Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I Didn't Just Chicken Out or Give Up Before Starting ~ or What The Fight or Flight Response Does To Your Body

          A couple of posts back I talked about not only going inside a library but asking if I could volunteer .... and the branch librarian agreed I could come on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons to shelve.  He is a real nice guy.  I have friends there.  It should have been a good place for me to be. I love to shelve.  I love putting books in order on the book truck.  I love straightening shelves.  I am the only person I ever heard of that actually enjoys reading shelves (checking to make sure everything is in order.)  Well, I made a mistake in asking if I could volunteer.  I should have just left well enough alone with going inside a library for the first time in a year.  I was not "myself" from the time I entered the building, talked to my friends, while asking the branch head about volunteering or when checking out.  Everyone there was super nice.  Warm. Welcoming. Friendly.   I was so on edge it was crazy.  I felt testy and I am not a testy person.   I felt so testy I could not even stand myself.  A reaction called the Fight or Flight Response kicked in.  My body is acutely familiar with it, unfortunately. Purple text is what I experienced those 10 minutes or so I was in the library and then the past 24 hours. Blue text is from an article on the internet on fight or flight response in humans.  The problem is the part of the brain the initiates the automatic part of the fight or flight response, the amygdala, can't distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat, therefore physical changes are the same.  In the library my heart started racing and pounding and beating like it would pop out of my chest at any moment.  My friend, Carmel, knows some sign language and when she said something about it was good to see me I did the sign for heartbeat and knowing me she would know what I meant.  I had only been in the library maybe 45 seconds and it had already started. The cardio-vascular system leaps into action, with the heart pump rate going from one up to five gallons per minutes and our arteries constricting to maximize pressure around the system whilst the veins open out to ease return of blood to the heart. This can be an increase of 1200%. Not a pleasant feeling but I know it is because of the anxiety issues I have.  Mentally I know I am not having a heart attack but emotionally I think I am.  It feels like my heart will just explode.  Got in the car to leave and the panic attack was so fierce.  I felt so clammy and I wondered if I looked pale & sweaty. I felt grey. Blood vessels to the skin being constricted reducing any potential blood loss. Sweat glands also open, providing an external cooling liquid to our over-worked system. (this makes the skin look pale and clammy).  I expressed to Carmel that the library was soooo hot and she said within the hour the A/C would have cooled it down ... it was warm because they just opened.  No, I meant it was HOT but I know it is that my senses were on alert. I always feel hot during a panic attack.  Too bad my sense of hearing can't awaken and become better. Our senses sharpen. Pupils dilate (open out) so we can see more clearly, even in darkness. Our hairs stand on end, making us more sensitive to our environment (and also making us appear larger, hopefully intimidating our opponent).  I was so jittery inside I could barely stand it.  I hate that jittery feeling and once I get jittery it just goes on and on forever like the Energizer Bunny.  The respiratory system joining in as the lungs, throat and nostrils open up and breathing speeding up to get more air in the system so the increased blood flow can be re-oxygenated. The blood carries oxygen to the muscles, allowing them to work harder. Deeper breathing also helps us to scream more loudly!  Jitteriness results from activated muscles.  Remember I said I felt testy? I think stupid things probably came out of my mouth because I didn't feel like me or "sound" like me when I was talking. The natural judgment system is also turned down and more primitive responses take over–this is a time for action rather than deep thought.  When I have a panic attack I just feel like running...overpowered by the feeling to just run. Like I have enough energy to run all the way to the state line. That definitely is NOT a normal feeling for me.  Even as a kid I didn't like to run. Fat from fatty cells and glucose from the liver being metabolized to create instant energy  My mouth was so dry I couldn't stand it and I immediately drove to a Pak-a-Sak to get a Dr Pepper.  For once, instead of Dr Pepper I really wanted icy, icy water but I can't stand "store bought" water, I want plain old Lake Meredith or pumped-from-underground-&-filled-with-clorine tap water.  Actually I first got a drink from the fountain in the library but the desire to "flee" meant I couldn't stay there and drink until I was no longer dry mouthed.  Blood vessels to the kidney and digestive system being constricted, effectively shutting down systems that are not essential. A part of this effect is reduction of saliva in the mouth. The bowels and bladder may also open out to reduce the need for other internal actions (this might also dissuade our attackers!).  Thank God for small favors---I have never peed or pooped during a panic attack....yet, anyway. However for days after a panic/anxiety attack I have terrible stomach cramps, nausea and gastro-intestinal problems. There is at least one more physical change in the body but I can't really vouch for this one, except a  painful headache almost always follows a panic attack.  Endorphins, which are the body's natural pain killers, are released (when you are fighting, you do not want be bothered with pain–-that can be put off until later.)  By bedtime last night my body just ached and my muscles hurt. An alternative response which often comes before fight or flight is freezing.  Our muscles tense up to keep us still, causing knots in muscles.  It has been 28 hours since I left the library and my arm muscles still feel like I have been carrying around 100 pound lead weights.  Last night I also had a bombardment of suicidal thoughts...just for a few moments but I don't want to have them for even that long.  Two years ago I was bombarded with suicidal thoughts from January through April.  Feeling the pain brought on by fighting off those thoughts was horrible.  I cried all the time from the overwhelming pain.  I am positive most people commit suicide because they are bombarded by those irrational thoughts that are not there own, and it is so incredibly painful to fight them they just want the pain to stop.  That commercial that says "depression hurts - Cymbalta can help" - it means it when it says it hurts - there is pain, physical and emotional pain. I will not do anything I think might open that door again.  I am stronger than the thoughts, I will never commit suicide ... won't do that to my children or grandchildren ... and had the thoughts not stopped after a few moments last night I would have probably gone to the hospital.  I know that is the way to stop the pain ... go to the hospital and get help.  I had not had any suicidal thoughts since I left the hospital in 2010, that I can remember right now anyway, and I am not going to stress myself out until I have those thoughts constantly.  Never.Again.  Last night when I was fighting the thoughts and the depression and the stress and the tummy ache I kept telling myself it will be ok because laughter releases stress and I laugh a LOT while I am with Taylor.  I just had to make it til morning when I could go take care of my granddaughter and we would laugh.  Between my home and hers the most direct, fastest, and most sensible route goes right past the library where I worked for almost all of my 20 years.  I started crying when I saw it and cried for 10 minutes all the way to a Pak-a-Sak near her home.  I stopped there and got a Dr Pepper and a Donut Stop cinnamon roll and pulled myself together.  I decided I will not volunteer ~ just because I would love to do it does not mean it would be worth the stress.  I hate hate hate hate that my old self is gone.  I don't know if she will ever come back, but she isn't back yet.

