Panic Attacks – NOT FUN!

This is rather personal but as the day has gone on I’ve realised it’s deeply embedded in our journey with Alyssa so I wanted to share it as a very real part of this trauma we’ve experienced.

This is not the post I was expecting to write after a wonderful weekend away catching up with family and friends and I don’t want to take away from that so I’ll fill you in on the weekend later. We’d been away from Saturday lunch time until tea time Sunday night and watched my brothers play soccer, visited my grandparents, my family, Warren’s family, good friends Heather, Pelham and Bridget and a special visit to good friend Bob and to meet Tristan’s new cousin William, so it was an action packed weekend. We got home and my brother Bobby came to stay for the night, ready to head to Hobart for TAFE bright and early this morning and I got up for work this morning as I usually do, feeling tired as I usually do but otherwise okay.

I was standing in the shower, thinking of some special friends of mine going through a tricky situation at the moment and I don’t know what I was thinking after that but suddenly I felt my heart plummet to my feet and my legs went all wobbly and I squatted down for a moment but then it passed and I stood up. It scared me a little bit because it came out of nowhere and it was the exact same feeling of my heart hitting the floor – that same feeling I went through that moment I was sitting in the NICU when the doctor told me Alyssa may not make it and she needed to go to the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Straight after that happened I remember I started shaking and sweating and groaning and crying and releasing my grief in a very primal way – a complete state of shock. It was the worst feeling I’ll always remember and I never wanted to feel it again. I don’t think this feeling was as serious but it definitely put me mentally right back in that chair I was sitting in.

The feeling was over in an instant and I felt fine and wasn’t upset about it so I continued to get ready. I often have flashbacks to that moment but it’s more mental, never physical, so it did bother me a little. I went and got a cuddle from Warren and would have happily stayed in his arms all day but I had to get to work and I felt fine so I got myself ready.

I always feed Alyssa very last thing before I leave but she’d woken at 5 for a feed and was still fast asleep at 7 when I’d normally get her up. Warren wasn’t feeling well so I decided to leave them all sleeping. I had a moment’s anxiety of ‘maybe I should just feed her anyway / no she’ll be fine / but maybe I should / no I won’t’ and I left.

It’s about a 40 minute drive to work and I was on my own today – not with my usual car pool girls, Nat and Bronwyn. I was sort of wishing I’d had them to talk through my morning episode with but figured I would later when I saw them.

About ten minutes into the drive I got a bit shivery. Then I felt a bit teary and I tried to talk myself out of it, thinking I was just a bit worn out from the weekend, and I’d be fine. Then my legs started shaking and I was finding it hard to breathe. I actually sensed my lungs squeezing breath out – a very bizarre feeling. At one point, about ten minutes before I got to school the full blown tears started and I sensed myself groaning a little and hearing that sound made me realise I couldn’t stop this – it was exactly what happened that day in the hospital. I contemplated stopping the car but then I worried myself and thought if I stopped there I might lose it completely and then I wouldn’t be able to get to school or get home. I kept driving and kept trying to talk myself out of it.

I got to school and sat in the carpark for a couple of minutes wondering if I could get out, worried of seeing anyone. I realised I wasn’t going to make it and even if it took me 2 hours to calm down I’d be heading back home. I needed to go and tell Janet (senior staff teacher) that I wasn’t well and wouldn’t be able to teach so I hopped out of the car and my legs almost collapsed. They’d been shaking so hard and I felt like I’d swum to school. I steadied myself and walked into the staff room, saw Janet and before anyone had a chance to say hello I dragged her off to find any space where I could fall to pieces – and I did.

Poor Janet, it must have been the biggest shock to see me like that. I simply had no control over my body at this point and I was crying because it bothered me, not because I was emotionally upset. I knew it was a panic attack by now and realised I had to just go with it and I just suddenly needed that healing touch and asked for Nat or Bron who hadn’t arrived yet. Janet talked to me for a bit and calmed me down enough to go to her office out of everyone’s way. Thank you thank you thank you Janet. She asked if I wanted to go and see a doctor nearby but the last thing I wanted to do was have to explain the whole story to someone I didn’t know which might set me off again. I’d already decided earlier that morning to call Flora, the social worker from the metabolic doctors team at the RC Hospital – hoping to get in touch with her before this happened.

I’d spoken to Flora a lot while we were in Melbourne and she was fantastic and perhaps now, the best thing she ever told me was that I might have a bit of a relapse one day when I least expected it. I thought I was expecting it but apparently I wasn’t. I was expecting to one day be a heaving, crying mess blubering with emotion, not to one day suddenly lose control of my body. That took me completely by surprise.

Anyway, I waited in Janet’s office until Nat and Bron arrived and they came rushing to find me. I had mostly calmed down but seeing them just started me off again with the tears. My legs still hadn’t stopped shaking and my lungs were still squeezing and my head was spinning around. I just reached out and Nat got to me first and I just held her and cried and cried.Ā  At some point while they were there, after Nat tells me she was considering tying bricks to my legs to stop them trembling šŸ™‚ I felt it all ease off. My legs stopped shaking, my lungs stopped that squeezing sensation, my head stopped spinning and the tears stopped. I remember smiling along the way so it wasn’t too traumatic – it was more bizarre as I tried to understand how all of this happened and why I couldn’t stop it. Nat and Bron sat with me for half an hour listening to me and holding me and just being there. I am so thankful for their presence.

