Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Story

I suffered my first anxiety attack on November 1, 2003. The only reason I remember the exact date is because the night before was Halloween. I had gone to a party on Halloween night and gotten home late. At the time I was living in a rental with housemates and one of my housemates got up early – around 6am – and made enough noise to wake me up. I tried falling back to sleep but had issues doing so because I was meeting a girl for brunch that morning and was a little nervous.

The girl I was meeting was someone I had met online and this was our first time to meet face to face. She lived about an hour and a half from me and I had agreed to make the trip to where she lived to have brunch.

About half way into the ride I started feeling more than nervous – I felt a little sick. I stopped at a gas station to get some water, figuring I was just not feeling well from the lack of sleep plus some nerves. However, as I continued to drive I continued to feel ill. I finally called her and told her I was not feeling well and that I was going to cancel. I told her I thought it was just nerves at first but then it felt like more than that. She confessed that she too was feeling nervous and hearing that actually made me feel less nervous. As we spoke I decided to continue on to meet her.

I hung up the phone and continued driving but was then swept over by what I can only describe as intense nervousness. I started to have tingling sensations in my hands. At that point I turned around and called my friend to tell her, again, that I was cancelling. I explained what I was feeling physically and that I had already turned around. She was very understanding and told me to call her when I got home.

As I drove the sensations got more intense in my hands and moved up my arm on my right side and into my chest. I began to drive faster but then realized that I could not (and should not) drive like a crazy person with the sensations in my arms and chest. I realized there was a hotel near where I was and so I pulled over and rented a room at the hotel.

Once inside the hotel I called my parents and explained the whole situation and asked them to come get me. They drove up together in my Dad’s car and then my Mom drove me home in my car.

When I spoke to some friends later in the day about what had happened some people thought I might have had a stroke. I really didn’t think that was the case, but not wanting to let something like that pass by without a visit to a doctor, I scheduled an appointment with my physician.

I went to my doctor a few days later and they did all kinds of tests and blood work and took a urine sample. All of the tests came back normal.

A week or so before Christmas I had planned to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Westchester which was about two and a half hours from where I lived. I was not nervous about the trip and so I set off on my way. However, less than an hour into the trip I started having symptoms to those that occurred on my previous car trip.

I called my brother and explained the situation and told him I was not coming. I then called a friend who lived near where I was and asked if I could stop by. I visited with my friend and his family for about an hour, felt better and headed out on my way back home. At this point I was about 45 minutes from home.

Again, however, I suffered from anxiety – this time about 10 – 15 minutes after leaving my friends house. I called my parents and spoke to my Mom on the phone and she tried to calm me down and suggested that I get off the highway and take a more local route, thinking that seeing  the people, stores, etc. might help me relax. I did as she suggested but it didn’t help.

I wound up stopping at what is essentially the “next town over” from where I lived – about a 15 – 20 minute drive – and again called my parents. I asked my Mom to come to where I was and I would follow her home. While I waited for my Mom to arrive I went back and forth between being relaxed and being hysterical. During those times I would call home and speak to my Dad (my Mom didn’t have a cell phone so I could not call her while she was on route.) My mother arrived and I followed her home. At that point I decided that after the holidays I was going to see my doctor again and talk about what was going on.

I met initially with my doctor in early January of 2004. He suggested that I was suffering from panic attacks and prescribed me Xanax. I took the Xanax for the next month or so but didn’t feel it was really working well for me as I had multiple “small” panic attacks. At this point, however, I wasn’t trying to go anywhere further away from home than work. However, on occasion I was asked to travel 15 – 20 minutes outside of my home town and almost always had anxiety and was unable to complete the trip.

After that first month I spoke with my doctor again and he referred me to a psychiatrist who he felt could better diagnose my problem and provide better insight as to what medication might help the most.

I began to see a psychiatrist, Dr. F. and eventually he suggested that I see a psycho analyst weekly while seeing him once a month to see how things were going and how I was responding to medication.

