Panic attacks, dissociation, and my son’s anxiety issues.

escher

Geometries by M.C. Escher

 

My son, who already suffers from OCD and ADHD (both diagnosed) tweeted this the other night:

I just had one of the strangest things happen… and it was the scariest experience of my life. I just had a Depersonalization/Derealization episode. It was SO FUCKING TERRIFYING. I thought I was gonna wake up in the ER or never sleep again.

Then later:

Other than OCD, ADHD and depression i have no psych disorders i know of. That shit LITERALLY made me feel like i’d lost my grip on reality and self.

The next day:

I’m going to the emergency room.

A few hours later:

Guys, if anything happens i love you all. Absolutely terrified in the waiting room rn feeling like death.

Late last night:

I got released. They gave me an anxiety pill. It was officially diagnosed as an anxiety attack.

Today:

Looking into therapy. my anxiety is getting REALLY bad.

As his mom, of course I was alarmed by these tweets.  But, as someone who used to suffer from panic attacks just as debilitating during my 20s and 30s, I KNOW HOW HE FEELS!  Panic attacks suck, and the type that involve dissociation are absolutely the worst.   For me, the dissociation usually involved derealization (feeling like your environment was unreal) but sometimes depersonalization (feeling like you’re disconnected from the world or like you’re not in your own body) too.

The panic might be hereditary.  His father suffers from anxiety attacks too.   I used to have exactly the kind of panic attacks he describes — always some kind of dissociative hell where I felt like everything was a dream and the people around me suddenly looked very frightening — either robotic or demonic.  Sometimes they looked like wax figures or seemed like they were being run by machines, and the environment itself became very surreal and dreamlike.  Sometimes it looked like a cartoon or two-dimensional.

disorienting

Museum installation by artist Peter Koler

During the worst attacks, I used to feel like I was literally outside of my body, and that really freaked me out.   I actually would have trouble controlling my body.  I remember once this happened to me on the subway in New York (which is scary enough as it is!) and I literally had to run off the train as soon as it stopped and ran into a corner and started whimpering.    Sometimes I used to have to bite my hands to feel “real.”   There were a few times I actually drew blood from doing that.    These dissociative episodes felt just like a bad drug trip, and I’ve had a few of those too.

I suffered from my first dissociative panic attack at about age 10.  I was playing outside in the early evening in the driveway and suddenly I felt like I wasn’t in my body.   But I wasn’t able to find the words to describe the feeling, and when I tried to tell my mother about how “weird” I felt, she had no idea what I was talking about and said I was being overdramatic and imagining things.   Eventually it passed, but from then on, every so often I’d get that weird feeling again.   As I entered my teens and twenties, the attacks became worse and more frequent.   They eventually tapered off when I reached my thirties and I haven’t had a full blown panic attack in years.

In my case, the episodes may have been due to my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or possibly from C-PTSD and/or BPD.    I don’t think my son has BPD, but he likely has PTSD or C-PTSD (his father is a narcissist and we had a very toxic marriage when the kids were young, which I have described elsewhere in this blog).   OCD can definitely cause a person to have anxiety or panic attacks, and I’m sure having ADHD just exacerbates the tendency.

I talked to him tonight for a while about this, and suggested some mindfulness tools that have helped me.   I think CBT could help him with this.  Thankfully, he has health insurance with his job, and has set up an appointment to see a therapist.  The emergency room gave him a short term prescription for some anti-anxiety meds (not benzodiazepines though).   But there are many things he can do to help himself too.

He has never sought therapy for his anxiety or OCD because he’s been able to deal with it  on his own until now, but he does need help with the panic and dissociation.   He also admitted his new job is much more stressful than he expected, and he is already looking around for something else.

If you pray, please send your prayers his way.  No one ever died or went crazy from a panic attack, but as someone who’s suffered from them, I know they can certainly feel that way when you’re in the midst of one!

*****

Further reading:

Derealization and Depersonalization in BPD and NPD

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15 thoughts on “Panic attacks, dissociation, and my son’s anxiety issues.

  1. To tell you the truth, it sounds like fun. Kind of like an acid trip. Of course, I wouldn’t want to experience that at random times. What did they give him? What else is there besides benzos? Most people take Xanix. You think he inherited it? Well you have my best wishes. I don’t pray. I really care about you.

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    • FUN? No, it is not fun. It’s freaking scary. But thanks for your good wishes. I think everything will work out okay. He’s taking the right steps. It’s a pretty common problem.

