Sunday, September 30, 2007


Panic attacks suck.

About fifteen years ago I had a disastrous LSD experience. I won't bore you with the details - suffice to say that I was left with agoraphobia, panic attacks and a strong conviction that I had actually, properly ruined my life and could look forward to a future filled with very-small rooms and prescription medication.

I got through it though. I eventually plucked up the courage to visit my GP and explain that I'd been spiked at a party (this was a complete lie but I was by this stage so paranoid that I was convinced that telling the truth would result in an immediate citizen's arrest and/or a nice cosy section). He was marvellous, and prescribed a course of beta-blockers and some counselling. The meds worked fabulously, the counselling not so much.

If I cast my mind back, I can't properly recall how I came out of that period. I have, since then, been extremely wary of drugs - the most I do know is the occasional hash pipe and even that is a rarity*. I have been pretty much on an even keel for quite some while now.

Except, all of a sudden, the panic is back. I have no idea why. It started on the way home from our semi-disastrous "holiday" back in August. We'd spent a week variously bickering in a soaking tent, slumping in a shitty hotel and wandering around a festival in approximately fifteen feet of sucky, greedy mud. We were tired, and a little bit emotional. On the Monday, we left the festival site at 8am. By one o'clock we were almost home. The Other Half was driving and I was half-dozing in the passenger seat. Suddenly, everything felt wrong. The radio was too quiet. My fingers were numb, and everything I touched felt...detached, somehow. I began to sweat, and to feel those old, horrid-familiar waves of panic wash over me. I'll keep my eyes shut, I thought. If I can cut the sensory input, I'll be fine.

But I wasn't fine. I sat, and I panicked, and I sweated and I tried really, really hard not to think about why I was suddenly thinking about how just the very act of sitting in a moving car felt somehow wrong and how scared I was that I might suddenly do something irrational like, I don't know, get out of the car in the middle of the A12, or something. It was like an old, well-thumbed nightmare.

So we made it home and the Other Half unpacked the car and sorted out a week's-worth of sodden, muddy detritus while I slept on the sofa. It seemed the only logical way to feel better - I was exhausted and the thing to do was sleep and then I might feel "real" again when I woke up. And, do you know what? It worked. Until a fortnight later, when I was in the car one Sunday afternoon with Small Person, on a mission to acquire new school shoes before term started.

It was all fine, until, suddenly...everything felt wrong. The radio was too quiet. My fingers were numb, and everything I touched felt...detached, somehow. I began to sweat, and to feel those old, horrid-familiar waves of panic wash over me. Keeping my eyes shut wasn't really an option, what with the driving and the Small Person and all. So I had to keep going. I deep-breathed my way round a giant, spinout-inducing Tesco store. I autopiloted through the shoe shop. I drove home, manoeuvring the car through an ever-decreasing comfort zone, and legged it straight to bed on arriving back at the house.

And that's pretty much where we're up to. I am suspended in a faintly horrible half-life, in which I am constantly panicking about panicking. Every car journey is an exercise in self-distraction since I am now irrationally convinced that being in/on any/all methods of transport is the root of my problems. I spend my mornings worrying about where I am going at lunchtime - all those years ago I lost my job as I simply couldn't cope with the journey to work any more and I am terrified that I will flip out one lunchtime and find myself on the same spiral.

So. To sum up.

Panic attacks suck. Irrationality rules, apparently. The inevitable fallout from possibly the most stressful year of my post-divorce life (meltdown? Check! Life-altering reality check? Check! Ditching a mother and dealing with the consequences? Check!) has been far greater than I'd imagined. The Other Half is simply the most fabulous person I have ever met, owing to his ability to witter on about inconsequential, distracting things once he realises I am in the grip of irrational, paralysing panic (plus, you know, all the other reasons why he's fabulous. Yes, including that). Drugs are bad, m'kay. Our new kitten is insane.

But, most importantly of all.

I am going mental. Wheee!

* Yes. Alcohol is my drug of choice. Sweet, sweet beer. So much more damaging than cannabis, yet curiously unregulated. Marvellous.


