Anxiety spiraling into major depression?

Last week I wrote about my son’s dissociation episodes and panic attacks.   He got some anti-anxiety medication there, but they put him to sleep so they haven’t been useful to him, and the panic has not gone away.  He’s been able to manage it a little better, using some mindfulness tricks, but has not been able to see a doctor yet (he will tomorrow).  His two trips to the emergency room just told him what he already knew and gave him a few pills for the panic.

Since last Monday, he says he has had 14 panic attacks.  Today he tweeted this:

the last 2 weeks ive been in a very dark place. im constantly afraid, never happy. ive lost all hope and happiness. i feel broken. I’m only able to focus on my faults. making choices triggers panic attacks. im so fucking scared of life itself. help me.

This rose alarm bells so I called him right away.  He sounded alright but sad/down.   I asked him if he was having suicidal thoughts.  He said no, but he thinks about death a lot (suicidal ideation).   He also said it feels like someone else has taken over his mind and this isn’t him.   He can’t think of a specific trigger that would have set off the panic attacks.  It seems to me the attacks were and are part of a depressive disorder, possibly major depression, which is what it sounds like.

I made him promise not to do anything crazy.  He said he wouldn’t.   He did say he appreciates me calling him so much (it used to annoy him) and staying on top of the situation.   I’m glad he tells me everything, but I’m still really scared.   I can’t be near him right now, and that makes it worse.

At least he’s opening up and being honest instead of keeping everything inside.   I think opening up and talking about it is a good first step.   He also said he’s been thinking about checking himself into the hospital for a week or a few days.  I think that is probably a good idea, even though he will lose pay.

I’m asking everyone to send your prayers his way (or positive thoughts, if you aren’t religious).     I hate seeing him like this.

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“George.”

Ogre

Linda Lee, who writes “A Blog About Healing from PTSD”  wrote this article about how she learned to deal with her panic attacks — and the advice is quite simple.

GET ANGRY! 

Yes, get angry.   While anger isn’t an ideal place to be, it’s a much more proactive and stronger emotion than fear.

The other day, I wrote about the panic attacks my son has been suffering from.   As his concerned mom (who used to suffer from panic attacks myself), I’ve been talking to him every day, monitoring his progress.    He’s been getting some good advice from his friends, since he hasn’t been able to see a therapist yet (but is planning to soon).

The best advice I heard of came from someone who told him to name his panic attacks.  By naming them, you effectively separate them from yourself, and they become an outside “person” instead of a part of yourself you can’t separate from.

So he decided to name them “George.”  Whenever he sees George coming, he tells him to get lost and yes, he gets angry at George.   He tells George he’s nothing but a big bully with no real power over him.  My son is much stronger than George and he tells him so.    George hasn’t gone away yet, but he’s having less power over my son than he did, and doesn’t seem quite so dangerous.

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

Viral video of man having panic attack.

Casey Throwaway (yes, that is his real name) decided to make a video of himself undergoing a panic attack to educate people that anxiety is real. I think it took a lot of courage for Casey to make this video and he is to be commended for his willingness to “run naked in public.”

Here is the article from The Huffington Post:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/16/panic-attack-video-casey-throwaway_n_7600032.html