Category Archives: pain

(Don’t) Panic

I don’t have many memories of when I was younger.

They all tend to blur together in a random mess of connections. It’s interesting because sometimes memories will be triggered by a specific sense. The smell of Florida is one that always stays in my mind. My mother, father, and little brother would vacation down there in the winter. We staying with my grandfather in his retirement village. We drove down from Chicago some years and I think in there lies some of the reason why I love to travel by car. One time, I managed to back all my barbie gear and can almost remember how things looked out on the porch when everything was assembled. I can almost remember the book I was reading that dropped in the water, or it got dropped in a pool, or it somehow got wet. 

I almost remember which book.

So when I did my Midwest/Southern road trip: Escapism Is Cheaper than Therapy, I only briefly passed through Florida. I say briefly because it takes about ten hours on I10 to cross the top of the state. That was the only time I really paid for a hotel/motel. I needed to rest. That’s when the smell triggered me back to my childhood. I remember an ice cream stand in the shape of an ice cream and a mini golf course.

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When I was younger, my parents and doctors thought I had a heart defect. I don’t know how long, but I know I wore a electrodes attached to a bulky electrical box. Once I week we would connect this box to our telephone and it would transmit things to the doctors at the other end of the line. This was in Chicago and since my father knew so many medical people, I remember these guys had a fancy office.

It turns out it was not a defect, but panic attacks.

My panic attacks are very well defined and they have become even more refined as I get older. They still mimic some of the same characteristics, however there are new more devastating results.

When I was in College, I started experiencing some very bad health problems my freshman year. This was after have a very difficult transition to College because I was still physically recovering from my Traumatic Brain Injury and taking tons of medication to control, in part, anxiety. The worsening health problems came from Lyme disease which I had contracted but never experience a ‘target mark’ so it went undiagnosed for years. As an autoimmune disease, Lyme really can be devastating when I have a bad habit of getting myself so stressed out that I become physically ill.

I miss 279 days of my high-school career due to medical issues. I still managed to get on the honor roll a few times, much to the dismay of several people who did not take my medical issues seriously. I’d love to one day receive an apology for how I was treated by some, but it does no good to stay fully in the past. I’d like to say I’ve forgiven many of them who said horrible things to/about me, however the truth is simply I’ve forgotten about them. The only benefit to some of my TBI is I’ve been able to forget some of the bullying I’ve endured, at least most of the time. Being a survivor of many types of abuse, being treated certain ways can induce a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Panic Attack.

Part of my complete health overhaul has been getting myself in a place where I can remove extraneous anxiety from my life. I have the skills now to know how to remove myself from situations which will induce a panic attack. It’s taken me a bit of time to spot some of my triggers and it is still a work in progress.

My biggest problem lately has been my stress load. It has been getting very stressful in my life and this has compromised my health. I’ve been having non-epileptic seizures recently, which I have not had since the end of September. My lyme disease has acted up because I’ve been so stressed and this is causing me to be tired, thirsty, nauseous, not hungry, as well as increasingly difficult to swallow. My anxiety also is directly connected to my sensory system causing everything to be hyperactive. This means I can hear things from far away, see very well in virtually any condition, smell things stronger or lingering odors, tastes are stronger or sometimes taste completely different, and every spot on my body has a painful sharp needle feeling similar to when a body part has fallen asleep resulting in one limb being paralyzed for an indeterminate amount of time.

This is my life now.

This is crippling and debilitating feeling. It is on these days when the world swallows me whole that I get the most messed up feeling of optimism. I have no idea where it came from except my mother takes credit. It is on these darkest days when I know the good days will mean so much more. I know those days are filled with laughter and happiness. Those are waiting for me on the other side of this cloud.

I’ve known what it’s like to get lost in this anxiety cloud. I know all too well what toll this is as it’s one a pay every few months. Normally, it’s just a weekend break or something and I pick up the pieces and move on.

This time it’s different?

I’m not use to letting people see the vulnerable side of me. Sometimes when I show the breaking, people run away. I break loudly and ‘suddenly’ all because some straw finally broke the camel’s back. I’m pretty sure this is an autism thing, too. The world gets too loud for us and instead of people helping us quiet it down their voices get louder, too. The anxiety causes me to distance myself from some people out of….self-preservation. Some people it takes a lot out of me to interact with them. Those are the people who move and think very quickly while I’m still lost in the corner. The speed at which they move and talk actually increases my anxiety.

I remember in college interacting with people and it triggering me at times when it seemed like their words fit seamlessly together or moved too quickly. Unfortunately, I hung out with debaters, performers, and campus leaders. These are all pretty loud groups and often I would end up overwhelmed.

It’s been said multiple times by multiple people; nobody is ever neutral to me. People either enjoy my company and like me or else they find me frustrating and rude. It’s in large part because I don’t know how to interact with people in every situation and sometimes I say things which come out just ‘wrong’. I’m still actively trying to work on the interaction part, but as I’ve mentioned earlier it is a work in progress.

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Last night I remembered somethings.
I was triggered back to younger days in different paces. These were memories from when I was much younger and but even more recent. The seemingly random pieces of memories, a view of an elevator or a feeling of the carpet in-between my fingers, again share a sensory trigger.
This trigger is the same panic attack long thought of as a false memory or a bad dream. Trying to convince myself it was only a story I once read, I know this feeling too well in my body.

Even as I move around to new states and grow up, this lump in my chest still feels like home.

This is living with anxiety.

On a scale of 1 to 10

I don’t register pain like other people. What other people may describe as extreme pressure, such as having a lot of weight on me or wearing a tight corset, is actually very relaxing to me. The “rate your pain” scale does not make sense to me or some of my friends on the spectrum. There are a few reasons for this, but they are all important and can be dangerous.

Pain is normal for me. I’ve spent a majority of my life living with some type of pain. Difficulty breathing was an every day thing until we learned I had asthma. It’s weird to think of the dull throb of a strained muscle or twisted ankle as normal to some, but this is how I know my body. Like a house where the kitchen cabinets stick a bit, it’s what I expect from my body. It’s not until something really goes wrong and the doctors ask how long my symptoms have been around do things get complicated.

I don’t know what other people register pain as, so those pain scales require a little conversion on my part to make myself understandable. When I broke my arm, it took me 3 days to realize it was broken and only when it was completely swollen did my mother bring me to the hospital because “it didn’t really hurt.” I know I have a high pain tolerance, but sometimes it gets dangerous.

Pain scales require a certain amount of self-awareness even neurotypical adults don’t fully master. Since the pain scale never made much sense to me, and I grew up in a house filled with medical jargon, it has always been my practice to vividly describe the pain in ways doctors can understand. Pressure, throbbing, sharp, frequently, dull, sore are all words with tangible definitions. They require little conversion and it allows me to communicate clearer with my doctor. Only once did someone show me a scale with faces to represent the numerical pain. I laughed and said I had no idea what any of those faces could mean in relation to how I felt in my body.

So here I sit in the gym locker room as I recently discovered my hand grip has lessened significantly. This is directly related to the increase in knuckle cracking I’ve done recently. I’ve been having trouble holding things lately, but I thought it was just because I’ve been tired with school and work. Now that I’m aware there is a VERY big problem, I need to work on addressing this behavior. Hmmm… I wonder how I can do that?

Hint: Tomorrow we’ll be talking about ABA and CBT.