Blogger Stevie Newton-John chimed in with...

Know all about panic attacks. Suddenly started having mine 9 yrs ago out of f***ing nowhere (no acid in my history).

I won't scare you with my symptoms (mine are far worse) but I will tell you that mine completely disappeared about 2 years ago & have (knock on wood) never come back!

Eliminating a very stressful job/rocky financial situation seemed to do the trick.

And beer is my drug of choice now, as well...oh yes! How I love the beer!

Hang in there! It will pass!

Just wanted to offer some support.

30 September, 2007 19:02  
Blogger longcat chimed in with...

your description of panic attacks felt familiar although in an every now and again way, thanks, it's always good to give something a name,

as for acid my (foolish) advice is do it again in the right environment, i often want to do acid again - or at least mushrooms, but generally don't...

and on another note i realised yesterday that you are the inspiration for a kind of half super hero i'm creating, she's a side character in a comic about someone else... so thanks for that too,

hang on in there, counselling might be the way if you have access to it... x

30 September, 2007 20:23  
Blogger Jasmine Seal chimed in with...

Difference between this time and the last - your fabulous man, you'll get through it Surly, honest. Plus small person will help to give you the reality check you need, you know that you can't subsume into panic with her in the vicinity. Be strong - we know you can do it.

LSD hmmm, I can only sympathise, I remember being scared witless when having caused my companions huge amounts of mirth by exclaiming "hey wow look at the colours in this" whilst examining my glass of water, said companions decided to tell me all about the strichnine that is allegedly in LSD to rush it through your system and spent the rest of the week convinced I was going to die. Oh and being so faced that I had no idea whether or not the inflatable tiger on top of Bates garage in Danbury was actually drug-induced or not. Turned out it was real and I was convinced that whoever in Esso had decided to do that was specifically attempting to freak me out! Thoughtless bastards!

Still, there are many many excellent things about being a loony - you can behave in as erratic a manner as you can muster, walk about the streets muttering indistinguishably under your breath and hurling indiscriminate and incomprehensible insults at random passers-by who have the audacity to have any irritating characteristics. Cluck cluck gibber wibble, my old man's a mushroom and all that.

Take care

30 September, 2007 20:33  
Anonymous The Girl Behind the Partition chimed in with...

Now strangely for me ( particularly on a Sunday night after red wine - my drug of choice today) I am going to be sensible. Panic attacks are far more common than you realise. My mum suffered from them and so do I although both of us less frequently than when they first manifested themselves several years ago now. This may be small comfort to know you are not alone but I found it helped me. You feel like you're going crazy and the only one going there. Believe me you're not. Sometimes they just go. It's a stage. And they never return. Hurrah! Sometimes like yours they rear their panicky, sweaty heads years later. Getting away from the situation that's panicking you as soon as possible, going to a safe, comfortable place (mine is also my bed and sleep),rescue remedy and distractions ( TV that makes you laugh or music you love or The Other Half talking random bollocks) are all good things. Some self help books are ok on the subject others are patronising, impractical drivel about floating and some such nonsense you can't do when you have a job and home and small person to look after. Ironically they are quite good at making you laugh and therefore taking your mind off your panic attack! Unfortunately buying them does line the pockets of Paul Mckenna ( or Paul McCunta as he's known in this house).

Hang in there Surly Girl. Panic attacks are shit there's no two ways around it but it's not shit you have to go through alone. We are all here (sounds like a new age group hug but wasn't intended to be - you know what I mean).

30 September, 2007 22:30  
Anonymous bohémienne chimed in with...

It sounds like maybe being overtired and overstimulated are triggers for you? I think our minds and our bodies protest mightily in those circumstances. Take the best care of your physical self that you can... you owe it to yourself and your small person.

