Archive for March 2012

Panic Attacks: Don’t Panic   2 comments

I was sitting at my desk at work staring at my computer.   Nothing on the screen was registering in my brain.  All around the room I heard busy little fingers manipulating their keyboards at what seemed sonic speeds.  I stole a quick glance to the right and then to the left.  My neck was stiff.  I saw my co-workers intimately involved with their work online.  They could have been on Facebook or emailing their friends, but in my mind they were diligently earning money for the company.

I realized I had perspiration beads on my forehead and more trickling down the back of my neck into my sweater, which was much too warm for the sunny spring day.  My breathing became labored, my chest tightened and I began to get indigestion, hiccuping every twenty seconds or so.  All this was altering my sense of reality and I began to feel disoriented and a little dizzy.  I felt trapped in the office space, frantically trying to figure out the fastest way out of the room.  I kept telling myself, “Don’t pass out at work.  It’s only a panic attack.  Keep cool and it will subside.”

It was getting worse.  Hyperventilation  loomed around the corner.  I grabbed my briefcase and hurriedly slipped out of the office without saying a word.  When I got outside onto the city street I went into an alley, popped  two 1mg Lorezapam tablets, sat down on the sidewalk with my back against a wall and took some deep breaths. A cool breeze washed over me as my breathing eventually slowed down and the sticky sweat began to dry on my body.  The panic attack subsided and I was saved the embarrassment of someone calling the EMT’s, who would only have me breathe into a paper bag infront of my entire work group.  This would earn me the illustrious title of “office head case.”

The problem with panic attacks are you never know when they are going to rear their ugly heads.  You might feel like you have a handle on your life, but something in your subconscious is trying to punch its way through the “good thoughts retaining wall” in your brain.  Or, you have some general anxiety, but you didn’t realize to what extent it is effecting you.  Alas, it might be situational anxiety, where you feel threatened in a particular place and your mind goes into overdrive.

When you are having a panic attack, the most important thing to remember is not to panic.  I know, easier said than done.  But keep in mind  they are not life threatening in most cases and you do not want to be rushed to the hospital for one.  When everyone else has gunshot wounds or are having heart attacks, sitting on your gurney in the emergency room benignly breathing into a paper bag can make you feel like even more of a mental patient.

Next, if you are driving or operating heavy machinery, cease and desist.  You’re going to accidentally run someone over or cut your arm off.  Get away from potential onlookers and find a quiet space where you can just sit down alone and not be bothered.  If you have medication like Valium or Lorezapam, take one.  Then concentrate on slowing your breathing down with some big deep breaths.  Be aware of the fact that you are only having a panic attack and it will go away.  Think of something you’d like to do that day if you don’t end up in the emergency room.  Tell yourself you can can calm yourself down.  Close your eyes and give yourself more than enough time to let it pass.  Be absolutely sure before you get up.

Panic attacks are scary.  They make you feel like you are having a heart attack and about to visit the grim reaper.  But in most cases they are all in your head.  Simply mind over matter.  However the mind is a very powerful thing.  And panic attacks usually strike at very inopportune moments.  By having enough presence of mind to realize it’s a panic attack, removing yourself from the situation and giving your body and mind time to recover, you can usually avoid an embarrassing ride to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.

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Medicating Children: Is It More for the Parents?   Leave a comment

More and more I see stories on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Net Geo, Health and Discovery Channel and other cable networks trying to catch low hanging reality TV  fruit with programs documenting children with serious mood disorders.  Many have even been diagnosed bipolar.  Naturally, you always see the worst cases for maximum entertainment value.  Like a five year old kicking and biting his parents as he screams at the top of his lungs “I hate you!” trying to simultaneously set fire to the living room curtains.   And naturally the parents profiled are tired, distraught and feel they are out of reasonable options.

Reasonable options might be bear-hugging the child until he calms down, giving him a time out in a “safe room” or diverting his attention to something other than pyromania.  I went through a period of almost a year when my daughter was three trying to get her dressed for pre-school and into the car.  I dreaded mornings.   I would have rather had my leg amputated without anesthetic than face my daughter in the morning.

