, costly, and long-term problems.

I worry about what people think of me as I write blogs/homeschool my kids/parent in front of others/basically just live my life.

And I worry about my own health.

This is a new one for me, and it’s gotten out of control. Of course it doesn’t help that everyone around me acts as though I’m suddenly some fucking invalid because I have some allergy problems and had an asthma attack a couple months ago. Regularly, I go to the doctor and come back with a clean bill of health, and yet even just this last weekend my mother, as well as several other of my and my husband’s family members, made comments like “well you aren’t in very good health you know.” Um, OK…I’m not sure where you got that one, but…I guess I’ll go ahead and let your negativity work me up (which is exactly what I do).

I could go on…in a nutshell, I spend all my waking hours worrying.

So today, as I was lying in the doctor’s office, my heart pounding, trying to catch my breath, my blood pressure up to dangerous levels (I actually have low blood pressure, normally), a few very shocking things were presented to me. They shouldn’t have been shocking, but for someone who has been coping with a debilitating panic disorder for 23 years by basically pretending nothing is wrong, they were.

  1. I have a panic disorder and that is nothing to be ashamed of;
  2. I cannot hide my panic disorder forever;
  3. Ignoring, rationalizing, telling jokes, and drinking wine may be short-term solutions, but when those are gone the panic is still there. In fact, it’s worse;
  4. If people want to be negative and toxic to me about who I am – in whatever way they want to, be it giving me a hard time about a blog I wrote or a joke I told or the way I homeschool my kids; or speculating on my general health and happiness with others – I have every right, regardless of who those people are, to cut them out of my life permanently;
  5. It’s OK to say “NO” to people if it’s a situation I don’t feel safe in; and,
  6. If the doctor says to take the fucking Xanax, just take the fucking Xanax.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about people swimming in debt but being OK as long as they just pretend everything is fine. I think this is a lot like that, in fact maybe that’s really what I was trying to write about. I am literally swimming in this mire, or more like drowning but you guys get the point.

Now I can go on and pretend that everything is fine. Or I can deal with it head-on.

The only question, though, is how? That is where I am like a fish out of water – I have no idea truly where to begin. I do know that I want to feel like myself again. To start, I think it has to be found in my #2 realization today: I cannot hide my panic disorder forever. Perhaps the best way to start dealing with it is to stop concealing it.

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Are We Really Supposed To Believe Angelina Jolie Is A Heroine Or Something?

Yesterday Angelina Jolie announced to the world that she underwent an elective, preventative double mastectomy after learning that she was positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation that greatly increases her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For being aware and doing what she felt was the right decision for her and her family in the face of heightened risk, I applaud her.

But all over Twitter, Facebook, and the Google News aggregate, people are harrowing her as a 21st century heroine; a pioneer in women’s health and preventative medicine. She is so brave and an inspiration to us all – blah blah blah.

Huh? Are we really supposed to believe Angelina Jolie is a heroine or something?

Jolie decided to undergo a genetic test after careful consideration that she might be at heightened risk because of her mother’s own cancer death. She had the money to spend on a test that many, many women cannot afford, and that very few insurance companies even cover. Why does the fact that Jolie had the money to have this test, and therefore went ahead with it, make her brave? A national heroine? Wealthy women around the country do this test every day. Do they all get to write op-ed pieces about their harrowing experience? Does Twitter make them national legends and pioneers in modern medicine?

Or what about all the women that very likely carry the gene, know they probably carry the gene because of their strong family history of disease, and yet cannot afford to ever know? Do they get hashtag trends like #bravewomenthatwillneverknow or #alwayslivinginfear?

When Jolie found out she was positive for the gene mutation, she decided to have an elective, preventative, double mastectomy, with nipple preservation and complete reconstructive surgery. In other words: another pile of procedures that are expensive and usually not covered by the vast majority of American health insurance policies. So basically, up to this point, all Jolie has done is opt to have a number of medical tests and procedures done that are reserved for the wealthiest and most elite members of society. She has opted for luxuries when it comes to her medical care, which many women in this country have absolutely no access or ability to afford.