01 October, 2007 01:22  
Anonymous louche chimed in with...

i agree with bohemienne. keep a track of when and where they're happening, and what you were doing/feeling/thinking about when they started. see if you can see if there's a pattern.

good luck

01 October, 2007 08:00  
Blogger compassionate1 chimed in with...

I have had a panic disorder off and on for over 25 years. I have trained with many top professionals and the one thing I do know is DO NOT GO TO BED, Do not distract, do not rush to a safe place....this only reinforces the error in thinking that you are in a dangerous situation and need to escape. You will start to fear, fear and then agoraphobia closes in. While in the midst of an attack remind your self that it is just that a "panic attack" you will not die or go mad and keep breathing. Remind yourself that you do not need to run from something that your mind has fabricated as emergent. And when you are thinking all of the "what if's" ie what if i crash the car or jump out on the highway or go stark raving mad or what if...take the fearful thought as far as it will go and then just sit with the will go up...but if you can catastrophize to the hilt and be still and breathe your panic will subside. It takes work. I know it takes work...just really work on not avoiding driving...or whatever you believe causes the them head on again and again and they will lose their power over you.

be well,

01 October, 2007 08:49  
Anonymous Thursday chimed in with...

I agree with Compassionate. Having had a few panic attacks which strangely always happened when I was relaxing in bed, I found the way to deal with them was to sit up and repeatedly loudly shout "I'm having a panic attack, I'm having a panic attack. My heart is racing, I'm sweating like a pig, my chest hurts, I feel like I'm going to die, I'm having a panic attack". Somehow, it seemed to diffuse it. Weirdly, I seem to have now developed a fear of being a passenger in a car which I think is probably a fear of lack of control. I cannot, will not, stop being a passenger in a car.

01 October, 2007 10:41  
Anonymous helena chimed in with...

Sounds like you have a very sensible and caring partner - which is a big help. F is great when I'm going through one, reminding me of how to breathe and reassuring me that I'm not going to die. I think one of the worst things about them is the fact that no matter how many panic attacks you may have had before, you can never rationalise out that this feeling will pass.

Mine seem to occur either in the middle of the night; I wake up already in the middle of an attack, or when I'm wandering around the shops on my own.

I think that Compassionate is right, sitting with the panic and working it through to the absolute end point is helpful.

What I've also found useful is if you can catch the attack before it become full blown, then try to do something physical when you start to feel the disassociation set in.
Getting out of bed and walking around the apartment does help me, even in the middle of an attack. Difficult if you're in a car I know, but something like turning up the radio and singing along loudly might be useful.

I went through a stage at work when I was constantly on the verge of an attack and I found that the Bachs rescue remedy really helped with that so it might be useful too.

I know it sounds really dumb but start taking a paper bag with you when you go out in the car. Breathing in and out of one really does help if the attack becomes full blown.

It sounds like you've had a really stressful year or so and the attacks are probably just the offloading of all the stress and fear you went through at the time but couldn't externalise then. It's all coming out now that you're in a safe place. Take care of yourself and don't worry, they will pass.

01 October, 2007 12:19  
Blogger Doris chimed in with...

My sympathies, Surly. Given the amount of stress you've been through it's not altogether surprising that the panic attacks have returned. They will pass, just as before. Not that that helps right now, of course.

02 October, 2007 20:04  
Blogger Hippernicus chimed in with...

Sounds awful, Surly :(.

Can I suggest CBT to you (if it's not a route you've already tried?) It really helped a friend with panic attacks.

02 October, 2007 20:38  
Anonymous dr ben chimed in with...

Surly, sounds shit. As an emergency physician I have tended to view panic attacks fairly glibly and without a great deal of empathy, but the description you provided and the others listed here lend me to think that they are much worse than I imagined.

One thing I can say is that you WILL get through it, and as others have mentioned actually being aware of your symptoms and being able to rationalise them is half the battle. Ultimately, as Hippernicus mentioned, if you can't get through them, then a Psychologist can give you some great techniques...Just love your writing, please keep us posted.

03 October, 2007 16:52  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

You're probably not going mental.

I've never had a panic attack in my life and I'm boringly well adjusted, but this:

"Suddenly, everything felt wrong. The radio was too quiet. My fingers were numb, and everything I touched felt...detached, somehow. I began to sweat, and to feel those old, horrid-familiar waves of panic wash over me"

still rang a bell with me.