From the moment she woke up it was non-stop crying, screaming and physically fighting me from getting her out of her pajamas and into her clothes.  I literally would sit on her, pin her legs and arms down amongst wild protest and “force cloth her” while her face turned beet red and contorted into an image so disturbing I almost came down with PTSD.  I often wondered if her behavior was normal?  Was it a sign of what was to come?  Did I need to consult a psychiatrist?  Was there medication to calm her down, which would also have the off-label use of lowering my morning anxiety ?

Many of these cable TV programs depict equally exasperated parents choosing the medication option to settle their hellacious havoc wreaking offspring.  But sometimes they seem to be doing it more for themselves than for their children.  However if your child rips through the house like a cyclone emitting sonic booms in every room and saws off the legs of the dining room table to use against you as fighting sticks at bedtime, any drug which calms them down is just as much for you as it is for them.  And I really don’t think parents should be ashamed for admitting their frustration and exasperation.  But is medicating a child under twelve or thirteen a wise decision overall?

I believe everyone needs to have a baseline for “normal.”  If a person doesn’t know what normal is, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment in time, how can they tell if medication is bringing them back to that reality?  Normal to them may be how a particular drug once made them feel.  If it made them feel amped up and giddy with superhero-powers,  for the rest of their lives they’ll be chasing the dragon for that “hot-wired” sensation from future medications.  Eventually when given proper drug therapies for their mood disorder, they’ll be rejected if they don’t get that same feeling of constant excitement.  Medicating children under thirteen could give them a skewed view of normalcy, causing their mood disorder treatment expectations to be off-balance for life.

Also, young children can not put into words when a drug does not make them feel “right.”  They can’t articulate the nuances of what they are experiencing.  Many won’t say anything and just go about their lives feeling poorly.  Very young children may not even relate it to the medication.  I remember being given an anti-depressant when I was in high school.  Bipolar illness had not been identified back in the early 1980’s.  It made me sluggish, paranoid and more depressed.  I was able to verbalize this.  But how does a seven year old explain “sluggish and paranoid?”  Remember, with a mood disorder finding the right drug or cocktail of drugs could take years of trial and error.  It bewilders me that psychiatrists or sometimes even a general practitioner will prescribe a child a drug, expecting it to be the correct medication and dosage right from the start.

I do not doubt that children show the disturbing signs of bipolar illness, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses at an early age.  And I believe in some instances when parents have tried all the holistic options and their child is still punching them in the back of the head while they drive,  medication is the only answer.  I’m just purporting we reserve it for the worst cases, and if possible stave it off until they are teens and can communicate more articulately their mental status.  Immediately pumping up a kid up with psychotropic medications at the first sign of trouble can create a medication monster, always seeking a mental state that only exists in a far off memory.

I went the “wrestling route” with my daughter and opted against the medication.  I was lucky because she eventually grew out of her morning madness and at twelve years old seems to be a very well adjusted child.  But I often wonder what if her outbursts only got worse?  Would I consider medicating her if I was getting calls from the pre-school that she was terrorizing the teachers and they wanted her expelled?  I’d say, “you never really know for sure until you’ve been there.”  Or, maybe I’d just take the easy way out and have my doctor up my own medications.

It’s Alive!   Leave a comment

I feel like I just created a monster with the release of Buzzkill.   Writing it was the most exhilarating, heart wrenching and challenging year of my life.  I completely put myself out there regarding my life long struggle with mental illness, misfiring medications, suicidal side-effects, horrid hospital stays, out of control OCD, psychiatrists who need to lay on their own couches and family members constantly adding accelerate to the wildfire burning in my brain.

Basically I put in to words for all to see everything I’ve spent my entire life trying to keep secret.  I unabashedly share how I’ve dealt with bipolar illness before I was diagnosed as a child, improperly diagnosed as a college student and finally properly diagnosed as an adult.  All this time was fraught with uncontrollable impulses I could not predict nor save myself the embarrassment of having in public.  WIth Buzzkill I feel like I am standing on stage in a packed concert arena, naked and with a giant spotlight shining right on my genitals.

But there is no turning back now.  And it is my sincere hope that “letting it all hang out” will help someone dealing with the same issues to “hang on.”  People don’t want to hear from a Phd., psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist or psychologist lecturing on the mechanics of and textbook treatments for bipolar disease.  They want reality in a language they can understand;  The truth.  Consequently, Buzzkill serves it up “head in the toilet” raw.   Of course I do interject some wit and levity into many situations, but nothing is whitewashed, out of bounds or off limits.

It’s Alive!