Anxiety – Part II: This Too Shall Pass…

Yesterday, I shared with all of you my story, or rather my Daddy’s story and explained that, over time, I’ve been able to determine this was the event that triggered my panic attacks.  Now, personally I feel that an event that occurred almost 25 years ago should NOT affect me anymore, but the truth of the matter is it does.  It was a major life event.  MAJOR.  One I can’t make go away simply because I want it to.  How great would that be?  The ability to just make things un-happen?  It’s like unseeing what you’ve seen – it can’t be done.  So where does that leave me?  It leaves me with the knowledge I need to possibly begin to heal and if I can’t completely heal which is a fact I’m willing to admit, then it at least leaves me with a starting place to help control my anxiety and panic attacks.  I can live with that.

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that my particular disorder had a name.  It is PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Yes, this is what you hear of about our military men and women who’ve fought in a war for our country.  They come home and are left with memories, fear, flashbacks, nightmares.  To give you a medical definition: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD can be thought of as a panic attack that rarely, if ever, lets up. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened, hypervigilance, startling easily, withdrawing from others, and avoiding situations that remind you of the event.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for our soldiers and am by NO means comparing my situation to theirs as what they experienced is far worse, but nonetheless I suffer in the same manner.  I should probably mention here that my Daddy was a soldier who fought in the Korean war.  His war stories are some of the most frightening I’ve ever heard so I can’t help but wonder what he must go through…he’s been in a war and had a wife try to murder him.  I can’t get my head around it.  Anyway, a major traumatic life event is the cause of my problem.  What does this mean for me specifically?  It means I hate to be alone, I hate being out at night alone and I avoid it as much as humanly possible.  I hate being in the car and driving by myself.  These things scare me and at any time can cause an attack.  The truth of the matter is though, I can’t avoid these things all of the time.  I have to drive myself to work, I must run errands where I’m often by myself, sometimes going out at night can’t be avoided.  I’ll tell you something else, too.  It pisses me the hell off.  I used to LOVE going out at night!  It was not uncommon for me to just get in my car at night and drive for hours because I enjoyed the night time.  I’m nocturnal by nature and the night time is my time, so to speak.  (Isn’t there a song about that?  I love the night life, I’ve got to boogie?)  I want to be awake and doing things at night or at least my body does although my brain doesn’t.  Because of this disorder, I’ve had to shut all of that down or maybe I didn’t HAVE to but I did and the fear pisses me off.   I’m guessing if any of you suffer from panic attacks they probably piss you off, too.  No doubt.

You might, if you suffer from anxiety/panic attacks, be asking yourself what can I do to help myself?  Maybe you’re in the same boat I am and don’t currently have medical insurance so prescription meds aren’t available.  Or maybe you don’t want to rely on meds to get through it.  Understandable as a lot of people don’t have insurance or want to rely on pills.  Take comfort in knowing there are things you CAN do to help yourself.

First, it is vitally important you work at figuring out the reason for the panic attacks.  There are different types of anxiety.  I’ll list them in my blog but do your own research.  I’ve found a couple of links – here and here – that are helpful and will explain the various types.

Types of anxiety:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety Attacks (Panic Disorder)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (I’ve got a little of this, as well)

Phobia (Got this, too)

Social Anxiety Disorder

PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

TAKE TIME TO FIGURE OUT WHERE YOURS COMES FROM.  I can’t stress enough how important this is!  Keep a journal and write down when you have attacks, the times you feel anxious, what you were doing when the attacks occurred.  You might feel the “why” doesn’t matter, that only the “what can I do to stop it” matters.  Trust me…the “why” does matter.  It’s that part that will help you to know how to begin to get some healing.

Like I’ve said before, it did take me years to figure out where mine were coming from.  I didn’t keep a journal and was lucky enough (I guess it was luck) to just have this huge Moment of Clarity where it hit me what the problem was.  Don’t wait for the moment if you don’t have to.  The longer you wait, the more you feel out of control and that is the key to all of this:  GETTING BACK IN CONTROL.