Everybody is slightly fucked up to some extent and I'm sure a lot of people recognised that feeling.

You've had a lot going on recently, putting it mildly. There'd be somthing wrong if you could just brush it off.

If I were you I'd revisit the doctor and just give it a bit of time.

03 October, 2007 21:21  
Blogger Arabella chimed in with...

I remember a while back you said you were planning a wedding? Now that's enough to send anyone barking.
You aren't barking of course. But shedding old emotions and growing new ones, along with all of us. Keep hugging. And here's one from me.

04 October, 2007 15:32  
Anonymous Femme chimed in with...

Hey You. Well, being as cyberworld (I see you smirking - you LOVE that word you do) has offered you much love support and advice, I feel muchly redundant. Or not. Because there was the time when I was wearing a pair of jeans and a red top...

...well anyway, my panic attack meant that I passed out whilst driving the car.

See, I knew I could make you feel better. Nothing like a good dose of alarmist meme from, well, meme to make you feel too irritated to panic. I know, dont mention it, bill is in the post.

P.S love you.x

04 October, 2007 15:58  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

heartfelt thanks, all. i have a doctors appointment but not for 3 weeks.

i went into town yesty with the other half for lunch and had a full-on-wig-out in the middle of town, which culminated in me pleading with him to let me get in a taxi and go home. smooth, i'm sure you'll agree. i'm quite the catch.

so anyway, today i didn't want to go for lunch. but i did, and it was fine, and i feel slightly better knowing that i "survived" a wobbly and managed to go back to work for the afternoon.

which is all fine and everything, but it's the fucking waiting for the next one that's getting me down.

um. anyway.

thank you. really.

04 October, 2007 19:25  
Blogger First Nations chimed in with...

yup, i had 'em too. welcome to recovery. it's old raw emotional response blowing off, and using a weak point of daily stress to blow off through-at least it was for me.i had a couple of medication adjustments and a few therapy sessions.
of course this is gross understatement of the horror one goes through. i wish i could hug you and come visit and watch the kid and clean your bathroom and make a few dinners and put them in the freezer so you could just pop them into the oven later on and do all the things that friends are supposed to do for other friends. you have some good advice here on facing it through and coping...compassionate, thursday and helena have got it. i done 'em. it works. what they said.
all i can add to that is the reassurance that it honestly, honestly DOES GO AWAY.

05 October, 2007 17:38  
Blogger Rimshot chimed in with...

I wish I could join in the chorus of "I'll get better", but sadly, I cannot.

However, I can with all sincerity tell you that either 1. Going mental isn't all that bad or 2. You're not going mental.

And please, PLEASE be careful regarding the alcohol. Those that suffer from anxiety issues make up a high percentage of those that end up with alcohol abuse problems due to the self-medicating with the lovely liquid "'make the badness go 'way" medicine.

10 October, 2007 19:58  
Blogger Kyahgirl chimed in with...

this sucks my dear. I have nothing to add, just sending hugs from across the world.

23 October, 2007 04:41  
Blogger funny thing chimed in with...

Hiya. I'm in semi-retirement due to also going through a shit time for different reasons so haven't read anything for weeks.
Panic-attacks do go away, but the alcohol won't help. Sorry about that!
You have the best recipe for recovery and that's a tight family unit that care for and love you.
I work with people who suffer drug-induced paranoia etc., etc., and OH and SP are the key.
Get any counselling you can as well, it's always worth trying stuff out! (or is that what got you into this mess...)

My email is on my profile, if you want to ask qns.


24 October, 2007 23:03  
Anonymous Other Half chimed in with...

I thought I'd update you all seeing as SG is not really in a blogging mood right now. She has sought proper advice and is on the right path to getting healthy.

It is a long road and I'm sure there will be a few setbacks but she will get there. I am so, so proud of what she has achieved thus far and will continue to support and love her in whatever way she needs.

I would like to thank everyone who has read SG's latest post and taken the time to comment / offer suggestions, believe me, in their own way they helped during what has been a very difficult time.