How is Angelina Jolie a heroine and pioneer in women’s health again?

Many doctors do not even recommend prophylactic mastectomy in the event that a woman has a heightened risk with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. There are a number of preventative hormone treatment options available, increased preventative testing, and lumpectomy options that are much less invasive and expensive. Why this is worth mentioning is in the discussion over our country’s current trend towards going to extreme lengths to eliminate risk (which can never truly be eliminated entirely). And in understanding the drastic difference between risk factor and cause – as Americans, we tend to misunderstand that risk does not equal certainty or causality.

But as a culture obsessed with trying to cheat death, we tend to heighten risk into the most extreme measures possible to the point that we do more damage than good. People are so afraid of the extremely rare risks of vaccines, so they avoid them altogether and then die of polio. Families are fearful of GMOs and processed foods, so eat only whole foods and fats then die of heart disease from ingesting high fat foods for years on end. And we look to national figures, such as Jolie, for guidance on what we should do. How we should think. Even when we don’t have the same resources that they do.

Each woman’s health is a different matter entirely, though. As is her financial status, and the risks and health issues that she will face. I am not suggesting that Jolie or anyone should or shouldn’t do any particular thing relative to her own health. That is not what I’m saying here. What I am saying is that none is more special of a circumstance than the next. We are all the same in the playing field of life. We just have different stories.

I have always believed that the only real preventative medicine we should be engaging in is accepting the imminence of our own deaths and enjoying every minute of our lives, rather than spending them all cowering in fear of what may come. Or at the very least, let’s worry about things that are really important right now. Not saying breast cancer risk is unimportant or should be forgotten, but much worse by the dozen is heart disease risk, obesity, diabetes, war, famine, the threat of nuclear holocaust, global warming.

Congratulations to Angelina Jolie on her new, risk-free boobs. Now can we all shut up and move on already?

The World Does Not Stop…

I’m not quite sure why this has happened, but more and more it seems that people have this weird idea that the world stops just because [fill in the blank] has happened to them.  To be honest (and I’m sure this will annoy some of you closest to me), it really makes me pause and question just where our heads are.  Sad to say, I think they are on (ahem, in) the wrong end.

So to help us all get those proverbial heads out of our real-life asses, I’ve decided to make a list of things that the world does not stop for.  The point is not only to advocate for a healthier, less egocentric viewpoint (typical of the misanthropic vein of this blog); but more importantly to harken back to the idea of happy and healthy balance that we discussed yesterday.  There is hope for everyone, and there is no room for “well everyone has different priorities…”  So with that in mind:

The world does not stop … because you are having a baby.  Remember that first blog on this new site about the tendency people have now to act like they are the first people on the planet to have a baby?  Well, you aren’t … and the world does not stop for that very reason.

The world does not stop … because you have a big project going on at work.  This one hits really close to home for me.  While I know that in a trying economy, employees want to bend over backwards to please their employers or open new career paths, there still must be a balance to make sure you do not hurt your entire life in the process.  If you cannot have that balance, you either need to find a new job or consider whether it is the best time in your life to take on that extra level of responsibility.  Just because you are working 24/7 does not mean that bills can go unpaid, kids can go uncared for, prior commitments can be canceled, and relationships outside of work can just set to autopilot.  That just isn’t the case.

The world does not stop … because you are planning a big event.  It could be a wedding; it could be a baby shower.  In any event, as important as that big event seems to you, a lot of people around you don’t care.  Remember with friends, family, and coworkers to talk about things they are interested in; and give them a chance to talk about their big things too.

The world does not stop … because your girlfriend/boyfriend dumped you.  Get over it:  there are plenty of fish in the sea, right?  Just because your girlfriend/boyfriend couldn’t take your snoring/feet/body hair anymore, doesn’t mean life around you ceases to continue.  Marriage is a much different story, but as for kiddie-type relationships that probably never went further than first base, try and move on.

