It’s 5:06am, Wednesday morning. For about half an hour now, I’ve been in the throes of one of the *worst* panic attacks I’ve had recently – which, this time, is actually saying something since I had a really bad one a couple days ago. That one seemed to be honest-to-god uncued; this one, the more my meds start to kick in, and more of my mind is calm, I’m pretty sure can be laid firmly at the feet of hypoglycemia.
It’s such a fucking ungraspably weird thing for the vast majority of your mind to be freaking the fuck out – I mean, full-blown screaming meemies – while some part of your mind is in the background going, “Fuck, there’s no way this is real. This HAS to be a panic attack.” It’s actually kind of good, because when I pay attention to that voice, and listen to it, and think through what it’s got to say, I’m at the very least distracted from panicking for that moment. The problem is, I’m tired as dogshit, and my eyes are soooo heavy, that the minute I try to let myself go back to sleep the screaming meemies part takes right back up again.
So, while I continue to not be able to let myself go back to sleep, I’m going to distract myself from the panic by going over the events that likely resulted in it. We went to Papa Mojo’s Cajun Roadhouse tonight, to see our friend Jay play accordion. It was fucking awesome, and a great time was had by all. My mistake? Having a drink. Actually, let’s be honest, I had two. And while my tolerance for alcohol is pretty small, I am not suffering any hangover or long-lasting effects other than this: I had a Papa Mojo’s Hurricane. It was goddamn delicious: like froot loops in a glass. My new favorite drink, and I want a box of froot loops like WHOA.
*Panic attack check in, since I *seem* relatively with it, and I know that: my entire body is numb and tingling; my skin in crawling; and my abdomen has this gross creepy-crawly feeling that if I think too long about, will probably send me running for the ER, when in all likelihood it’s a combo of gas/bloating and low blood sugar.
Back to Papa Mojo’s. The Hurricane. Damn, my new favorite drink – except I’m only just now, six hours later, realizing how VERY MUCH SUGAR must have been in that drink. Probably why I loved it so much. Lots of sugar, and some not negligible amounts of alcohol (I mean, two drinks, one Cattywompus and one Hurricane, but I am a fucking lightweight, so I was well and truly in that happy-talking friendly tipsy/drunk phase) ON AN EMPTY STOMACH. THAT was my mistake. I was hungry when we got to PM’s, but their kitchen had already closed. We stuck around until Jay stopped playing (Cajun music – woot! I realize that encompasses a lot, but it was brilliant), and at that point, nothing was open, nary a Taco Bell to be driven-thru. Went home instead, and decided I was too tired (and, let’s be honest, a smudge too tipsy) to bother with eating food and went to bed. MISTAKE #2. I should NEVER be allowed to ingest that much sugar on an empty stomach, and then not compensate by eating protein or complex fiber or fats to help my blood sugar not freak the fuck out when all that sugar hits it. Alcohol is not that great for hypoglycemia, but my understanding is that it’s the sugar content – not the actual alcohol – that’s the problem. Gin & tonics? I’m fine. Throw in some simple syrup or sour mix, and while my tastebuds are enjoying the extra “flavor” (read: sugar), my hypoglycemia is going, “BITCH, you done fucked me UP.” So, for me, it’s not the alcohol, per se, but the sugariness of the drink I had. Boo on me for not being wise to that mess from the get-go. (But honestly, the other cocktails sounded like they’d kick my ass, and it would be the alcohol that did it: Sazerac? Pimm’s Cup? My puny ass can’t handle that shit, and I know it. I would be utterly shit-faced and on my ass before I was halfway through the drink. And I’m not really a huge fan of being utterly, utterly blitzed and on my ass. I know, I know: I’m a party-pooper. So be it. Chalk it up to my control issues that I don’t really enjoy drinking to the point of, say, losing control. Even if it’s just something like, “losing control of my ability to drive myself home, and having to arrange someone else to drive me home.”)
What did I dream about? A birthday party for myself gone horribly wrong. First I couldn’t find clothes to wear, and people kept walking in on me while I was changing. Then I’d fucked up the guest list and invited people *I* liked but who couldn’t stand each other, so I had to run interference and try to keep the drama down. (Pretty sure I know what my subconscious is trying to tell me there.) THEN, one of the student workers from Greg’s job (not an actual real student worker, just some amorphous face my mind created and gave the role of “student worker at Greg’s job”) semi-crashed the party with some friends of hers, and decided what I *really* needed was a couple surprise birthday jolts from a taser. And no one was around, so in my dream, my ass got tased twice, and I fucking felt that shit. I have zero idea how that works, since I’ve never actually been tased in my life (although I have played Lightning Reaction once, never again!), but holy shit it was supremely unpleasant and painful as fuck in my dream, and it kept happening.