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  2. You’re so awesome, Otter. I just want to tell you that. Your blog has brought me so much comfort because you get it. You lay your soul bare to us and it makes us feel not so alone. You will bring your son comfort too, the same way you do us. It is such a blessing you understand how scary this is for your son. I’ve been there. Many times. It’s a flipping nightmare. But I haven’t had a panic attack I couldn’t talk myself out of since I was a teenager, stuck in a traffic jam on Golden Gate Bridge. I had an epiphany, a divine intervention. I got this sense of peace, something told me to look around at the other people in their cars and understand we were all the same, one, and it was okay. It was all going to be okay. That was 20 years ago and that feeling of oneness and being loved has never left me. I still get panicky sometimes, but I am able to talk myself down from the edge by connecting with my higher power.

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  3. Once again, I am amazed by your writing skill. The way you describe this living nightmare is so exactly right. Yes, I have experienced these episodes many times in my life. Feeling unreal, feeling like nothing is real, feeling like my spirit is coming apart from my body. It’s beyond horrible.

    I am praying for your son, and also praying for your peace of mind.

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      • Here is something weird that helped me stop having panic attacks. I told a therapist about this, and he said it actually made sense that doing this would stop my panics. He explained the reason why, but I didn’t really understand his explanation, and I have long since forgotten what he said. But, you may want to share this with your son, in case he wants to try it.

        When I was in my teens and twenties, I had a lot of panic attacks. Every time I had one, I would try with all of my might to make the panic stop. Especially when it happened out in public, because the embarrassment of having strangers look at me like I was looney tunes, made the nightmare even worse. But it did not matter how hard I struggled to stop being panicked, the panic attacks were completely beyond my control.

        One day I was in a busy mall, surrounded by people, when THE WORLD IS ENDING RIGHT NOW AND I AM ABOUT TO DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH sensation flooded all through me. But this time, instead of trying to stop the panicked feelings, knowing that it was futile even to try, I got MAD. The reason for my anger is because I was sick and tired of going through panic attack HELL every other day or so, at random times and in random places. The panic attacks were ruining my life!

        In my anger, I did something totally perverse. I decided that, instead of futiley trying to STOP my fear, I was going to do the exact opposite and try, on purpose, to INCREASE my fear, to the utter maximum!

        I know how crazy this sounds. I was just so fed up at that point, I guess my mind was done with trying to be “rational!”

        So, I did it. What I mean is, I TRIED to do it. Instead of trying to calm my racing heart and struggling to stabilize my hyperventilating breaths, I tried to make my breathing and my heart pound harder and faster than ever. Instead of trying to calm the unbearable, overwhelming fear sensations, I tried to make my fear even worse! By golly, I was so freaking ANGRY, that I was shooting for the World Record of Panic Attacks!

        Can you guess what happened? My panic attack stopped — almost immediately. And, I have never had a full blown panic attack again! Moments of anxiety, yes. Episodes of feeling a mild depersonalization or a slight dissociation. But never again, in approximately four decades of living through life’s ups and downs, have I ever had another full-fledged panic. Yet, prior to my weird “reverse psychology” attempt to make my panic attack worse, I was having panic attacks several times a week!

        I wish I could remember what the therapist told me years ago about why this worked for me. Something about there being power in not fighting the fear, in going with the fear, which ultimately gave me control of my fear — maybe? I don’t know, I just know that for me, this worked! I hope it works for your son, and for anyone else who may read this and try it. I think I will make a blog post out of this, weird though it is. 😀

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        • Good advice! Anger is a much healthier and more pro-active emotion that fear. My son was actually told by a friend to name his panic attacks — he named them “George” and every time he has one, he tells George to take a hike. Naming them separates them from yourself and they become an outside thing rather than a part of you, which makes it easier to deal with. I might write a little post about this later.

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  4. Pingback: The Really Weird Way That I Stopped Myself From Having Panic Attacks – A Blog About Healing From PTSD

    • Thanks! I shall be reading this. BTW, did you know “Q” died? Don’t comment about it here, I’ll email you more, but I don’t know what the cause of death was. I DM’d you on Twitter but I guess you didn’t see it.

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  5. Panic attacks have become more common which is sad and unnatural. I send my good wishes. I hope he gets the right tools to correct them.

    Meditation also helps, if you can ask him to try that.

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    • I have. He is trying different things, and got transferred to another location for his job, which he thinks will help. I agree panic attacks have become more common, probably because we live in a more stressful world.

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