I personally love meds and I’m not ashamed or afraid to rely on them to help me.  I took Prozac and Xanax for years and they worked.  But like I said, I don’t have insurance right now so I am looking at other ways to help myself.  I’ve discovered that Valerian Root works well to help curb a panic attack or at the very least take the edge off of one.  If you’ve never tried Valerian Root before let me warn you now – it stinks!  It literally smells like shit so don’t let that throw you off.  Just take a deep breath before you put it in your mouth and swallow quickly!  But for me, it works.  I’ve done research on it and can’t find anything that says an OD is possible although I’ve read where taking mass quantities of it can make you vomit.  So be careful with it, start off slow, and gradually figure out what it takes to help.  It’s pretty cheap and I’ve found it at Walmart and every drugstore I’ve ever been in so it’s not difficult to come by.  I’ve found a list of other homeopathic options but PLEASE DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.  I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV!

Besides taking any pills or supplements, what else can you do?

You can talk to someone.  It’s hard to do, I know but please try to find someone you are 100% sure you can rely on, explain to that person what you are going through, and do not be afraid to tell them how they can help and what you need.  It might just be a matter of arranging it so if you are having an attack you can call this person and have them talk you through it.  That works because I’ve done it several times.

Learn to relax and meditate when an attack comes on.  Close your eyes and focus on controlling your breathing.  Teach yourself muscle relaxation – you know that thing where you start with your toes and focus on relaxing each muscle in your body.  This takes practice so if you don’t get it the first time – that’s okay.  Keep working at it.  Just the act of practicing will help you.

Get in the habit of writing down things you tend to worry about.  Sometimes just getting stuff out of our heads can be a big help in reducing anxiety and stress.  It’s the main reason I blog and you all have to suffer through my ramblings!  Just write it all out!  If you don’t like to write, get yourself a tape recorder and do it that way.  Sometimes saying our worries out loud is even better than writing them down.

Remind yourself that it WILL pass and you are NOT in danger.  Say that repeatedly if you must but don’t let that thought escape you.

Eat healthy, exercise, lay off the caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.  Ok, CONFESSION TIME:  I suck at these things which is why my ass is so big and I’ve been a smoker for way too many years.  No pressure, start slowly, change what you can when you can.  I gave up drinking Coke over 2 months ago.  This was a BIG nasty habit of mine and I drank several a day. I still drink coffee (take away my coffee and shit is gonna get real up in here!) but I don’t drink it all day like I used to.  Only in the mornings now!  Baby steps, right?  It’s all about the baby steps.

And last but probably  most important is to learn to accept that shit happens.  Bad things are going to happen.  It’s just a part of life.  Things will suck from time to time but if we spend all of our time worrying about what MIGHT happen, we aren’t really living are we?

As for me, I’m a work in progress.  It may be that my panic attacks never go away.  If they don’t, that’s okay because I’m finally beginning to feel a bit more confident about getting back some of my control when they do happen.  Mine are MUCH worse at night and if I’m being honest, there have been nights where I’ve just laid in bed, suffering through them, waiting to die.  This keeps me awake because I become too afraid to go to sleep.  I can be overly paranoid about making sure doors are locked (I sometimes get up several times to be sure things are locked) and I hear every single odd noise that goes on outside my window.  I’ll catch myself and then I’ll do what I need to do to try and relax.

The thing about anxiety and panic is to know that you are strong enough to get control back in your life.  You may not feel like it, but you really are.  We all are.  It’s true we can’t control every single thing that happens in life but we can control how we feel, how we react, what and how we think.  Those things belong only to ourselves.

Anxiety – Part I: Halloween 1987

My intent is to write, in two blogs, about my experience with anxiety and panic attacks.  Think I’m crazy if you must, but those of us who must endure these events are well aware we’re not nuts.

It’s a big subject.  One I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about which, of course, leads to more anxiety.  If you have an anxiety attack that in turns leads to more of the same because once you get through one, you are simply just waiting for the next one.  It’s a seriously vicious cycle.

