Mastering The Impossible – II. Physiology Of A Panic Attack DRAFT

I am going to use my blog as a sounding board for an idea. I gladly welcome comments on what I write over the next few posts and with permission would like to use relevant stories. If you post a comment please bear in mind it may end up published elsewhere.
I have decided to write an e-book about panic disorder.

While this book is a ‘left field’ look at what I have figured out about me, it may just work for you to. I invite you to listen to my story and take what’s useful and leave what’s not behind.
This blog entry will form the basis of chapter two.

So what is anxiety, and what is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety is a fairly normal coping strategy, which can help a person to deal with stress.

Extreme levels of anxiety are a physical reaction to adrenalin with a negative mental outlook. It is a mood state that encompasses the unpleasant emotions of fear yet can be distinguished from fear in that it is generally experienced without the presence of any real threat. The threat is often merely perceived.

Typically, someone experiencing anxiety may have the feeling they need to lash out, or run away. Bottling up these emotions can lead to further problems such as panic disorder. Focusing on the anxiety itself creates a vicious circle of thoughts, which can trigger more anxiety.

Doctors measure anxiety on a clinical scale and excessive or repeated episodes may fall under the classification of an anxiety disorder.

My medical notes describe me as an anxious child from age two. I remember feeling frightened from time to time, particularly if I was ill with childhood bronchitis but it wasn’t until my teenage years that anxiety became a significant problem.

I recall it starting with me avoiding certain situations, or at least making sure someone I knew was with me at those times.

In my later teens, I had heart palpitations, chest pains, tingling hands and tunnel vision, followed closely by brain smashing headaches. I ended up on an ECG machine to eliminate the possibility that I was having a heart attack. The list of things I avoided grew. Public toilets being one of them and I used to throw tantrums to get away from people so that I could go home and use a familiar toilet.

I started to experience panic attacks. Initially, they would come at night when I was trying to get to sleep. I had an irrational fear of dying.

What I didn’t know was that I have Aspergers. I become sensitive when over exposed to loud noise and bright lights. I was working in a factory, with a lot of heavy machinery then socialising in a noisy pub afterwards. Chances are it was a normal reaction but at the time perception of danger felt very real.

If you are experiencing this kind of panic attack, you may feel like you are about to die or pass out. The symptoms of this kind of panic attack are very similar to a heart attack.

The reason for this is that your blood pressure and heart rate increase, you may also sweat more, tremble and experience a sense of dread.

In a sense, I ran away from myself. I coped by drinking enormous amounts of beer, which in turn gave me hangovers, which made me anxious during the day instead.

I ended up very distracted and starting having a lot of time off work with migraines. I was unable to sustain a normal working life and eventually lost my job and moved to London to become a musician.

In spite of anxiety, I am a very self-confident man and I have taken a lot of risks with my life.

I believe I can do anything, until I actually start doing it, then reality has a habit of smacking me in the face. I say reality, when I mean non-reality, feelings of non-reality being another symptom of anxiety.

I started looking in Melody Maker and NME for a band to join and auditioned for a few. I even auditioned for The Clash, after Mick Jones left. I found I could stand on stage quite easily and play a guitar, I accepted that a level of stage fright was normal, however before and after I stepped onto the stage I was experiencing the same feelings that I had on stage. I was afraid of life.

The physiology was that for whatever reason, my body was preparing to deal with a threat.

I have yet to find the root cause of my anxiety and it may be that there isn’t one, it may just be my physiology, the way I am wired. I now understand I have Asperger Syndrome and I may have to deal with this for a lifetime.

I now understand I was experiencing a fight or flight response and it is typical of people with anxiety.

During a panic attack, blood flow is increased to major muscle groups while digestive systems are put on standby until the perceived threat passes. Think of it like an animal in danger. Perception changes too because this animal needs to find a way out. Someone to attack or somewhere to run to. The eyes become focused and vision becomes narrower. Stand still for long enough and you’ll find yourself trembling like an athlete poised in the starting blocks, ready to spring forward. Focus goes inward and whatever you are thinking about becomes hard to let go of.

It took a long time to accept that something as simple as anxiety could be causing the behaviours I was experiencing.

I started to feel as if I was going mad.

My symptoms when left to their own devices are:

I will start to see people as a threat to me. This is the feeling of dread I mentioned earlier.

I will usually have a huge adrenal rush and immediately wonder if I have said or done something to cause it. This is usually just adrenalin and quite often in response to taking on too many things in too short a space of time.

It can feel like I have been literally knocked off my feet by adrenalin. It changes my perception to a ‘what if?’ mentality. What if I just told that person to “fu*k off” and it can trigger intrusive thoughts along these lines.

My response is to go quiet. I become less outgoing and more inwardly focused and feel self-conscious. I start worrying about what I have done and can experience mild paranoia.

I start to worry about losing control and can worry about harming people. This is the adrenalin prompting me to attack rather than run.

I now have a choice.

Talk myself up or talk myself down.

I can easily have a conversation that perpetuates adrenalin and can make a panic attack peak for about two hours.

I was faced with a choice, become an alcoholic to cope or withdraw. I fluctuated between the two for many years. After going back and forth to doctors and doing a lot of soul searching I found something of an answer.

I have Asperger Syndrome and in the last couple of years I have discovered this gives me another choice.

All will be revealed in the next chapter.

See you on the other side of the looking glass,

creative thinker | innovator | visionary