Fear, Panic Attacks, and Other Adventures

This morning I was reading one of James Patterson’s latest murder mysteries, “Kill Alex Cross.”  He is one of my favorite authors.  In the middle of reading something came to mind totally unrelated to what I was reading.  My mind seems to have that tendency, and I have never been able to explain it except to say, I am just a little weird.

Anyway, in the middle of reading I remembered being very sich when I was small.  I do not remember exactly how old I was at the time but I would guess I was no more than six or seven, but maybe younger.  I remember getting very sick, having a high temperature.  But I also remember hallucinating.  I would feel like my fingers had become very thick and that would scare me to death.  My mother used to say I drank too much cough medicine, Vicks Formula 44 which at the time had codeine in it, and that caused me to hallucinate.  I do not remember ever doing that but it is possible.  The thing is, I know for fact that the two incidents are not related because I remember waking up sick in the middle of the night and then hallucinating.

Many years later, when I was in the army in Italy, I would drink a lot at parties I gave.  One day a guy told me I could get a great high out of taking too many sea sick pills.  One day when I did that in the middle of speeding my brains out I got extremely paranoid and had a panic attack.  I was fortunate that at the party there was a physician who examined me and talked me down.  He told me to see him the next day, which I did, at which time he made me promise him that I would never again take those pills.  I kept my promise.  It was his duty to report me to my commanding officer, which he did not do, and I knew better than to abuse his gift.  That was the last time I ever did such a thing.

Again, years later, I had another panic attack.  And a year after that another, and then they started coming with increased regularity.  In the early 1980s medicine was not well equipped to deal with anxiety and panic.  They prescribed Valium, and then when it came into being, xanax.  Unfortunately those medicines only treat the symptoms and not the cause.  I went through a series of antidepressants that were also supposed to deal with anxiety.  First there was Trofanil, then an MAOI, then Welbutron, Prozac, and now Effexor.   The Effexorf, while seemingly very effective, has totally killed off a very important side of the human experience.  The ability to have anything close to a normal sex life is an impossibility.  The libido is strong but the body refuses.

The panic attacks actually disappeared entirely for well over a decade only to re-emerge with a vengeance.  I return to therapy to deal with them but it was ineffective.  The therapist commended me on my total honesty with her but conceded that we had reached a point where continued therapy was of very limited value.  But the anxiety and panic have not yet gone away.

Through many years of introspection I have discovered that most of my fears, if not all, are based in one of two things.  First, my hiding things that greatly embarrass me causes distress.  That part I have entirely dealt with having related every single thing I have ever done that causes me pain.  The other part is talking about those things that scare me.  Intellectually I know that fear happens in the absence of knowledge and I have done my best to become knowledgeable about all things that scare me.  For example, as a child I had an intense fear of the dark which followed me into my adult life.  I have to admit that there is still some of that today but it is far less than it once was.

I am a bit clautrophobic although elevators I find to be particularly troubling.  But that is the only fear I am aware of that I still have these days.  And yet, I still have anxiety attacks, often, and panic attacks occasionally.  Such things are always fear based and yet I cannot get to the base of what is triggering me.  I am frustrated!  I never know when an anxiety attack begins if it will end in a panic attack.  That means my prognosis, barring my discovering what is at the base of all this, is I will live out my years forever fending against the next anxiety attack, the next panic attack.

Ironically, I think of my life these days as generally being really good.  I am never depressed nor do I go a day without feeling grateful for so many things and people in my life.  I know I am not alone it this struggle although sometimes it feels that way.  Even though I am always entirely honest with my psychiatrist, I feel resistance from her in helping me with proper levels of medication.  But even so, there are other physicians, friends who are physicians, who I can rely upon to give me really good advice.


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