The topic of anxiety and panic attacks have come up several times recently (in my life anyway) so it seems necessary that I address it.  Before I do that though, I need to share a story because this story is most of the reason for mine.  See, over time I’ve been able to trace back to this particular night as the trigger for my panic attacks.  After you read, you’ll probably understand why.

It’s Halloween, 1987.  Been a fairly normal day.  I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween.  I mean, it was just never a big deal for me and my siblings growing up.  We weren’t big into the trick-or-treating/costume thing and mostly we did church stuff. So, I personally was not doing anything special this particular night and I stayed home.  My Daddy was married to a woman named Patsy (The Step Bitch) at the time.  To say I hated her is an understatement.  I despised every fiber of her being and knew from the beginning what she was about.  She was a whore, a tramp and simply using my Daddy.  Back then, we had money.

Anyway, my younger brother and steps brother/sister were going out that night.  I think they were all going skating or something.  I don’t remember.  Evening approaches, and The Step Bitch Patsy oddly decided to give everyone a later curfew than normal, something she never did.  Everyone but myself, my Daddy and The Step Bitch left for the night.  I hung out in my room, spent a couple of hours on the phone with my boyfriend at the time, then went to bed I believe around 11ish.  At 11:30 or so, The Step Bitch wakes me up to tell me my brother has broken down “somewhere in Griffin,” she didn’t know exactly where, and asked me to go look for him.  Now, at the time, this did not raise any questions because I’m sure I just assumed my brother was drunk (par for the course) and so I threw on some clothes and set out to find him.  From where we lived, Griffin was about 15-20 minutes away.  So I drove…and I drove…and I looked.  Couldn’t find him anywhere.  This was before the entire planet had cell phones so I couldn’t call home, I just headed back.  When I pulled up in front of my house, it was CHAOS.  Blue lights flashing, ambulance, cops all over the place. Naturally, I flew out of my car only to have a neighbor stop me.  When I asked what happened, the neighbor told me my Daddy had been shot.  They had just closed the ambulance doors when I pulled up.

Shot?  My Daddy?  No f****** way!  Who would do that to him?  I mean I know his career as a Private Investigator was a bit questionable at times, but he was so careful to shield me and protect me from anything iffy that I didn’t think for one second maybe an “associate” had hurt him.  I broke free from my neighbor, ran into the house and noticed The Step Bitch wasn’t there and IMMEDIATELY I knew what she’d done.  There was no doubt in my mind it was her that had shot my Daddy.

Fast forward a bit…I start calling people because I had no damn idea what to do.  I know at some point, my older brother Joe showed up (he was a cop back then) and I know eventually The Step Bitch came back to the house where I hear my brother tackled her and put the cuffs on her before she could even make it to the front door.   I didn’t see this happen, but I recall someone telling me it occurred.  The Step Bitch’s sister showed up I think, or one of them.  Eventually my brother and step sister/brother got back to the house.  I recall throwing a very heavy lamp at somebody – I think my step brother.  There was a police officer there, Dormer was his name, and he was basically my rock while I was at the house that night.  He got all of the people related to The Step Bitch out of the house.  This was MY house, the one I grew up in and they were INTRUDERS and needed to GET OUT so he made that happen and quickly.

Now understand, I am extremely close to my Daddy.  I am a genuine Daddy’s Girl down to my core.  He is my hero, my savior.  There are no right words to say how much I love him or how much he means to me so I won’t try because it won’t do how I feel about him justice.

Things begin to settle down just a bit.  Most of the police are gone.  The Intruders have been kicked out.  My boyfriend shows up and he takes me to the hospital.  I get to my Daddy, see him and FLIP OUT.  Hysterical flipping out.  He’s hooked up to all of the machines, tubes and blood everywhere…it’s just bad.  Very bad.  I beg my boyfriend to take me to the police station, telling him I want to talk to someone to find out exactly what happened.  What BF does not know is I really want to go there to kill Step Bitch.  Seriously.  That was my plan.  Irrational though it was, I wanted her dead and I was going to make that happen.  Against BF’s better judgement, he takes me.  I bolt out of the car, into the station and the first thing I hear is her talking.  I’m headed straight to her and it so happens Dormer is there and catches me – physically catches me and has to hold me back.  After a time, BF and Dormer manage to calm me down and it seems they decided the best thing to do was to not take me back to the hospital but get me somewhere so I can chill out and maybe sleep. Sleep?  Ha!  Didn’t happen.  BF takes me to a friend’s house, stays with me for the night but there was no sleep.  Mostly I just cried.