I started taking medication with Lexapro. I don’t remember the dosage that I began with but I recall that we ramped up the dosage periodically. However, I didn’t feel that I was making the desired progress and so we changed medication to Paxil. Again, we slowly ramped up the dosage to the point where I am now which is 75mg a day. I am taking Paxil CR which is a slow release formula so it, in theory, stays in my system at a more constant level throughout the day.

During the period of time that I was on Lexapro I was beginning training for becoming a volunteer EMT for my local fire department. Because of my awareness of my anxiety I would often go on an ambulance call but not get in the ambulance to go to the hospital. This, of course, did not go unnoticed and eventually my Captain addresses my behavior with me. I told her about my anxiety disorder. She was initially understanding but told me that unless I could complete the call (by going to the hospital) I would have to leave the department. I tried at one point to go with the ambulance to the hospital, however, I ended up having an anxiety attack in the back of the ambulance and, amazingly, was able to convince them to drop me off! Needless to say, after this incident I was no longer part of the ambulance core.

Around this time my psychiatrist recommended that I have Klonopin wafers with me to take “as needed” in the event of an anxiety attack. His theory was that this would help calm me down and hopefully get me through some bumps and eventually, hopefully, lead me to having less anxiety attacks. I was able to use Klonopin successfully in various occasions and made great progress with the combination of Paxil on a daily basis and Klonopin as needed.

As I stated, when all of my anxiety issues began I was attempting to make a trip to meet a girl I had met online. That relationship didn’t work out for obvious reasons. However, in August of 2006 I had the good fortune to meet a great girl, Pam, who is now my wife.

My relationship with Pam was not, however, without its complications due to my anxiety. Pam lived in Brooklyn and I lived on Long Island. Initially Pam was spending time on Long Island because her mother had a place there and eventually should would stay with me. However, as the warm weather months drew to a close Pam wanted me to come to visit her in Brooklyn. I eventually confessed to her about my anxiety and my apprehension with traveling alone via train to Brooklyn. She was very understanding and supportive and made the train trip with me a few times so I could get comfortable being on the train. Eventually I was able to take the train myself – with the help of Klonopin – and then later without the Klonopin.

After two years of dating, Pam and I decided to move in together which meant getting a job in NYC. I was easily able to get in and out of NYC and take the subway to job interviews, etc. and got a job. I also proposed to Pam and we got married in September of 2009.

When I first moved to Brooklyn I was able to take the subway without issue as long as I had taken a Klonopin before I left home. There were the occasional ‘mini’ anxiety attacks if the subway stopped between stations for some reason, but those situations were usually a few minutes (or less). The worst case scenario for those was that I would feel my heart rate rise and I would get out of the subway at the next stop. These kind of events, fortunately, were few and far between.

Recently, however, I have had serious issues attempting to get to work each day.
The return of the more severe, regular anxiety attacks began in April of 2010 and coincided with my father having health problems. My father is in his early 80’s and had suffered from circulation problems in both of his legs. He had one leg operated on in 2009 but due to the length of the recovery time he delayed the operation on his second leg. Eventually, the circulation issues got to the point where surgery was no longer an option and the leg had to be amputated.

I began to have anxiety while riding the subway while all of this was transpiring with my father. I eventually began to take the bus to and from work but eventually was able to get back on to riding the subway. However, Labor Day weekend of 2010 I suffered a major anxiety attack when attempting to ride the LIRR to the Hamptons. Since then I have been apprehensive about riding the subway alone and returned to taking the bus to work. In late September of 2010, due to MTA budget cuts, the bus that I took from Brooklyn was removed from service. I began to alternate between taking a cab to work and having my wife accompany me on the subway. This, however, was not the best solution as taking a cab to and from work is quite costly. My wife is also not always available to accompany me on the subway, but even on the days when she can “take” me to work I take a cab home. Because of the cost involved in the taxi I eventually began taking our car to and from work, figuring that the cost of a parking garage was less than the cost of one cab ride.

I also returned to regular weekly therapy sessions and this is where I am now. I’ve been seeing a new therapist for about a month and I’ve been mostly driving to work.

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