Saturday, 14 February 2015

Panic attacks.

I had two mild panic attacks today. That's a pain in the hoo-has and not something I wanted or expected to be dealing with. 

They came in my exercise class. One of the things that's done the most to rid me of anxiety. It's troubling, but shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. I don't really do insurmountable problems any more. That's the plan anyway. 

I say mild. I don't know if I've ever experienced a full-blown panic attack, I don't really know what that entails - at what point does acute anxiety become officially a "panic attack". 

Both happened once the group, which was about a dozen strong this week, had been asked to stand in a circle. I started to get very hot. I shook. I sweated. My mind was racing. I panicked. As ever (and embarrassingly enough for me to feel very uncomfortable about sharing this) the panic crystallised in the end around, erm, shitting or pissing myself. 

"I won't be able to leave the room. I'll be trapped. I'll soil myself." 

These are not realistic fears. Despite 25 years of very heavy drinking I have a very clean record in this respect. Once each I think. One of them in my sleep, or it could have been unconsciousness - I feel over and knocked my head. 

Beyond that there is a very strong childhood memory. I believe I was about four, possibly even younger, pre-school or first year of school. I was in a group, sitting, an adult was talking to us. I needed to go to the toilet. So I did what I was told to do and put my hand up. The adult told me to wait five minutes (something like that, this is a long time ago), so I put my hand down and duly wound up sitting in a pool of pee. 

I don't recall any particular shame with this memory. I was whisked away, cleaned up and given a pair of shorts from "the cupboard". At the end of the day I went home. I don't remember it causing me any particular pain or being teased about it. 

There is a slightly related memory of a school trip to the theatre as a teenager. Seated in the middle of a row I found myself desperate to go to the toilet and desperately unwilling to stand up during the performance and ask all those people to let me through. I did in the end. I was so put out by putting people out that I remained outside the auditorium until a break, possibly even the interval, too long. 

The first of these remains a very strong memory and I guess that means something. I've recounted it to counsellors as somehow emblematic of the sort of person that I am - I'm so shy and so obedient of authority that I'll piss myself rather than disturb someone. The second I've only just recalled now, but it has a strong effect on me even now, evoking the feeling that I now identify as the start of a panic attack - rising heat, embarrassment X 1,000, racing thoughts heading for the car crash of I WON'T BE ABLE TO COPE! 

The problem I found with counselling is that one uncovers a memory like that and, well, then what? I didn't find recounting it in itself healed it, if indeed it can be healed or needs healing. 

I see some sense of these being a possible, in fact likely, foundation of my anxiety though. I can talk well in conversation, get along fine in groups. The fear seems to be tied to attracting the attention of an authority figure (in a very loosely defined sense of authority figure, a waiter in a restaurant would count for example).

So what do I do? I survived today and I'm guessing that this is a good thing. I have evidence that I can get through this and that the terrible consequences I imagine (which might broadly be defined as an amorphous disaster or a specific humiliation that I have no experience of in recent times but seem to do fine imagining) don't actually come to pass.

If anyone has any suggestions I'd love to hear them. I think I'm doing the right things. I'm meditating, exercising, using rational thought and breathing to combat the immediate panic and so on. 

I'm also still only eight months sober, certainly close enough to invoke Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndome as a possible cause. I'm also putting my brain through withdrawals from a very strong dopamine urge by quitting porn. There are lots of changes and challenges going on in my life. 

For the rest of the day I was absolutely fine. In fact, in good enough spirits to start to think that I may have made sustained and sustainable change. 

If I could never feel like that again ever I would be very happy. I'll consult my notes and get back to you. Writing this has felt useful.     

ADDED LATER: 

It's also struck me that today was the first time in a while I didn't do my early start and meditation routine. Probably nothing in that, and while I'm keen to have better routines I don't want to feel like terrible things will happen if I don't keep to them. 

I should also start to think about one of my other big fear triggers. Watching possibly violent or upsetting films or TV in company. A fear of showing weakness and emotion - I'll cry, that sort of thing. It may be related.