This is an update for my nearest and dearest who have been watching me slowly devolve into pacing wreck over the past week or so. I’ll cut through a lot of drama right off the bat just so I don’t milk this for anymore than it warrants: In short, I’m fine… I think. I went to the E.R. Monday night after feeling progressively worse for about the fourth day in a row and after being test by various interns and doctors for about an hour they more or less confirmed what I’d suspected all along: I was experiencing the mother of all anxiety attacks.
Anxiety attacks (or panic attack), for those who’ve never had the joy of experiencing one, essentially recreate the sensation of having a heart attack. They can happen out of thin air, often with little to no external provocation and are completely fucking terrifying. Everyone’s can be a little different but certainly two symptoms which are uniform, as far as my inquiries and personal experience go, are shortness of breath and overriding sense of ill-ease. You really do feel like you could die at any second and you have no idea why. They don’t call them panic attacks because they’re fun.
I had my first panic attack back in the late 90’s when I was in high school (right around the time Tony Soprano had his first one). The worst of them happened when I was in Philly with my parents looking at colleges and it got so bad that I ended up curling into a ball in the back seat of a cab, hugging my knees and trying to stay conscious. Being told by your doctor that there’s nothing physically wrong with you and that your public collapse was a result of a short circuit in your brain is both simultaneously a huge relief and the most insulting/humiliating thing on earth. He might as well have told me I was desperate for attention.
There have been minor ones since (in the interest of full disclosure, I think I had a small one around the time Danielle and I broke up… needless to say the fall of 2003 was very much life in flux) but by and large the full-scale anxiety attack has been safely in the rearview mirror for almost eight years now.
Or at least it was until last week.
I first noticed something was up while at work about ten days ago when I found myself getting light-headed and having difficulty taking full, deep breaths. I assumed it had something to do with my office being a sweat box with an ineffective A.C. built amidst vegetation that looks like it was imported from Jurassic Park. Surely this was all some horrible allergic reaction brought on by just how fucking oppressive the heat’s been lately, right? But things only seemed to get worse with each passing day. My breathing became constricted constantly; if my lungs were a Nerf ball imagining being only able to squeeze it 3/4 of the way and you get the idea. I managed to keep myself calm through all of this because a) I’d been through something like this before and come out safely on the other side and b) I’m twenty-six-years-old, I’m in great shape and I’d convinced myself that heart attacks don’t happen to people who fall into that description.
But then my hands started tingling. My left hand and forearm felt sort of numb, like when you sleep on your arm and it feels sort of dead for a few minutes. Except this was an all day occurrence. I was still trying to stay calm although at this point I began telling my friends and family about what I was going through, in part so they can tell me to stop being such a pussy and walk it off… and partially in case something did happen it wouldn’t come as a complete shock to my loved ones (I guess you could say this blog is serving a similar purpose seeing as how the story is currently ending with an ellipse as opposed to a period). I really only started to panic once my right hand started tingling as well. Arguably it was psychosomatic but it was enough to get me asking questions and checking WebMd.
The internet’s got limited use as far as self-diagnostics as it tends to err on the cautious side. So pretty much simply entering the expression “shortness of breath” will earn you a one way ticket to the emergency room. Factor in the hands thing and I’d essentially narrowed my options down to either a stroke or a coronary.
What ultimately pushed me over the edge was my aforementioned ex who I happened to catch online and who began screaming at me (or her caps lock key was stuck) that I should go see a doctor immediately (who know she still cared?). I also spoke with the roommate of my housemate’s girlfriend (she’s a nursing student) over the phone who after listening to me calmly list off my symptoms said it would probably be in my best interest to get to the E.R. lest I get worse during the middle of the night.
So fine, various women in my life had successfully talked me into going to the hospital, something I really had no concept of. I’m kind of a William Holden man if you get my drift. I’ve been living in LA for four-years and I still don’t have a general-practitioner. Once I figured out how one simply goes to the hospital at 10 at night (you mean I don’t need to call in advance and let them know I’m coming?).
The E.R. is not a pleasant place at 10 at night, even in a relatively swank suburb like Sherman Oaks. By my unofficial count there were two homeless people waiting ahead of me and a woman who’d clearly been beaten about the face (with what, I’m left to wonder although her eye looked like one of the California raisins had been super glued into her eye cavity). Still, considering the fact that Michael Moore’s spent the past few weeks trying to tell me that in American hospitals they anal impale you with rusty shovels and make you pay with your first born child (or at least that’s what I took away from Sicko) I was pleasantly surprised by how they handled me. Sure I spent probably 90-minutes sitting around waiting in various, progressively smaller anti-chambers but I had the morning’s Opie & Anthony recorded into my XM (say what you will about them being a spineless corporation desperate for federal approval, they do make some mighty fine toys) and at this point was pretty sedate (seeing that the guy in the bed on the other side of the room sounds like there’s glass in his lungs as he’s hooked up to a million tubes definitely puts things into perspective). Plus the whole visit didn't cost me a dime... At least not yet. Bill could be in the mail for all I know.
I finally get some face time with the doctor. He takes my blood pressure, checks my lungs, examines the back of the my throat then says those two cursed words: “you’re fine.” Says it’s anxiety. Well shit, I could have said that.
Of course I couldn’t have written myself the script for Xanax that he handed over before sending me packing.
Yes, your intrepid hero is on Mother’s Little Helpers. Tom Cruise would be sooo disappointed in me. The thing is I’m still not really breathing better. I don’t really see the pills addressing the problem, only calming me down to the point where I don’t really mind not breathing especially well. I have an appointment to meet with a doctor next week and should be getting a real physical within the next few weeks which should shine a little bit of light on the situation. I’ve probably got a date with a shrink in the next few months, but we all knew it would come to that eventually.
The irony behind this supposed anxiety attack is that things have been going pretty well as of late. Work’s been on an upswing when it hasn’t been mind-numbingly dull. I’ve been making a lot of new friends through poker. Hell, even the ever barren “personal life” category has revealed unforeseen opportunities. Plus the Sox are back to 20+ above .500 and A-Rod just hurt himself. Life is not bad for Andrew at the moment. So you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit suspicious of this sudden onslaught of panic.
I don’t like the idea of constantly being on meds. Historically antidepresents stifle creativity and I’m far too manic to have something in my medicine cabinet that can cause an O.D. (why keep a loaded gun in the house, right?), but I’ll give it a shot if it can get me through the next few weeks till we can figure out what’s wrong with me. In the meantime, I found out online that one of the side-effect of Xanax is euphoria? Now that’s something I could get hooked on.
More as it develops…