A short story about flying and scrambled egg sandwiches

In my last post I mentioned that I had been sick on a plane before. Here is that story.
In 2002 I went to New Orleans for work and my husband – then boyfriend – decided to tag along and we made a trip of it.
It was a long flight and I was ok getting there. A little perturbed in Dallas/Fort Worth airport though when the Texas Rangers went through my bags dressed in their fatigues and their AK-47s strung on their backs.
We had a great time and the city is beautiful. I always recommend to everyone to go to New Orleans at least once in their lives.
The night before we left we went partying with some friends we met while there. Too much drinking, little sleep and having to catch our airport shuttle at 4:30am was not an ideal mix.
When we got to the airport at six am, we checked in and at our gate was a little food stand. I ordered a scrambled egg sandwich and gobbled it down as I was starving.
We got on our flight and I started to feel a little ill. As you know, when you are taking off you are supposed to stay in your seat with your “seat belt firmly fastened until the pilot turns the seat belt light off.” Well, I started to feel very ill, which then turned into panic as I did not want to be ill on a plane.
Well, too late for that! I looked at my husband, turned pale, broke into a cold sweat and quickly released the buckle of my seatbelt, bolted upright and literally ran down the aisle of the plane to the bathroom.
The flight attendant in the back started to tell me that I needed to be in my seat, but stopped short after realizing I did not look well and quickly pointed to the location of the bathroom.
I entered with a bang of the door and promptly fell to my knees and the entire scrambled egg sandwich was relieved from my stomach.
I actually do not remember how I got back to my seat, but I did and the flight attendant was kind enough to bring me some water.
We landed in Dallas and I was not well. We sat at our gate waiting for our next flight and I started to panic. Dallas airport is very busy, which didn’t help my state of mind. They called our flight and as we were waiting to board I burst into tears. I was overtired, sick and panicky. Ugh! I can remember the feeling as if it happened this morning. My husband quickly dashed across the hallway to a little store, bought some Dramamine (aptly named –drama) and I chewed on two of the tablets which felt like a thick, awful tasting paste in my mouth with a hint of orange.
The last thing I remember was lying across two seats on the plane clutching a barf bag and the flight attendant asking my husband if I wanted something to drink. He said, “No thank you. I don’t think she’ll be having anything this flight.”

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Folding sheets

I’ve always struggled with describing what having a panic attack is like. Today, I have a good analogy. It’s like trying to fold a fitted sheet. You know, the sheets that have the elastic corners to hug the mattress. Have you ever tried to fold one of those suckers? Well, needless to say, you feel like the sucker in the end and it’s still not folded.

First, you pick up the sheet and the find the corners. Put your hands in them and think, “yes, I can do this.” But then you start to fold and it looks off balance. The corners don’t match up. The lines don’t match when folded. You unfold and start again. This time it gets all bunched up in the corners and you start to become frustrated. You start folding this way and that. Using the chair or couch as an extra hand; holding your arms as wide as they’ll go while standing on your tippy toes; holding it over your head; wrapping it around your body. It’s useless and it’s hard to do, so you give up and throw it down or just fold it as best you can and put it away in the linen closet and think to yourself, “no one will see it in there.”

Well my friends, that is very similar as suffering a panic attack. You start out thinking everything is ok, but then it starts and you try and fight it. You try every little thing to stop it and finally you give in and lay down and feel like that’s it. It’s the end and you feel crumpled and disheveled. You feel like a sucker. After this, you pull yourself together as best you can and then put it away inside of you and think, “no one will see it in there.”

So today, I guess I’m fighting my way out of an unfolded, wet sheet.

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My panic and my larynx are inextricably linked

I’ve always wondered why, during this time that I’ve been going through, that when you have a panic attack, why does it feel like you are being strangled? I feel like there are invisible hands pushing down on my larynx making it hard for me to breathe. It does not feel good and it actually makes the feeling of panic worse. It makes me want to grab at my throat and pry off the invisible set of hands strangling me. Yet, the feeling of my hands on my neck makes the feeling of panic worse. Conclusion: anything I do to stop imaginary forces makes my panic worse.

At that moment when my panic feeling becomes escalated, I start to breathe very fast – almost hyperventilate. To tell you the truth, I have a couple of times and almost passed out. I found out from my doctor that this happens when you breathe out all your CO2 and your extremities – arms, legs, feet, etc. – start to tingle and feel numb. This tingling and numbness then adds to my panic because I then feel like or think I am having a heart attack. My chest becomes tight; my arms are tingly and numb. Not a good feeling, wouldn’t you agree?

In essence I feel like I’m fighting my way out of a wet paper bag.