5 comments:

~It's Just Me~ said...

Your old self may be gone, but I never knew her and likely would not know her if she still existed. I know and love your present self and whom ever you become with time. You are beautiful and good, you are a light in my life and in the world. Your strength and love are an inspiration. Be well. Be Happy. Do only those things which bring you joy and peace. {{{Big Gentle Hugs}}}

Carol said...

Tish, you are just a treasure that God placed in my life because he knew I would need you, and knew that we are kindred spirits. It has been a terrible, no good, very bad day (quick---name the author of that book) but I have had much worse. Have cried more today than I have since Max died and for the first time ever I told Carmel, the friend I went to see at the library, that I felt totally worthless. I know that is not true, just how I feel. My daughter really wanted me to go to the mental hospital tonight since I was crying so much but I have no insurance. If I knew that is what I HAD to do I would go but the suicidal thoughts had left and I was just worn out and crying was all I could do. When I was in the hospital before, I had insurance, was there 5 days and my copay would have easily paid for a week in Hawaii...which in retrospect would have been much more calming, not to mention a tan, I am sure as most of my hospital stay was ok except for one night when this little bitty old lady got mad at a nurse and threw a chair at a glass door, among other things. Mental hospitals have safety glass but it sure made for an exciting evening! But anyway, thank you for your kind words. This too shall pass.

Carol said...

And Tish, thank you for your beautiful words. My counter says 29 people read this post. You will notice only you, out of the 29, only you cared enough to leave any words of kindness at all for me. That is why the Lord put us together. Accidents and coincidences rarely happen.

Anonymous said...

I love the light that comes out of your very bright and battered soul. You are a strong woman who keeps smiling no matter what, thanks for sharing so much of your life with us, we are not strangers anymore.

Wimmera from Australia

Carol said...

Hi, my Austrailian friend! What a sweet comment you left - i needed it. I hope you are having a wonderful week. Good to hear from you! :)