Panic Attack

Something I learned from my kids’ graphic novel that surprised me.

This was new to me. Despite being generally anxious for the better part of my life, and recently having been diagnosed with (mild but clinical) OCD, I had never experienced a panic attack until the week after the COVID-lockdown began here in Vancouver.

“Guts” by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel for young audiences. My kids have it, and I often read their books—especially the ones they really like—just to get a sense of their perspective and influences.

In “Guts” the main character (the author herself as a child) suffers from anxiety and related IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). I had read the book prior to my episode and even as a Crohn’s and anxiety patient, it didn’t occur to me that the visualizations of the panic attack experience were just that. I was under the impression she was taking artistic liberties with the experience of general anxiety.

I was wrong.

A panic attack is different. You feel the impending doom like it is objective reality. You have measurable physical symptoms—for me it was increased heart rate, increased body temperature, nausea, uncontrollable chills and shakes.

It actually started, out of the blue, when I was watching a movie with my family. I quietly excused myself and went upstairs to check my temperature. It was 99.7. Later it became apparent that this is within normal range for our thermometer but it set off The Fear. It was about 40 minutes of debilitating panic. All my symptoms matched those of COVID, it seemed.

It went so far as me taking steps to ensure my wife had access to things like bank accounts, because that’s how sure I was, that I would be gone in short order.

Then “panic attack” flashed into my mind. Googling revealed that the symptoms fit those of a panic attack, as well, even more accurately. This helped me calm down over the next 20 minutes.

What causes it?

It’s doubtful the movie triggered the event. Being keyed-up from reading COVID news multiple times a day likely contributed. Also I was on (low doses) of prednisone for an Iritis flare-up. It didn’t help that I had a lingering cough from two weeks prior.

In Raina’s book, the mere mention of vomiting triggered a panic attack. Upon researching it further, it seems a panic attack can happen out of the blue without reason, but it’s different for each individual.

How to avoid panic attacks?

  • Not reading the news so often. Information that will change the course of our lives, and that can’t wait a few days, is rare if it happens at all.
  • Moderation in coffee consumption. This one is hard for me but max 2 cups, preferably 1 cup, per day.
  • More exercise. There are plenty of good workouts that can be done at home in isolation. I try to schedule a workout soon after a bout of consuming the news, to burn off the anxiety.
  • Less screen time.
  • More activities with the kids. We hang out a lot already but it’s a nice way to reduce stress.
  • Get off any steroidal treatments ASAP.

Why post this on my website?

In the 90s, this site was all about film and TV production and acting tips. A few years ago my attempts at consistently publishing news about Doctor Who events and such, fizzled out with little fanfare. I tried to bring together a community of Doctor Who fans but ran out of free time to implement the functionality—my day job keeps me busy.

However, it kept nagging at me, more and more recently, that someone, somewhere, might have similar experiences. Would it help at all if they read about mine? Almost certainly they won’t even find this, amongst the nearly 2 billion web sites on the Internet...but I’ve decided not to let that stop me. With the GitHub API, it’s so easy for me to post, that I’ve left myself with no excuse not to.

Whether I stick with it or not, whether anyone reads it or not, my goal is just to not panic about it :)