Yesterday I was having a good day, that is, until a massive panic attack sent me to the hospital. It was a first for me, and I’m the kind of person who will do ANYTHING to avoid the doctor. I will not go unless I seriously think I am dying, and unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. I felt good all morning, texted a few friends about going to the park, went outside to save a frog from the pool, and then thought I was going to die and ended getting a ride to the ER in an ambulance.
This is Not my First Panic Attack Rodeo
A few months ago I wrote about mustering up the courage to seek help for my anxiety issues, and went to see a doctor that made me feel much much worse. Before I had my son I took Xanax for anxiety and Inderal for panic attacks and that always worked fine for me. The new doctor made me feel like I might has well been trying to score some crack, and sent me away with a prescription for 10mg of hydroxyzine. To put this in perspective, this is the same antihistamine I gave my dog to stop his itching. Except he got 25mg for that. It did absolutely nothing for me, and I basically gave up seeking help.
I tried a lot of other things – CBD, yoga, vitamins and just hanging out with friends and felt like I had it all under control. I still had weird panic attacks, but was able to calm myself down and just breathe through them. I knew what was going on and knew that it would eventually stop. What happened on Sunday was different than anything I’d ever experienced.
What a Massive Panic Attack Feels Like
I had just scooped a frog out of the pool and was taking photos of my son playing with it. I wasn’t stressed about anything. In fact, it was our 18th wedding anniversary and I was looking forward to eating the quesadilla my husband just brought home and opening some gifts. I had just finished taking the frog photos and was about to post them on Facebook when I felt hot and dizzy. So here’s the frog photo I didn’t get to post:
I sat down outside and just felt more and more hot and dizzy. So I stood up to go inside and my vision went blurry and then it was like black and yellow flashing lights as the world closed in on me. My heart was beating so hard it was like it was trying to escape my chest.
I managed to get inside and sit and my vision came back, but then I couldn’t breathe. The more I couldn’t breathe the worse it got and I was consumed by an intense fear that I was having a heart attack or a stroke and was about to die.
I still didn’t want to accept anything was wrong with me, so I sunk into the couch and tried to act normal as my husband started eating lunch. I let him know I felt “funny” and to go ahead and eat while I relaxed for a minute.
But instead of it getting better, it got worse.
It felt like I was underwater and the water was pressing down on me everywhere. I felt heavy and constricted. I couldn’t think straight to form sentences. I became convinced I must be having a stroke. The fear intensified and I couldn’t breathe again. My legs started twitching and I was shaking like I was having a seizure and couldn’t control my own body. I told my husband I needed help and then all I could get out was, “Call…call…call…” as I cried, gasped for air and flailed my arms and legs. My heart felt like it was ready to explode, I felt like I was going to throw up or pass out if I sat up.
My sweet son is what really helped as he came over and tried to soothe me. My poor husband ran around freaking out that he couldn’t find aspirin and really ratcheted my panic up a few notches as he tried to get me to tell him where it was. It wasn’t making any sense to me since he was the only one who took aspirin and I have no idea where he keeps it besides the drawer where all the medicine is. So he brought me a Tylenol in desperation. If you do suspect a heart attack or stroke, I do not advise bringing anyone Tylenol. It does not have the same effect as aspirin.
At this point I was pretty sure I was going to die while my husband ran around upstairs cursing about not being able to find aspirin.
Finally a police car showed up, then another, then a fire truck and then the ambulance. I’m still confused why it takes so many people when you just want an ambulance. They came in, asked questions, checked a bunch of stuff and told me it sounded like a panic attack.
I was highly doubtful since I’d had panic attacks before and this was 10x worse than any of that! I still couldn’t breathe and felt heavy all over. Then my lips started tingling, then my face, next my hands and feet went numb. They didn’t really explain anything to me and just told me to try breathing slower. They asked me my social security number, which I could see in my mind but I couldn’t get the words out. That honestly scared the shit out of me and I started hyperventilating again and crying because I know not being able to think of words is a stroke thing. Would have been nice if they mentioned that also happens in a panic attack.
Since I couldn’t calm down, they decided to put me on a gurney and take me to the hospital. I tried to stand and my legs were like Jell-o. I’d never felt so wasted in my life. The gurney ride felt like a crazy roller coaster and just for a moment I thought it might be pretty fun if I didn’t think I was dying.
Since we are in the midst of COVID-19, I was whisked away alone and spent the entire time at the hospital alone. By the time we got there, I was starting to feel a bit better. Just the fact that I hadn’t indeed died yet made me feel a little more confident in the panic attack diagnosis. So when my hands started to function again, I grabbed my phone and Googled “massive panic attack” and what do you know…there it was. All my symptoms. I had Every Single One of them.
Just reading that made me calm down a bit. I still felt wired and weird and my heart rate was still way up, so they did an EKG and some blood work before proclaiming me totally healthy and said I could go home. They also shot some Ativan into my IV when we got there, which helped immensely. And you know why? Because it’s basically the same as Xanax, which I told that original doctor is what I know works for me and it’s unfortunate I had to end up in the ER because the doctor didn’t take me seriously.
The most confusing part of all this is the way it came on with no warning. I wasn’t stressed out about anything. I was happy, in a good mood and having a great day. That combined with the insane intensity of the attack is what made me think I was having a stroke. I thought there was no way my body could just suddenly freak out for no reason. And now that I know it can, I’m both relieved that I know I won’t die from it, but also scared that it will happen again. I can’t imagine what would happen if I was out in public and felt that way. And I’m not sure how to avoid it, since nothing seems to have triggered it in the first place besides getting a little overheated outside.
So that’s my panic attack story. I felt totally drained and a little “off” the rest of yesterday, but I feel totally fine today. I refrained from posting the obligatory “hey look I’m in the hospital” photos on Facebook yesterday, but will probably share my hot mess pic today with this story. The only other photo I took was a screenshot of my Apple Watch that tracks my heart rate. Let’s hope I can keep today’s numbers a little lower.