Hello, I’m writing this to you with one hand, because the other one is mostly shrinkwrapped.
I’ve talked about my anxiety before — about starting sertraline, taking beta blockers, the whole nine. My health is not really something I’m secretive about at all. Too many people have anxiety and panic disorders as it is, and I’ve been dealing with it for too long to give half a shit in a handbag about being ashamed of something I can’t control.
I have not, however, mentioned nocturnal panic attacks.
I’m lucky in that I don’t get them super often — once in a blue moon, really, usually when I’m under a lot of stress. At first, I thought they were something akin to a night terror, but the presentation is actually very different. I’m aware when I wake up panicking, albeit usually confused for a bit. My heart races, I feel a sense of impending doom. They suck super hard, but, as I said, I don’t get them often.
Then this afternoon happened.
We upped my dose of sertraline last night. I’ve also been on Bactrim for the past few days, which made every joint in my body feel as though it had been beaten by a team of enthusiastic pixies with cricket bats. Both of these can potentially increase anxiety, and panic disorders can be pretty unpredictable anyhow. I lay down to take a nap late this afternoon, and woke up feeling like someone had hooked most of my organs up to a car battery.
So, I did what I usually do: call my S.O. and ask him to hang out on the phone with me until things calm down, in case I lose consciousness, or experience transient blindness, or something else happens that keeps me from being able to call 911. Usually, it takes about twenty minutes for the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and override the adrenaline response portion of a panic attack. I usually spend it on the phone, doing breathing exercises, holding an amethyst palm stone, waiting for things to pass. There isn’t really a way to speed up the process that I’ve found. Most of the emphasis is on riding it out with as little mental trauma as possible.
Twenty minutes came and went. I thought this might be more than I could handle on my own, so I took a beta blocker. (They’re not pleasant, but they’re pretty neat. From what I have experienced, read, and been told, they help me by blocking the adrenaline receptors in certain areas of the body. Pretty rad when your primary anxiety symptom is a racing heart, right?) Twenty minutes after that, my heart rate was almost normal. I also couldn’t breathe and felt like a donkey had kicked me in the sternum.
Welp. Plan B. I called an ambulance.
To make an already too-long story short(er), it was probably a reaction to the propranolol. We’re not sure why I had the original nocturnal attack, but I wasn’t actively having a heart attack when I got to the hospital. In fact, my vital signs were impressively normal, considering the completely dumbass amount of pain I was in. Just to make sure everything was okay, they took an EKG, drew some blood (shoutout to the dude who was able to draw from the back of my hand), and had me strip down and put on a robe for chest x-rays.
Remember when I mentioned taking Bactrim?
Do you know how hard it is to properly tie one of those damn robes on a good day?
Reader, I stood up to hold onto the x-ray machine so they could get a few shots of my heart, and flashed my entire butt at radiology. (To add insult to injury, when I got home, I realized I accidentally stuffed the hospital gown into the bag with my other belongings. So now there’s a permanent souvenir of my shame.)
Part of me berated myself for relying on medication. The fact of the matter is, though, that if you believe in an herb or crystal’s ability to heal, you must necessarily recognize its ability to harm. Anything can trigger an allergy. Anything can cause an adverse reaction. You can have a bad time with anything you put in your body, whether it’s a drug, a plant, or a sandwich. It’s the price we pay for having bodies, which, when you think about it, are both delicate and largely terrible. (Who’s idea was it to put the esophagus and trachea right next to each other? It makes no damn sense.)
Truth be told, butt-exposing aside, this went really, really well. My biggest fear has always been having an emergency when I’m alone, and potentially screwing up the things I need to do to handle that emergency. I was still half insensible with grogginess when I was fumbling with my phone to call for help, I was afraid of taking beta blockers because of the side effects, I experienced my worst fear after taking them, and came through it alright. I can’t say this has inoculated me against fearing these things in the future, but it’s a step. It was terrifying, and I did it, and if it happens again, that’s future J.’s problem.
And that’s something worth celebrating.