Monday, November 21, 2011

Fearing Fear Itself

I didn't get much sleep Saturday night.

The last guest didn't leave the Beaujolais Nouveau Day soiree until nearly 6 a.m. and I was bleary-eyed and dehydrated but upright just after 11 as Acr0nym was expecting me for the Great De-Cluttering of 2011 early Sunday afternoon.

I wasn't feeling awful when I headed north. Fuzzy-headed and hungry but otherwise I was OK.

Acr0nym, consumed by his own fuzzy-headedness, wasn't particularly interested in de-cluttering by the time I got there so we spent a very lazy Sunday afternoon sitting around his dining room table talking, drinking water, eating incredible BBQ chicken that had been slow-cooked in the crock pot over night and served over toasted buns.

It was my idea to brew the coffee. *sigh*

It wasn't late when I began the trek back down south toward The Grotto - maybe around 6. I was tired, I could tell I was particularly tired, but I was buzzing from caffeine and felt as though I were plenty awake enough to navigate the usual lighter Sunday evening traffic on I-25. I was looking forward to getting home.

I'd been on the highway perhaps 5 minutes when a frightening realization hit...the tingling numbness in my extremities, the odd buzzy ringing in my ears.


I haven't fainted in 4+ years, y'all. But last night, driving 60 mph, on an interstate through the city, I was getting ready to.

I couldn't take my eyes off the road in front of me. Any movement of my head caused my head to spin and the world to start wavering in and out in fuzzy blackness around the edges.

Terrified, I began to hyperventilate. A full on panic attack such as I've rarely experienced took over me and it was all I could do to hit the button on my window (luckily, a button with the feature that, if held down for a second or two, will roll all the way down on its own), throw the A/C on full blast and try to concentrate on sucking in deep breaths of oxygen while trying to merge over to the far most right lane and the emergency shoulder without performing my standard over-the-shoulder safety check.

As I panicked, Rational Jane, ever present, started mentally clicking through options. Get off at the next exit which just happened to be the exit for Denhac - a place I've frequented fairly regularly - where I could park, collect myself, and/or call Acr0nym to come rescue me? Try to make it to my exit and then stop? Try to make it all the way home?

I made it to my exit.

Once I got off the highway, I felt a bit better. Shaky, yes, but no longer afraid I was going to faint while driving at a high rate of speed.

I made it home.

Side note: Even in my discombobulated state, I still managed to parallel park in a particularly tight space in front of my house on the first attempt. I rock.

I sat in my car trying to soothe my frazzled nerves. I called Acr0nym. I told him what happened. We decided it was just a Perfect Storm of sleep deprivation, dehydration, caffeine, and heightened social anxiety from the previous night. By the time we ended our conversation just a few minutes later, I was pulled together enough to drag myself into the house.

I put on my pajamas, fixed a cup of hot herbal tea, wrote my blog post for the day, and then curled up in bed early to read. I was exhausted. I felt certain I would sleep and well. I was mistaken.

Sweet sleep eluded me for most of the night. I tossed, I turned, I dozed in and out but, every time I reached the point of no return, my racing thoughts about what had happened would come screaming in and I was wide awake again. Either that or it was the coffee keeping me awake. Hard to tell. I fell soundly asleep somewhere around 3:30.

This morning, when I awoke at 5, I was miserably tired. So very very tired and also anxious. I mean, I'm anxious nearly every Monday morning as the week starts but this morning was heightened by my lack of restful sleep and my fear of the "what if". What if it happened again on my way to work?

I got up, I showered, dressed, drank coffee, tried to relax while perusing my feed reader. I wasn't great but I was OK. I thought I'd be OK.

Behind the wheel, buckled up. The surface street traffic was lighter than usual and I had no difficulty. I began to relax into my morning commute like I normally would. I hit the highway 10 minutes in - as usual - and was pleased to see traffic moving at a brisk clip.

And then it hit again.

I'd been on the highway, again, maybe 5 minutes when I felt the creeping numbness and heard the buzzy ringing. Immediately, it was...

Window down.
Heat off.
A/C turned to full blast icy air.



I managed to make it to work. I pulled into a parking space, threw the car in "Park", and burst into hot, prickly tears. What the hell is happening to me?

I was afraid.

Beyond afraid.


I went in the building, checked myself in, checked my mail box (no mail), took the elevator instead of climbing the stairs. Deposited my lunch sack and purse at my desk, logged into my computer, retrieved the file cabinet keys from the locked closet.

Breathe, gawd dammit. Just breathe.

My boss was at her desk.

I went in and sat down. Inquired about her weekend as I normally would. The residual creep and buzz were still present.

I stopped her, mid-sentence because I was afraid I'd faint right there, in her office, and she wouldn't know why it was happening (HA! Like I did either) or what to do.

