Sunday, June 21, 2009

Disaster Zones

Personally, I've never been through a hurricane (growing up in a landlocked state kind of limits that type of experience, not that I'm complaining) . . . I've never had to run for cover across an open field while being pursued by a particularly angry-looking twister cloud, although I did have a drive across Kansas where I had to park my car under an overpass to avoid the grapenut-sized hail and sat, shivering, listening to the radio announcer talk about how "more people are killed each year by thunderstorms in Kansas than any other natural disaster" . . . And, much as I like to think I live my life a little dangerously, I've never singlehandedly sailed a weather-beaten ship through tsunami-style waves.

I mean, don't get me wrong, it's not so much that I've purposefully AVOIDED these things, it's just that the option of doing them just hasn't ever really come up. These are, simply put, things that in my 27 years I just have not experienced.

But I have to be honest, after the past month or so, which shall hereby be not-so-affectionately known as Angstapalooza 2009 (aka The Great Freak Out), I have to say that I kind of FEEL like I've done them, or at least survived my own personal version. Because I have to be real about this, NOTHING that I have encountered thus far in terms of my CF has been as difficult to deal with as these panic attacks were. And yes, I will optimistically use the past tense here.

Let me put this in some sort of context, because I know I haven't been awesome about updating my blog lately, and hopefully this will help explain some of that:
  • Something went wrong during the heart cath. We're still not sure what it was, although we've elminated a possible allergic reaction to lidocaine as the culprit. I don't want to pass blame when the details are so uncertain, so let me just say this: it was without a doubt the single scariest moment I have had during a medical procedure (knock on wood)
  • A week or so after the heart cath, because of some lingering effects of the procedure, I had a panic attack. At the time everyone thought this was an isolated event brought on by yet another very minor medical event.
  • My heart is prone to arrhythmias -- this has been known to all of us for a while now -- and I started to get a CF infection, which typically intensifies the arrhythmia by just throwing my body for a loop.
  • Apparently, at least in my case, extremely traumatic event involving my heart + lingering effects of trauma in my neck + heart arrhythmia + poor breathing = massive breakdown.
Yeah, it wasn't exactly fun. I was doing more or less okay until I stupidly attempted to exercise in the middle of the arrhythmia/breathing madness and ended up in a complete state with my heart jumping around like rabbit on speed. Honestly, I even managed to freak out the ER staff, which eventually led to my being treated by a cardiologist (who declared the arrhythmias benign). Unfortunately, because there was an apparent physical issue (i.e., the arrythmias, which were very real) I didn't push too hard for anxiety treatment at first, which led to the third panic attack -- actually a series of several panic attacks strung together very quickly. NOT fun.

Anyway, they eventually put me on an SSRI and Ativan (the Ativan for short-term control, the SSRI for a more permanent solution). Unfortunately, the SSRI chosen didn't work at all for me, and I think I actually got MORE anxious on it (not to mention I was vomiting daily, feeling terrible, etc -- AND on IVs). Basically, it was pretty ridiculous. I was taking the Ativan to calm me down from the SSRI.

As soon as I realized the utter lameness of the situation (ahem, yesterday), I contacted my doctor and went off the SSRI. Keep in mind I was already on a dose LOWER than the recommended low dose, so that probably should have been a clue, since when we tried to increase the dose I didn't fare too well. But it took me a while to isolate the CF symptoms from the SSRI issues, and to be honest it's a lot of guesswork when you venture into that territory anyway. My poor doctor was fielding my calls almost daily and fitting me in for emergency clinic visits, but this was definitely a problem that just took a while to figure out.

So now? Well, I'm off the SSRI drug. I haven't felt much need for the Ativan today because I simply haven't been anxious, but I've been taking a very low dose (half a 1 mg pill) every 8 hours or so just because I didn't think I should try to stop everything cold turkey. But I plan to try and get off that withing the next couple of days as well. And it's possible we'll try another SSRI-type drug, but the thing is I'm honestly not sure I need it. I think this was a serious bout of trauma-induced anxiety, as opposed to generalized anxiety, and I think it would be wise to have a prescription on hand for a fast-acting anti-anxiety drug to use as needed. But I'm a little wary of the longer-term drugs at this point. I know many people who they have really helped, but my personal experience just wasn't positive.

So there you have it. As of a couple of days ago I've really tried to pick up the reins on my life (although I should add I fought through enough to go to work and exercise through all of this -- why, I have NO idea. I was more or less useless at work, but I was there!). I'm finally feeling like ME again, and not a moment too soon, since I have some pretty exciting news to announce here in the next few days.

Anyway, I wanted to give a HUGE shout out to all the cystics (and everyone else) out there who has come through anxiety. It might not be a class 4 hurricane, or a headline-making earthquake, but it can shake you up and leave you stranded, so I think you all deserve a LOT of credit. As for me, I'm just happy to be able to laugh and play with my puppy again. Seriously.


  1. Oh Piper--so sorry you are having to deal with all of this too. I have to agree, panic attacks are horrible and like you mine were also brought on from a traumatic hospital experience.

    I think you made the right decision about going off of the anti-depressant for now. With all the other meds we are on, its awful to try to deal with the side effects of those on top of it. I'll be praying that you can handle the anxiety with just the Ativan and that the attacks go away as quickly as they started.

    Ginger (gingerloveslife)

  2. Hang in there Piper. I am a huge fan of Ativan, takes the edge off without feeling stoned. We all missed you this weekend I hope you continue to feel more like yourself.

  3. Piper -

    Glad that you are working towards feeling better. I can only think of one time where I've ever dealt with a panic attack and that was plenty - I DO NOT want to do it again.

    I enjoy reading your blogs. Keep writing and working and doing whatever keeps you sane and happy in this crazy world.

  4. (((Piper!))) You sound like you're in a much better place than a couple of weeks ago and I'm so proud of you. I hope it's smooth sailing for you the rest of the summer and beyond! As smooth as the pot-holed CF road can be, that is. I have a feeling you know exactly what I mean Cysta! Take care. :)

  5. Piper, I'm glad to hear that you've got that all figured out and things are under your able control again! {{{Hugs}}} ~Juliet