The next days are a haze.  I’m not even sure what happened to The Step Bitch’s kids.  I know I did not see them again…ever.  I don’t even know where my brother was and I don’t remember seeing him for a long while after that night.

More details I do recall:

Spending the night with my Daddy in the hospital where, in his sleep, he would be dreaming about the night he got shot and I got a replay of what his night was like because he would talk in his sleep.  See, he watched The Step Bitch shoot him.  While he was sleeping, she unplugged the phone next to his side of the bed.  She fired the first shot – woke him, of course – and he watched the rest happen.  She left the room and he rolled over, somehow managed to plug the phone back in and called 911 himself.  He passed out on the first call but they had already dispatched police to the house.  He was friends with most every copy and judge and lawyer in the county we lived in at the time so the response was quick and a lot of people responded.  Can you imagine how that must’ve felt for him?  To watch his wife try to kill him?

While he was in the hospital, it was left up to me to get the house back in order, including his bedroom.  This meant dealing w/ the bloody mattress.  It was soaked and completely covered.  I had help but that didn’t make it any easier.  A friend and I got the mattress to the street for trash pick up.  We flipped it so the bloody side didn’t show but would you believe someone actually knocked on our door asking if they could take the mattress?  OMG!  All I could say was “You are more than welcome to take it but know my Daddy was just shot and the other side of it is covered in blood.”  They were speechless and left without saying a word.  For whatever reason, I decided to vacuum his bedroom and accidentally vacuumed up his teeth that were knocked out by a bullet.  Which was sort of funny and I can laugh about it now but not so much back then.

He ended up with six bullets in him.  Strangely enough, while cleaning up his room, I found her target practice things – you know those sheets of paper with the outline of a person on them?  Ironically, the shots she fired during her practice were in almost the exact locations of the bullets she fired at Daddy.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Daddy spent weeks with his jaw wired shut.  There was some debate about taking out all of the bullets as one was lodged extremely close to an artery so it was decided that particular one would stay.  Once he came home, he had his gun with him at all times, even taking it to the bathroom with him.  I’ve no doubt if The Step Bitch had the guts to show up at the house, he would’ve shot her and if he hadn’t, then I would’ve.

She spent only a week in jail.  I’ve nothing to say about that but I’m sure you can guess how I feel about it.  Daddy did not want her prosecuted.  However, Daddy spent many years afterward getting his own brand of justice so don’t assume she wasn’t punished.  She was.

Someone told me once that our neighbors reported hearing  “loud popping noises” around 10:30 that evening.  If you’ll remember, I said earlier she woke me up at around 11:30.  I’ve been told the reason Daddy forced himself to get the phone plugged in and call for help is because he was afraid I was in the house and she’d shot me, too.

There is a 911 tape floating around somewhere of Daddy’s call, but I don’t want to hear it.  Not now, not ever.

It is YEARS later.  I just realized it’s almost 25 years later.  Shit.  Long time.  Our family has recovered…sort of.   It was quite awhile before I could talk to Daddy about that night and eventually we did.  For at least 20 years I had nightmares for the entire month leading up to Halloween.  Terrible nightmares.  It was until I actually started talking about the nightmares that they started to go away because all that time, I never told anyone.

I still hate being alone on Halloween.

So, this is where my anxiety comes from.  If I go out alone or at night or I’m alone at night the panic attacks creep up on me.  They can happen even if I’m not alone but they are worse when I’m by myself.  My particular anxiety has a name and I’ll get to that in Part II, but it’s real.  It’s very real people.  It’s real and it’s scary.