"I'm experiencing something terrifying."

I explained what had happened...last night...this morning. She said, "It's OK. I know how to dial 911."  We talked over what it might be. Blood pressure? Low blood sugar? Dehydration? Carbon monoxide poisoning?

I didn't know.

I still don't know.

I went to the doctor's office. Blood pressure - normal/low (as usual) and within normal limits. Pulse - normal/low (as usual...a runner's resting heart rate). Blood drawn.

I went to the Home Depot - at Acr0nym's insistence - to purchase a portable, battery-operated, carbon monoxide detector to place in my car. Reading is normal.

Both trips - doctor and home improvement store - I felt a bit of the lightheadedness creeping creeping threatening to take hold. Traveling on all surface streets.

By then, I knew, I was afraid of fear. I was terrified it would happen again as I was driving and was subsequently tensed up, holding my breath, waiting for the inevitable...

Fearing fear.

When it was time to go home, I was in such a dither, I didn't know if I should try highway or stick to surface streets as it didn't seem to make a difference anymore. I chose highway considering that it would take 3 times as long via surface streets and, since it wasn't making any difference, figured I'd be just as dangerous on side roads as I was on the highway...just, on the highway, it would take less time.

Clearly, because you are reading this, you know I made it home in one piece.

There was a bit of the numb and buzz but it seemed manageable. Perhaps it was because I had to do the interstate first and the last 2/3 of the drive was surface.

I don't know.

What I know is that I have had only had one cup of coffee - at 5:30 a.m. - today, I've not allowed myself to nap, I've had 2 cups of hot herbal tea in addition to a couple of glasses of wine. I ate chicken noodle soup for supper and have been concentrating on just breathing in and out most of the evening. I'm in my pajamas and it's 8:01 p.m. As soon as I hit "Publish Post" on this entry, I'll be crawling into bed with my book and an OTC sleep aid.

I'll try not to think about all the "what if's". I'll try not to think about possible car repair, possible lurking health issues, possible impending agoraphobia.

I'll try to relax.

And I'll try again tomorrow.

I'm afraid...

Of fear itself.


spux said...

Yikes! That's some serious anxiety! Call me if you wanna chat ok?

Gaelyn said...

Sounds like you should join me today at the therapists. Please take care of yourself. Choose to change this.

alienbody said...

I cannot even imagine how frightening that must have been. Whey I had my thyroid removed I had lots of issues with vertigo & dizzy-wizzy stuff. Horrid, but nothing like what you experienced. So glad you are o.k. More tests??

Lucy said...

I would keep a very close eye on this and get more tests if this continues, it is not always the brain, sometimes these are important signals.
Take care.

Ernie Hendrix said...

Jane, what a terrifying feeling that must be. It sure sounds like a classic anxiety attack. And they do cause you be afraid of another anxiety attack. The fear feeds on itself. Please don't hesitate to get help if they continue. And treat yourself kindly. Get some rest and some good nutrition. Hope you are feeling much calmer and better today!

(Ms) Ernie
Gypsy Gold Studio

The Shiftless Wanderer said...

I agree - keep an eye on it. It could be something besides anxiety. which is not to say that what you've written here isn't true too - fearing fear itself. It does sound like you're paying attention and taking care of yourself. Scary stuff!! I must say it shows a high level of commitment to your readers that you posted your blog in spite of all of this.

Michael said...

Some scary experiences and a scary post. Panic attacks are killers and the "what ifs" are great fuel for them. I hope you're better now and are getting rested up and feeling more normal. I appreciate your honesty in sharing an experience like this. Have you ever tried anything like meditation?

Livvy U. said...

Jane, I felt I had to comment on this one. I have no idea what is going on in your life right now, but I know that whenever I have had panic attacks of this magnitude in the past it is because my body is trying to tell me to listen to it, and to pay some attention to me. I have come to think of panic attacks as a built-in safety valve: I think they are actually there to help - they are your body saying stop, I need attention. And by 'body' I don't just mean physical body, I mean your whole self. I usually find, when I do stop, that I have become wildly out of synch with myself without knowing, and that it is time to redress the balance.
I hope you won't find this presumptuous of me, but please know you're not alone and it will get better. Livvy

Anonymous said...

Holy crap, Jane.
Its been four days since you posted this -- have the symptoms abated, at all?
Have you visited a doctor for a stem to stern sweep?

Some of this reads like a panic attack; like an over taxed body with a huge amount of stress bearing down on it. Some of it reads like Something is Awry, for which you need a doctor to check all the nooks and crannies.


That last bit came out a bit naughtier than I intended. :/

At any rate, I hope that you are feeling better, that these attacks have discontinued and that your sleep is back up to par.