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Panic Attack, what's that - Part Deuce!

If you read part one, I didn't bore you too much, thanks for sticking around!

So diving right back in, after having my horribly fun panic attack/elevation sickness in Denver, I returned home to experience some terribly awful daily pain, and heightened medical anxiety.

Luna - always exploring the PNW with her humans

After experiencing whatever it was that happened on that mountain, I proceeded to have the following lovely symptoms daily:

  • Tinnitus (if you've never experienced this, be thankful - it sounded like a loud truck idling nearby constantly)

  • Horrible dizziness (this made it hard to look at a screen all day long, and even walk down a hallway)

  • Neck pain (followed with a fun cracking sound)

  • Swollen neck/shoulder muscles

  • Chest pain

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Throat swelling/trouble swallowing

Vulnerable picture - trip to the ER after we came home from Denver

Oye, it felt like a lot. Now, full disclosure I am now convinced that 80% of these things were happening due to having a panic/anxiety attack on the mountain, BUT in the moment I truly felt like something was horribly wrong. I would wake up in the middle of the night in a full sweat, heart racing, smacking Dave to wake up...convincing myself I was dying for some reason. I had also just barely started a new job, and finding my focus when I was having chronic pain... I felt like THE worst employee, which is not my style at all. I hated not feeling like I was giving 110% every day. Especially when trying to make new friends (HA as an adult - already tough) and show them I was a valuable asset to their already strong bonded team!

At this point I had gone to see a multitude of Doctors to try and tell me what was wrong with me. General practitioners (more than one), ENT's (also more than one), Physical Therapists, Neurosurgeon (COME ON) and multiple chiropractors. I had CT scans...MRI's...X-rays, even had a thyroid biopsy (which was very painful) it was horrible, and left a huge hole in my wallet. I was starting to feel like a true crazy person, as if no one was listening, and like maybe something was terribly wrong with me. Since I had no true diagnosis, thus began my medical anxiety. Since no one was telling me what WAS wrong, I convinced myself everything was wrong. Heart attacks, blood clots, brain name it. Finally, after about 6 months of my neck pain getting worse and worse and my dizziness making it impossible to look at a computer screen, the one and only thing I found to be truly wrong was an issue my PT found. Apparently two vertebrae in my neck were causing a lot of my daily pain. According to my PT, he thought that the panic attack I had, caused two of my vertebrae to almost fuse together, or remain stuck. YES - I was actually feeling validated in my pain. So, thus began weekly PT sessions to try and fix this issue, which lasted about 5 months, and did actually make a difference in my pain!

Get away to the Mountain - This was after my healing process had started, you can see how the joy in my pictures changed drastically!

So by now you're thinking...

Okay so you're fixed, right

Not quite. Unfortunately, I was still having a lot of my issues, even after fixing the vertebrae in my neck. I was beyond tired at this stage and Dave was ready for me to be back to my normal self as well (poor guy!) So, I finally decided to give therapy a try. I had gone before in my early adult years, after being robbed at gun point (thanks Wells Fargo 😒) but I do remember it helped with a LOT of my PTSD and fear of going back to work. So, I sought out some therapists and started trying a few. The first guy (no offence to the profession) was a total loss. He basically told me everything I could have found myself on google, and truthfully even added to my anxiety more. He was validating that I had pain for some huge medical reason, and I was quite possibly dying of some rare thing, come on! After trying a few sessions with him, I realized it was not working. Luckily, Dave convinced me to find someone new, rather than stop altogether.

It was then that I finally found an amazing therapist who I think to this day was the sole reason I am better. She gave me the tools I needed in order to move forward and manage my anxiety. It was truly a really overwhelming experience… to admit I needed help with my mental health, I felt like I had this huge weakness or like I had failed. I was supposed to have it all together, right? That’s what society tells us, go to college, get a good job, get married and have babies. What about all the crap in between?! Unfortunately, I feel like we grew up in a generation where we weren’t always taught to share our feelings, instead hold it in.

