Many of you who have been reading here a while know that I started this blog during a time of my life when I was depressed. I went on a prescription drug called Lexapro for about a year. My experience with the drug was basically that I felt like I was a 3rd party, watching my life. It was very weird, but definitely made me not worry or be depressed about anything. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I didn’t have a single emotion for that entire year. I went off the drug but then found it had lasting affects.
The first time I had a panic attack, I honestly thought I was dying. I didn’t know what was going on, only that I was nauseated, dizzy, lightheaded, and my arms and legs were tingling, weak, and numb. What’s scary in that situation is not knowing what’s happening, and the fact that FEAR makes it worse. So the negative feedback you get into in your own head makes you sicker and sicker, and makes the panic attacks more and more frequent.
My symptoms were almost textbook symptoms for lead poisoning, so I went to the doctor. I had lost my appetite and in just a couple of months had lost 35 pounds. The doctor ran about eleventy jillion tests on me, then sent me to three different specialists. In the end, it seemed I was in better health than any of my doctors.
Granted, I was under a lot of stress when it started, but I’d ALWAYS been under a lot of stress. I thrived on stress pre-Lexapro. Now, it seemed, I couldn’t handle pressure at all. I got to the point where I didn’t want to leave my house for fear I’d have a panic attack in public.
One night I went to Starlight Theater with Jenna and Jennyanydots, and it started. I found myself in a cold sweat on the floor of the bathroom stall. I was too sick to get up, and my phone had no signal. I couldn’t call Jenna, I couldn’t call an ambulance (which I was ready to do). I finally forced myself to get up, stumbled out and borrowed a phone from the first person I met. I called Jennyanydots and we all made it home. I can’t remember ever being more sick than that night. And I was sick a lot growing up, with my constant allergies and propensity for getting the stomach flu.
About a year and a half ago, Jenna started pressuring me to attend church with her. I didn’t want to go, partly because of prior bad experience with church, but mostly because of the agoraphobia I’d developed thanks to the anxiety. She insisted.
The first few weeks going to church, I sat at the back near a door, insisted on taking my own car so I could leave if I got sick… but then a strange thing happened. The more I left the house, the easier it became. I started feeling like I could do other things as well. Then one night I was out in public, and I started thinking about those panic attacks, and wouldn’t you know it, the cold sweat started.
But this time was different. I knew what was happening. I knew I wasn’t really sick. I knew it was all in my head, even though the symptoms had a real physical manifestation. So I took control of my mind. I know that sounds bizarre, but I’m sure there are some of you reading who have had similar problems. I had to intellectually “talk myself” out of having a panic attack. I’ll be darned if it didn’t work. The cold sweat stopped, and I was fine.
By November of last year, I had it so well under control I took a trip to Philly for Rachel’s wedding. Flying, public transportation, crowds of people I don’t know, places I was unfamiliar with… and I was fine. Then in December, we went back again, and once again I was fine. I hadn’t been able to fly without problems for several years. I’d always forced myself to do it, but it was miserable and traumatic, and it would take me a week to get back to normal afterwards.
I could never have managed this honeymoon trip without having it under control. I had four flights, 6 different hotels, lots of unfamiliar settings… but I can honestly say I had no problems. I got a little worried when the airline announced we would have no lavatories for our 3 1/2 hour flight, but even that didn’t get to “panic” level.
I still have better results if I have some semblance of control over my circumstances, but I’m much better able to cope than I was. When I spoke to my doctor about the sudden onset of panic attacks, he told me that he would put money on Lexapro being the culprit. It changes your brain chemistry in the very areas that control mood, and it likely had long-lasting affects.
It sounds bad, but I guess the moral of the story is, if you struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, you really can get back to a normal life, even though you may have to deal with it regularly. It’s a bit like emotional whack-a-mole. I listened to professionals, took the time to understand the triggers of my panic attacks, and I took steps to minimize those. That, along with some simple techniques that some might call meditation and regular massages, and I’m good as new.
The other moral of this story is, don’t take an SSRI unless you absolutely must.