Finally, I woke up, in a panic. I suppose, even, in a bit of a fugue state, since I had been in deep, REM sleep, and abruptly woken up to physical symptoms of panic attack/low blood sugar and didn’t know WHAT THE FUCK was going on. That’s a nice head state to be in: where you’d too exhausted/too close to having just been asleep to stay awake, but too terrified to go to sleep. And by “nice” I mean “it can piss right off.”
Physical symptoms: skin crawling badly; nausea; “weird” sensations in my abdomen, sometimes bloating, sometimes something more akin to light cramping (I am due for my period), mainly just weird, weird sensations of stuff inside me moving around, or just being generally “off.” (Hard to pin down what that constitutes, but it just feels “off” they way I felt “off” when I had pancreatitis that time.) Head is fuzzy as shit, can’t think straight, can’t see straight. Realize pretty early on I must be panicking, but can’t muster the bravery to get out of bed – at this point, I’m just terrified by the bodily sensations and the fear that something is “really wrong” and I’m going to die, or that I’m already dead and am hallucinating “all of this” (yeah, it isn’t logical at all, but that’s the thing: panic is irrational; plus derealization and depersonalization are common symptoms of my really, really bad attacks); perceptual impedences: can’t see straight, can’t seem to hear things properly, got a bit of tunnel vision as well as whatever the auditory version is. Basically just curled up into a ball in bed, afraid of *everything*, until that one part of my mind that was remaining sensible was like, “Right, sod this, go take some clonopin.” And then another ten minutes of self-convincing later (that there was no bogey man waiting to get me – really, y’all, a 31-year-old grown ass woman is scared of the bogey man when her panic gets a hold of her), and I managed to get out of bed and get my meds. Abdomen still felt hella weird and upsetting (like, the sensations I was feeling were very distressing), so I took my temperature to reassure myself that, say, my spleen hadn’t exploded, nor was I having appendicitis. Yes, this is really straight where my mind goes when I have a panic attack: I feel weird, therefore I must be dying. Or possibly, am already dead, and am hallucinating “reality.” Like I said, panic is NOT EVEN REMOTELY rational. I spent a good portion of my panic attack solidly convinced that I’d stopped breathing – even the parts of it where I was talking to Greg, which requires breath. You can’t talk without breath, that’s just a fact. Does it reassure my screaming meemies? Of course not, that’d be too easy. (And as I type this, and shit’s calmed down considerably, I still am not aware of my in- and out-breaths, and am trying hard not to get sucked into that and start freaking out that I’m not breathing. Trying to just stay calm, and keep in mind that it’s an *involuntary reaction*, that as long as I’m alive, my body is pretty much going to make sure that I’m breathing. As long as I don’t hear any “bad asthma attack” wheezing, I’m good to go, even if I’m fearing otherwise. Just chill out, Jacobs. Everything is going to be fine.)
So, now that I’m a bit calmer (panic attacks, on average, tend to peak 10 minutes in; after that, they can dissipate over a bit more minutes, or last up to several hours, but the worst, on average, kicks in around ten minutes in), and my meds seem to be kicking in, I can look at the constellation of physical symptoms, and it seems glaringly obvious to me that that fucking delicious but sugary Hurricane spiked my blood sugar. Normally, I get a resultant crash about four hours later; this hit about six hours later, as far as I can tell. Or maybe it hit four hours later, while I was sleeping, and then, when it wasn’t resolved, just got steadily worse until it woke my ass up in the throes of hypoglycemia-induced panic. Who knows.
What I do know is this:
-I had sugar and alcohol tonight. I felt like it was in good moderation, but given later/more recent events, I’m having my doubts. May need to stop focusing on “in extreme moderation” and cut sugar and alcohol out completely and permanently.
-About six hours later, I wake up in the middle of a full-blown, nasty-ass panic attack – and yet, once I’m calm enough to catalog them and really think logically about it, my physical symptoms (and it’s almost always the physical symptoms that spur the panic in the first place, rather than just anxiety, and in turn lead to the mental/emotional symptoms) are pretty much *exactly* the symptoms I can expect to experience during a blood sugar crash. I’ve got that well documented from my five hour fasting glucose test – which was hell, but at least I’ve got the write-up now, and can, when I’m more presently placed firmly in my “right” mind, run through the list and realize that the vast majority of my “panic” symptoms are low blood sugar symptoms.