I remember during my first session with this therapist she asked me why I was there and I simply started crying and said,

I don’t know, can you tell me? Haha

We uncovered a lot in just a few sessions, but the tools she was able to give me will truly remain with me for a lifetime. So, as I stated before, I am NOT a therapist, so any tips I'm giving are things that worked for me, and shouldn't be viewed as medical advice. I do hope however, that some of these things can help others! Here's just a few items I used for about 6 months, and now continue using if/when I need them.

  • BREATHING - At night, when I have a moment of anxiety that is extremely high, I step outside on our back deck in the cold - take some deep breaths (in for a count of four, hold for seven and exhale for eight) and look up at the sky. This can take some time, however it always shocks my system in a way, and the fresh air with my breathing techniques calms me down quickly

  • FOCUS - For medical specific anxiety (when I was convinced I had a blood clot), my therapist had me go through the tests I had done with Doctors who 100% reassured me I didn't have a clot. She had me focus specifically on the pain (for me it was my leg and chest) and if after 5-10 minutes the pain was the exact same level - we continued talking through it. In ever test we did like this, my pain level never once stayed the same when putting all my focus on it, I was honestly kind of shocked.

  • MINDFULLNESS (CBT)- Now this is something I both learned more about in Therapy, but have also been learning about for years. If you've read some of my prior blogs, I touch on the search inside yourself training, developed by an employee at google - which talks about about mindful practices in life, and work situations. In therapy, I learned more abut Mindful Movement Meditation, which I had done in some sense from my past training. I am a HUGE fan of taking mindful walks. It can take a lot of practice/focus at first, but I found in Chicago especially with all the noise, taking mindful walks was so important for me to recharge during my work day. Now, I love doing this in the beautiful nature we have here in the PNW. The human body is designed to move, so remaining still for too long can lead to many secondary health problems. Lack of exercise causes lethargy, nausea, aches, pains, and general fogginess. Even feelings of stress and depression can be brought on by remaining still for too long. In therapy, we mainly focused our movement on simply stretches (I compared this to a very calming yoga session). Now, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy goes so much further than these example - I'll touch more on this in further blogs!

  • BODY SCAN - This was something I could do during my work day when I needed a break, here's an example of what I did: Begin by making yourself comfortable. Sit in a chair and allow your back to be straight, but not stiff, with your feet on the ground. You could also do this practice standing or if you prefer, you can lie down and have your head supported. Your hands could be resting gently in your lap or at your side. Allow your eyes to close, or to remain open with a soft gaze. Take several long, slow, deep breaths. Breathing in fully and exhaling slowly. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose or mouth. Feel your stomach expand on an inhale and relax and let go as you exhale. Begin to let go of noises around you. Begin to shift your attention from outside to inside yourself. If you are distracted by sounds in the room, simply notice this and bring your focus back to your breathing. Now slowly bring your attention down to your feet. Begin observing sensations in your feet. You might want to wiggle your toes a little, feeling your toes against your socks or shoes. Just notice, without judgment. You might imagine sending your breath down to your feet, as if the breath is traveling through the nose to the lungs and through the abdomen all the way down to your feet. And then back up again out through your nose and lungs. Continue these thoughts throughout your entire body, for your ankles, feet, knees...and so on. Once you've scanned your entire body individually, focus on your body as a whole. Finish by setting your intention for the day once this scan is over.

  • GROUNDING - This one wasn't always as affective for me, but I love the concept. Look around you, wherever you are and find 5 things you can see (say them in your head or out loud). Now, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and finally 1 thing you can taste. This practice is meant to distract you from the anxiety or panic attack you may be experiencing.

  • DIY - AND finally, one of my own take a ways has been focusing my brain on my creative side and completing projects. DIY has been such a positive task to focus my brain on. I'll share some of my favorite projects we've done during Covid, and how they've helped in my healing project. (Sneak peak of our shed turned office to come...! :) )

One of my favorite things I took away from Therapy was learning about Mindful Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - a large part of this focuses on retraining/rewiring your brain. I'll touch more in this in my next blog, there is SO much to be said for these practices.

Thanks for sticking around Ya'll!

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