The world does not stop … because your favorite TV show/sporting event is on.  God is there nothing more annoying than someone who will blow off an important phone call because of Dancing With the Stars; or someone that spends an entire dinner watching the baseball game showing on the big screen behind them.  Invest in a DVR if it’s that important to you.

The world does not stop … because you walked in the room.  More accurately, I should probably say “… because you got on the freeway.”  These people that act like they own the road (when the rules of it generally mandate that we should all be sharing …) really have gotten bad.  It starts with those people that do not realize they are supposed to yield to traffic when they are entering the freeway; and is capped off with those that change lanes without even looking.

The world does not stop … because you are on the rag.  Yep, I did just say that.  What a terribly sexist thing for me to say; but I’m a woman and I can say with absolute certainty that the worst thing ever is a woman that thinks the world is supposed to bow to her because she has cramps and a foul attitude.  It goes for men too (because they do, in fact, go through monthly hormonal fluctuations just like women); so perhaps I could soften it to “… because you are in a bad mood.”  However it’s phrased, take note.

 

The list could go on, but you, faithful blog followers, get the point.  Head-in-ass-syndrome could very well be substituted for “egocentric” or “narcissistic personality disorder.”  There is a healthier, balanced way to live life than you are.  Wise up and realize that the world does not stop for anything.

Pig flu, pig head

The CDC just released a zombie apocalypse preparedness memo on their blog and hoards of Americans are now scrambling around in terror over the fact that the CDC would give credit to such a thing.

Okay, maybe it hasn’t been in terror, but a lot of people are most certainly taking it seriously.

Sad to say, but the post by the CDC was actually a joke.  Well, not even so much a joke as a backhanded way of trying to make Americans prepared for actual emergencies facing us every day.  And they said just that in the opening lines of the post:  “maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

What does this have to do with the pig flu you ask?  A lot.

By pig flu, I am of course referring to the 2009 H1N1, which raised a very serious issue in our culture, that being that in our paranoia over things we should not be paranoid about, we completely disregard the things that should actually cause us to worry.  The zombie apocalypse included.

The CDC recognized this when 2009 H1N1 made the news:  people were rushing out to buy HAZMAT masks and unnecessarily throwing away their pork products, all the while ignoring what they needed to do to actually protect themselves from the virus, and (more disturbingly) the more deadly Influenzas A and B.  In response to this alarming trend to ignore real concerns in favor of ones that we should not worry to much about, the CDC issued a statement in 2009 that hysteria over things that we should not be made hysterical about inspires us to ignore real issues that threaten the safety and lives of ourselves and others around us every day.  And boy does it ever.

Anyone remember when people were so paranoid about the possibility of a biological terrorism that they began buying gas masks and duct taping themselves into their homes?  Countless people across America fed so strongly on that paranoia that they ignored basic safety and closed off all of the air inlets to their homes, many of whom died of suffocation and carbon monoxide poisoning.  And I’m sure we all know someone who has considered (dear God, please don’t say actually followed through with) not giving their child innoculations due to unreasonable concerns about the very rare, possible (and some unproven) side effects.  Daily we see horror stories in the news about situations like this:  someone is so concerned that they will get the superbug that they refuse to take their antibiotics and develop pneumonia and die; a couple is so worried over the BPA scare that they refuse to sterilize their baby’s bottles “to be safe,” only for the baby to get deathly ill with ecoli  poisoning.  Somewhere, at some time, we stopped listening to our professionals and our own common sense.

I recently read an article that old and previously dormant diseases are now cropping up again, such as old strains of tuberculosis and whooping cough; and that this was undoubtably a direct result of the decrease of people receiving immunizations out of a growing (unproven) concern that thermosil causes autism.  What is sad about this is that the people we want to protect the most – our children, our family, our friends – are so negatively impacted by unreasonable paranoia.  If the zombie apocalypse were to ever happen, I’m pretty certain it would not get out of control by some randomly occurring, bizarre mutant toxin.  No, it would come of people’s ignorance – of disregarding basic matters of safety and health in the name of having our dangerously close-minded and opinionated hysterics.