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We are Not Alone

Ironically, I don’t like to suffer alone, but do not like to have anyone touch me while I am suffering a panic attack. Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way it is. Usually the scene unfolds of me sitting on a chair or couch and I’m fidgeting in some sort of way, trying in vain to hold still and needing someone – anyone – to sit with me. Just their presence helps me to calm down quicker than if I were alone when a panic attack hits. I think this is part of the reason why I don’t like to drive long distances alone. I sometimes have to call either my mother or husband to talk to me as I drive (on the speaker phone of course! I am always safe) so that I can calm down enough to keep driving.

I wanted to know if anyone “famous” suffered from panic and anxiety and I found this list. I was astounded and surprised at the many famous and distinguished people who suffered from anxiety and panic. Some I could see them as panic sufferers, but others not so much.

I am hoping that 2011 will bring the end of my panic attacks. I am tired of fighting my way out of wet paper bag as I am sure everyone on the list above is too.

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The Jits

Tonight I’ve got the jits. I don’t know why either. I’ve been pretty good lately, but these last few days, I’ve been a bit on edge. Maybe because I have a lot to do and very little time to do it in. Maybe it’s because I spent too much money tonight. I really don’t know. I’ve been getting little mini panic attacks throughout the day.

I just read online that if you are having a panic attack, tell yourself you’ve had them before and survived others and this is no different. Then you should laugh as that will help to thwart the attack and make it less to deal with. So I’ve been laughing out loud. My husband and cats have been eyeing me curiously. They may have to commit me sooner or later to the funny farm…. I’m sure I’ll get lots of laughing done there!

I just wish this would get better and I hope that finding the humour in all this will help. And yes, I still feel like I’m fighting my way out of a wet paper bag.

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Why reading magazines can give you hypochondria

So the other evening, I’m sitting by the fire reading a popular Canadian women’s magazine. I’m drinking my “feeling calm” herbal tea and the cat is curled up at my feet. I’m turning the pages slowly, one at a time. Reading about a TV star and then about some fashion and what’s new for fall and what keeps us warm on these chilly days now upon us.

I turn another page and then it begins – the dreaded health article. The battle to stop myself from thinking that I have the health issue I’m reading about it epic. I read about two women who suffered strokes at a young age; what they went through to get noticed by their doctors who thought nothing was wrong with them since they were so young – mid to late thirties. My age! I re-read their symptoms over and over thinking back to when I had my last blasting headache; when I felt dizzy; when I felt ill or had blurred vision.

My heart starts to pound. I start to sweat a little bit. I glance at the fire wondering if turned it up too high or am I starting to have stroke? I take my pulse. It’s in the normal range. I don’t feel dizzy or have blurred vision. I look into my tea cup at the amber liquid looking back up at me. I can see the lights above the chair reflecting in it.

I stop myself; my mind from racing away with its ten million thoughts on how when I stand up I’ll collapse in a heap on the floor and the cat will do nothing to alarm my husband and I’ll lay there my life slowly ebbing away with every slowed heart beat.

As I said, I stop myself from letting my mind run away with itself. I tell myself not to be so stupid and to put that annoying magazine down. I push it into the middle of the coffee table and decide to put it into the pile I give to my mother. I get up and walk away from it and go to warm up my tea and then to bed. I promptly forgot about the article until the next day when my mother did come to visit and I hand her the pile of magazines.

Good riddance! Now time to pull myself back together piece by piece and keep punching away at this wet paper bag.

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Fear and loathing in broad daylight

Ever had a panic attack walking down the street in broad daylight? No? Let me elaborate. It feels like you are walking on air – almost – and then you feel like you’re going to drop, trip or pass out. Usually, one or both of your eyes starts to blur and you start to breathe very quickly. Then hyperventilate. Your hands and arms go numb (from the hyperventilating) and you start to shake.

Meanwhile you’re thinking how can I act as normal as possible without looking like an idiot? You become self conscious and your eyes dart around like a wild animal being closed in on by hunters. The clip clopping of my shoes echo in my ears; I keep walking, walking, walking. There’s really nothing else I can do. What I really want to do is stop someone and ask them to drive me to the hospital.

What’s really awful about this whole episode, as well as the all the others I’ve gone through? I know deep down inside there is NOTHING wrong with me. It’s all psychological. Or is it……

I went to the hospital last year the day before Christmas Eve having what I thought was a heart attack. I had terrible pain in my chest, neck and left arm. I couldn’t breathe well. So, off to emergency I go and get all these tests done to find out….. NOTHING IS WRONG!

The doctor was kind and showed me my ECG graph and said, “See this? This tells me your heart is perfect. So what you had was a panic attack. Don’t let anyone tell you they aren’t real, ok? Just get some help to work through them.” Then he gave me a prescription for Ativan.

So there I am, feeling like a bit of a dumbass. I went home and went to bed. I was tired. Oh, that’s another thing about panic attacks – they drain your energy so much you feel like you could collapse afterwards.

Nothing like feeling you’re fighting your way out of a wet paper bag and the bag is winning.

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