Pretty much convinced the crucial blood sugar drop tonight happened while I was sleeping (which can be dangerous, for, say, diabetics, or people with more severe blood sugar issues than I have), and two hours later, I am jolted out of REM sleep (and a fucking gnarly nightmare, no less) to be faced with the brutal reality of 1-fuzzy-headed-ness (due to interrupted REM sleep; fuzzy-headed-ness of this nature decidedly does NOT help me soothe myself in the middle of panic) and 2-a raging panic attack already in effect. Or at least, an inundation of physical, low-blood-sugar symptoms that conveniently mirror/mimic the physical symptoms of panic that I experience that most freak me out. (To clarify, there are some physical symptoms that I’m pretty good at quickly realizing for what they are and squishing them and not panicking and getting myself back in hand. And then there are the symptoms that blindside me utterly, and leave me reeling and panicking. THOSE symptoms were already in full effect when I woke up. NOT a very nice thing to wake up to.)
Skin crawling like a son of a bitch? Check. Wanting desperately to jump out of my own skin? Check. “Weird” sensations of things “moving about” in my abdomen? Check. Heart pounding like a motherfucker? Check. (Bless you, propanolol, for getting a hold on that and ramping it down.) Hallucinations? Check. Delusions? Check. Abdomen cramping (that – once I’m already panicking – indicates something far worse than the period I’m already expecting; I’m catastrophizing here, people, so it’s *obviously* appendicitis or something similarly severe, duh)? Check. Bloating? Check. (Another thing that sets me off worrying about appendicitis.) Absolutely, 100% convinced fears that if I so much as turn my head or do anything other than pull the covers up over it, I will see B.O.B. peering at me from the bottom of the bed, or that godawful latex creeper from American Horror Story trailers staring at me? Check. (Nonetheless, and I KNOW AHS is going to severely fuck with my anxiety, I can’t not watch. It’s right up my alley. They’ve got me pegged, hook, line, and sinker.) Legs shaking so bad that I almost collapsed in the bathroom when I went to get some water to take my meds? Check. (“Saved” by pretending I *meant* to lean on the wall, in a kind of lopsided, low-to-the-floor kind of way. No, I didn’t just collapse against the wall as my legs gave out and slide down towards the floor, why do you ask? And obviously my meds are kicking in properly now, if I can be sarcastic.) Utterly convinced, besides 1-being able to talk and 2-paying attention to my own breathing and finding it fine, that I’m not at all breathing? Check. Bursting out crying out of inexplicable fear? Check. Turning on the tv and every light source I can in the house? Check.
Finally, I became more convinced that it was all due to having woken up from a deep sleep during a blood sugar crash. So I convinced myself to have a sandwich to address that, while I “liveblogged” this shit as a distraction, and that seems to have helped immensely. Well, that or the meds finally kicking in. Or both. Going to go finish this sandwich, and then see about getting back to sleep. Probably won’t be able to turn the lights and nightlights and tv off, but, hey, I’m not claiming membership into adulthood right now. I’m just trying to claw my way out of being a terrified inner child, so I’ll take what I can get.
Bonus side, I’m already feeling immensely better. Not quite back up to snuff, but miles and miles past what I was feeling, at this point, an hour ago. And I don’t want any pity or anything like that. I really just wanted to distract myself, and posting about it forces me to think about it more analytically, more logically, more rationally; pay more attention to the individual symptoms as well as the constellation they likely make up, and realize what’s really going on, and what “cued” this, rather than chalking it up as another uncued attack. And distracting myself while I gave a chance for the meds and the sandwich to kick in and calm me down and restore my blood sugar levels to ideal ones. Seems to have worked a treat. And if this has been of any help to you, so much the better – whether it’s given you insight into someone else’s experience of panic (although I am not claiming we’re all the same – but the fear and the perceived lack of options to escape that fear do seem to be a common thread among sufferers); or whether you see some of our your own experiences in this and get some comfort/reassurance that 1-you’re not the only one, and 2-when panic hits, you can get past it; or whether you just found this an interesting read – that’s just gravy on top of the wonderful, uh, meatloaf? mashed potatoes? (what do you put gravy on, in this “gravy on top” metaphor?) of distracting myself properly and fairly completely and putting my logical/analytical skills to work in my favor, while I waited out the time period for the meds to kick in and the sandwich to hit my blood stream and counteract the blood sugar crash. Seems to have worked a treat. Now, back to bed. With nightlights on, natch, because I don’t want to risk it.