Nat decided I wasn’t driving myself home and Janet organised to cover her class so she was free to take me home. I knew I’d be right to drive eventually but it was probably for the best that I didn’t. It was actually really helpful to just randomly chat to her and take my mind off it all a bit.

Warren met me at the door with a hug and a baby waiting to be fed. So I sat on the couch and fed Alyssa while Warren took Nat to get her own car to take herself back to work (thank you soo soo so much Nat). I got Alyssa fed and settled and called Flora in Melbourne and she was again, fantastic.

I think I pretty much counselled my own way though it but it was nice to hear her agree with me and confirm what I’d believed was happening.

It was probably a combination of having to go over Alyssa’s story again with family and friends on the weekend, the emotional energy I gave to a special friend, a busy weekend, and potentially my decision to not feed Alyssa this morning got me. Considering the major trauma of her issue was keeping her fed to keep her alive, although I was certain I’d come to terms with that now, perhaps a very primal part of my brain wasn’t comfortable leaving her unfed, even though my conscious told me she was well fed and ok.Ā  it might even be the fact that catching up with everyone on the weekend really helped relax me physically. Life has been challenging and stressful beyond Alyssa being sick with work and money so I haven’t really sat and chilled. Perhaps I’d been holding a lot of physical emotional energy until a point where I was able to deal with it.

Flora said I might expect little aftershocks (none so far) but if I keep having the attacks to see a GP and get referred to a trauma counsellor. Again, I think I’m okay but today took me completely by surprise so who knows. I know to be ready (if I can)Ā  for it now. I’ll know what it is next time.

After I spoke to Flora I had a chat to Mum (thanks Mum) and filled her in before she read about it somewhere and we had a good chat. I fed Alyssa again and put her to bed and fought against the urge to do something (even watching a movie) and just went to bed. My body was exhausted – totally shattered. I dozed for an hour or so, Warren fixed me some lunch and I slept again until Alyssa woke up 3 hours later.

So now I’m up, still exhausted and frazzled, but feeling ok. Our minds are powerful things – and definitely know how to take charge if they want. It’s a scary thing to be so powerless when you truly thought you were doing pretty well. But what we went through was very traumatic – we accept that. And along with that we need to accept these things that come our way. It’s part of the healing process. It’s all part of Alyssa’s journey – our journey with her.

I am so thankful for friends who understand.
I am so thankful for family who love me and need me.
I am so thankful for a special little girl who fought what was happening to her body so I could still hold her when this was over.


10 responses to “Panic Attacks – NOT FUN!

  1. Hey Donna,

    You are amazing, and I want to say a huge thank you to both you and Warren for the weekend visit. I hope that it all works out… and sometimes professional help is definitely needed.

    Love you all,

  2. Wow, Donna, what an experience you had to go through. Although with all the trauma you have been through in the past 12 months it’s completely understandable. How the panic attack came on with so little warning though is like you said, one of the wonders of the human mind. I hope you are okay now & if it happens again that you are somewhere safe! Reading about you having an attach while driving really scared me!!

  3. šŸ˜

    Hope it doesn’t happen again.

  4. Same Newt – but it’s ok if it does. It’s all part of the process. I can only hope if it happens again I’m not driving alone (that was probably the worst part of it) and that I have some special friends nearby again.

  5. Hi Donna

    I’ll try to post again – my computer froze a few minutes ago…

    I hope that you are feeling better. Anxiety attacks are awful – I get them on occasion.

    If you ever want to chat just give me a ring.


  6. empty field

    I think I would of been more suprised if you hadn’t had some kind of Post Traumatic Stress episode. Keep your chin up and keep the communication lines open, don’t ever feel like its not ok to still feel trauma even after some time is passed.

  7. Oh Donna – what an awful day for you. I’m glad it turned out okay. It’s good you are understanding what is going on. It makes it a lot easier to deal with when it happens. Thinking of you.

  8. Faye Eaves (MUM)

    You certainly know how to write from the heart. It made me cry but in a good way knowing that Alyssa is going to be ok in the future.It was an horrendous time for all of us but especially for you and Warren. I can’t ever imagine losing a child.After we talked I thought that your panic attack had probably been coming for a long time. Sometimes we think we have dealt with past issues but I know from experience that even after 4o years it can still come back to haunt you.It’s quite amazing what the mind can do to the body. Hang in there and know that you have a caring family in the background whenever you need us. We all love you very much.

  9. Awwww Mummy …. šŸ™‚

    It most likely has been a big build up for a while – as Flora said, just sitting there waiting for my body and mind to recover to a point where I could let out the rest of the pain and worry. I am glad I knew it was coming though – at some point – or I would have been even more freaked out.

    Lots of sleep, good family and friends, some time out… we’re all good šŸ™‚

  10. One thing I know is that I will never ever ever forget that day in the hospital and how my heart hit the floor. The feeling may lessen but I’m sincerely never forget how I felt at that instant – pure horror!

    I wish that on no-one.

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