I'm sure my lovely Surly Girl will return re-invigorated and with more posts to both amuse us and make us think but in the meantime we will simply enjoy our life together and look forward to all it has to offer.

25 October, 2007 08:25  
Blogger Cheezy chimed in with...

Thanks for the update, otherhalf, and I hope to see you both around the place soon. Best wishes.

29 October, 2007 14:56  
Blogger rockmother chimed in with...

Arse - as usual I am days/weeks/months behind due to my own ongoing emotional nonsense at home. I wish you well Surly and am amazed at how lucky you are to have such a bloody nice and caring other half. Panic attacks can be horrendous and they can be extremely debilitating in so many ways. My take (for what it is worth) is same as First Nations/Arabella/Spinsterella - it seems as if you have climbed immense personal/emotional mountains since I have been (albeit sporadically) reading your blog over the last couple of years. I would put money on your panic attacks being a symptom of emotional grief from all the fallout of that in a way. You are very brave and strong even if you don't feel it right now. Big virtual hugs to you. You can do it. x

30 October, 2007 00:41  
Blogger ziggi chimed in with...

hope you're starting to feel better

30 October, 2007 09:45  
Blogger Vicus Scurra chimed in with...

Looking forward to a return to surlyness, bile and wit.
love and peace

31 October, 2007 20:19  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

Yup - what the rest said.

06 November, 2007 21:36  
Blogger Rob Clack chimed in with...

Mmm. Me too.

09 November, 2007 14:56  
Blogger patroclus chimed in with...

Only just seen this - hope you're feeling better. I've been through it all too, the horrible panic attacks when you're convinced you're going to die or 'go mad' or somehow explode/implode, the constant panicking about having a panic attack, the debilitating phobias of really weird things (signing my name, hairdressers, stretch limos), the agoraphobia, the lot. It does get better, believe me.

10 November, 2007 07:13  
Blogger Betty chimed in with...

Thanks for the comment over at mine. Wishing you all the best and hope you're feeling better. You're much missed around here y'know.

13 November, 2007 21:06  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

update soon, honest. again, thanks.

i'm beginning to feel like i'm winning (that might just be because i've finally perfected my tinfoil hat though...). go me...

14 November, 2007 20:40  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

Spotted (at betty's) yay

see you soon...

14 November, 2007 21:11  
Blogger Robert Swipe chimed in with...

It's an awful feeling, panic, isn't it?

But calm will return, I'm sure.

Hoping it's soon,


15 November, 2007 16:03  
Blogger rockmother chimed in with...

Just dropped by to see how things are. :-)

03 December, 2007 21:44  
Anonymous Anonymous chimed in with...

Please write something! I'm still lurking! I hope you're feeling better. I too can empathise (I'm certified, me - in remission thank god). Time heals everything so look after yourself and have a nice xmas etc. 2008 will be your year I'm sure. Just don't forget us lurkers and write sommat soon.

Sara (sa_mo) x

07 December, 2007 11:21  
Blogger crisiswhatcrisis chimed in with...

Just dropped in to see how you are, mate. I've lost your email address or I'd send you a private mail.

Feel better soon. I wish I could help more.

I must write something soon myself, too. I may even do it today.

13 December, 2007 08:43  
Blogger claire chimed in with...

Hope you're feeling better, Surly. You're well missed around here.

17 December, 2007 22:23  
Anonymous Anonymous chimed in with...

merry christmas, mate

23 December, 2007 13:20  
Anonymous crisiswhatcrisis chimed in with...

uh, that was me.

23 December, 2007 13:21  
Blogger Betty chimed in with...

I tell you what's missing - that tramp singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, so I'll have to go back into last year's archive to watch him again.

Have a good Christmas SG.

23 December, 2007 20:35  
Anonymous Anonymous chimed in with...

Merry, uhh

24 December, 2007 12:34  
Anonymous Anonymous chimed in with...

Merry Christmas, Surl, hope things are going well for you these days.

29 December, 2007 12:31  
Blogger rockmother chimed in with...

Happy Christmas Surly and all of the Surlsters! x

29 December, 2007 22:23  

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