High Anxiety

English: An anxious person

I cannot tell you how many times between my 20’s and 30’s I would rush to the emergency room believing that I was having a heart attack. Generally they would ask me if I had smoked pot (apparently pot leaves one with feelings very similar to a panic attack) and my response would be “no” (I stopped smoking pot when I was around 18 years old) so after they would give me a tranquilizer they would tell me to come back when I’m 60 (yikes! that’s only 11 years from now). I just didn’t understand what was happening to me and the doctors were no help. Back then anxieties were not really diagnosed as such yet. It was not an ongoing nor a chronic problem, it was an occurrence. Today it seems like everyone you talk to has some sort of anxiety issue but I can’t tell you how many times I was dismissed and sent home to wonder why these things were happening to me.

I was so convinced that I would be dropping dead at anytime that I actually established a rule  we could not live any further than 10 minutes from a hospital. I spent so many hours visiting doctors and rushing to the emergency room, a wasted so much time, so much of my partner’s time. My partner used to tell me that I was dying as long as he knew me and that when I was 70 years old I was going to regret having spent so much time focused on it but it didn’t matter, I would feel a pain in my chest or my heart would pound too fast and I was confident shortly thereafter I would be experiencing the excruciating pain that comes with heart failure and death… but it never happened.

I have always existed on the outside looking in. When I was very young and just figuring out that I was gay I never felt like I was part of or equal to the other kids in my neighborhood or at school. When I figured out I was gay I felt like I was the only gay person in the world so I could no longer relate to straight people. When I joined the gay community instead of finding like minded people I found nasty hateful queens, backstabbing, spiteful men that after years of being treated like garbage were in turn angry and mean. It never mattered what I did I was never part of the in crowd. When I met my partner and started attending his family events I felt like I was that “weird queer guy” and could never quite fit in with his family (more about that later) and even with my own family I was always the black sheep, the gay one, the son or brother that was not worthy. I mean I had (and still have) issues!

Its no wonder that I was (and am) screwed up.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not psychotic or anything like that. The panic attacks that I am writing about are pretty much history.  Every now and then I still have a slight very attack but nothing so handicapping as the panic attacks I used to have in my youth.

When you go to the doctor and you tell him you think you are dying and they send you home telling you come back when you’re 60 you tend to go home and self medicate.  Nothing helps remove the fear of dying like 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 beers. But this remedy leads to other issues (staying up late, morning headaches, alcoholism, promiscuity) how dare those doctors encourage such behavior but that’s what they were doing to me every time they sent me home. Of course they suggested therapy but therapy works if you are being cheated on or cheating yourself, therapy works when you think you’ve been abducted by aliens of if you think the government is out to get you but these attacks were physical… I remember how debilitating they would be.

So I learned over the years many tricks to deal with the attacks, the sudden rush of fear, tricks to help me face my mortality. It reached a point when it did indeed become easier to pop open a beer rather than run to the doctors just to be mocked because what 20 year old would be having a heart attack. But I have to say that more often than not the panic would win… I spent hour after hour after hour rubbing my chest just waiting for that pain… only to never have it happen. Only now I would wake up in the middle of the night, still half drunk, in panic. I couldn’t drink anymore because I had to go to work the next day. I couldn’t go to the ER because they would just keep me for hours and tell me to go home.

At one point in my 20’s my gay cousin (read “Am I Gay“) from Georgia and another from Germany came for a visit my family. My father was going to take us out on his boat and part of the “anxiety” issues I faced dealt with situations where I couldn’t get to a hospital within a few minutes, thoughts of  not being able to get to a hospital would increase the anxiety and being out on a boat in the middle of the water was definitely making me anxious. If I were to have a heart attack there was no way they would get me to the hospital before I died. You can see the panic was beginning to affect my life in a negative way, drinking too much, letting it control me, keeping me from doing things, but yet the doctors still said “Come back when you’re 60”.

So we are walking towards the pier about to get on my father’s boat when I suddenly had the grand-daddy of panic attacks… I mean the worst one I ever experienced. My family said that I actually turned white. It was crazy, both of my arms went numb and I fell to my knees…I don’t remember much beyond that but I do remember that an ambulance was called. My partner (now husband) loaded me into our car and rushed me to meet the ambulance, my cousins went with us and I remember hugging the female from Germany and said “I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I’m glad we got to see each other again” I told her that I was afraid that this was going to be the last time we would ever see each other… I thought I was dying. Ironically before the year was out both of these cousins not me, would be dead so it truly was the last time I would ever see them.

Its easy to see how these attacks can lead to agoraphobia. I wasn’t anywhere near the point where would I fear leaving my house or anything like that but I was reaching the point were I would avoid certain situations that might trigger the attacks. I’m sure if they hadn’t stopped I might have reached a point where nearly anything, any place or any situation would cause me to fear that inevitable sudden and uncontrollable fear of dying.

I remember one particular instance when I had a severe panic attack that was definitely heading me down the road of agoraphobia.  The attack wasn’t as bad as the one I mentioned above with my cousins and the boat ride. I was at work in the break room and this lady came in to get her lunch, she started talking to me and suddenly out of now where I was hit by an attack. A bad attack. I rushed out of the room rubbing my chest, my signature reaction to the panic, without saying another word to her and I’m sure if it weren’t for the fact we were speaking about something pleasant my abruptness could have been interpreted as a “something she said” moment. From that point on I would never go into the break room again if that same lady was in the room. She served as a potential catalyst for my next panic attack. I can imagine that if these types of events were to continue and escalate someone with a panic disorder would suddenly find themselves avoiding all sorts of situations.

I know that these panic attacks, my self-medication, and the onset of the agoraphobia affected my ability to interact socially which just compounded my stress which inturn increased the likelihood of an attack which would just further hinder any social interactions. To this day I believe I suffer more anxiety that the average person does when meeting new people or having to interact with certain people, especially those people that I somehow perceive as being better than me. This discomfort causes me to focus on that rather than the people with whom I’m interacting and the cycle I mentioned earlier in this paragraph begins again, by focusing on the person and what I will say to the person I find that it gets harder and harder to converse with person becuase my mind is reeling with “What do I say now”. I wrote about issues I have regarding friends and interacting with people in my posting called “Friends of the Friendless“.  I believe that my difficulty maintaining relationships with people (including family members) is driven by a combination of what I said in that posting and the anxiety I feel when interacting with people. I have become weird, the thing I feared because of the anxiety became a fear of speaking that lead to my not being able to even conduct small talk which when in social situations causes me to remain a wallflower or avoid the situation altogether so people think of me as either strange or standoffish.

So back to the panic attacks, these days I don’t suffer anxiety, specifically the fear of heart failure the way I did when I was young (if I do start to feel anxious I am generally in control enough now to keep the panic at bay). Despite my attempts to be social and get to know people there always persists this uneasiness surrounding these encounters and while often I can hide the turmoil (how dramatic) that’s going on inside me it is still a challenge for me. I continue to remain on the outside looking in….

(So its about 4 years later (2017) and my panic seems to have returned. See: And So I Walk and Death Benefits)

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7 Responses to High Anxiety

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