Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My mind is not a steel trap... rusty synapses

"And then I forgot what she said, that's the problem with Clonazepam, so many things I don't remember"- NoFX

That really sums up how I feel these days.
I have the hardest time recalling things, kind of being in a fog, I vaguely know if conversations or events occur. It's not from some sort of drug abuse or results of multiple concussions but most likely due to medication for Anxiety and Panic Disorder.
Everyone who I confide my problem to(which is only as or after I've had big meltdown) will always says something like " Oh yeah, I know what that's like, I've had a panic attack before".
Almost all of those who say that have actually equate a large scare with a panic attack. For instance, freaking out over a test or interview would, on a scale of 1 to 10, be somewhere near a 3.
A close call with a deer or doing a 360 in the road during a snowstorm could be about a 5.
I, on a daily basis live somewhere between 5 and 8.
That is just my every day anxiety not the panic attacks. Those 9-10 area is a debilitating, crushing and almost impossible to function until it passes. From the bitter taste in my mouth of adrenaline, to the very very shallow breathing, feeling every pump of your blood that feels as though it flows with the intensity of a fire hose. Then I'll get light headed, overwhelmingly sweaty and at the worst my muscles start to seize up to where my hands will ball themselves up and no matter how much i try I cannot straighten out my hands. And always, always no matter how intense the anxiety or panic attack is one of the immediate indicators is that a feeling comes over me of "I'm about to shit myself" That's one that always comes on. Thus far it hasn't actually happened but I've had the closest of close calls. So when I'm in a situation where I'm hitting a 6 or above I tend to use the euphemism of "my stomach hates me" or "my stomach is feeling ill". Though when you do undersell the severity of your issues, people tend to not understand what you are going through but If I come right out and say " I can't go because I feel like my ass is gonna drop out" its pretty damn embarrassing. Especially if you have to use it as often as I do. Then they tend to blame you for using it as an excuse to avoid doing things you might otherwise not want to do. BELIEVE me, I'd much rather do the most boring tedious thing I can think of if it meant I was dealing with these real physical and mental attacks.

So to combat my version of "normal" and the extraordinary days I take Seroquel which is primarily a schizophrenia but seems to work well for anxiety along with numerous other mental ailments. Then the one that fucks with my memory is the Clonazepam (aka Klonopin) which i take on a daily basis usually at night so it lasts through the next day. Even with these I'll still get what's called "breakthrough attacks" where despite the daily dose I'll still have a severe panic attack which requires a bit more medication. It's no where near an abuse level but it causes gaps in my memory. Mostly new memories. That's the down side, the upside is I'm not on constant state of alert to the point that small noises will make me jump and shiver from quick spikes in anxiety.
I prided myself when people would refer to me as Rain Man of useless trivia, when it came to movie/music/pop culture trivia or politic/history or even recalling details of my real life events. These days I am dull as a dodgeball when I am forced to cite specific relevant events if I'm in an argument. It really makes it difficult to win an argument with my wife when I cannot recall specifics on a valid point I'm trying to make. My knowledge well was deep and plentiful but I fear it is has reached as deep as it's gonna get if not beginning to dry up.
I feel mentally lazy. I try to keep up with new news stories but trying to communicate those back to someone later, I end up a stuttering mess. But then there are times when I can spew a huge chunk of trivia no one would ever bother to remember. Its become very hit or miss.

I know the popular easy answer is stop taking the medication.
I can't and here's why.
Firstly I've tried every combination under the sun to get to the cocktail I'm at that works better than anything else from herbal remedies, books designed to control your physical and mental response to oncoming anxiety/panic waves, pretty much everything. I've exhausted the list of what my doctor thought could work to bring me down to the general public levels of daily anxiety. I tried changing my diet, no red meat, no eating after 7pm, no caffeine, almost no booze, I quit smoking a few years back when this all first started. Cut down on sugar, as much as I can anyway. I've read numerous books on how to deal with anxiety and avoid panic attack and they may work for some people but thus far no piece of advice has shined itself down on my dark little problem I try to hide. Abet I hide it poorly as you are reading all about it right now.
No dice, no luck. So here I am using what has had the best results. Medication that leaves gaps or better put, lapses in my ability to recall. Why would I put up with this side effect? Maybe some background on what I've dealt with might help those who haven't been around when I've had attacks of panic

I've been a worrier all my life, from as far back as I can remember I would make myself throw up from worry. I don't know where it started or why but I do recall instances of sheer terror.
From being 5 or 6 and being at a babysitters and accidentally snapping off a superficial piece of a "little people" toy parking garage and being so scared that I hid under a bed.
I am a dweller too, I spend sooooo much time stuck in my own head that I can get lost in the past/what ifs etc...
I had a short bout of these types of attacks when I was about 20. This is the first time I can actively recall when I had an attack, that I'd rate a 10.
They kind of slowly went away after a while. Then while living in Baraboo just before my move to Minneapolis I would get anxiety attacks just as I was trying to fall asleep. That last for a few months. Not alot of sleep during that stretch. About two months after I moved to Minneapolis they went away.
My current bout has lasted over three years and still counting. This one I attribute to starting after being at a bar and having my drink "roofied". I'm assuming it was meant for a female friend of mine when she went out for a cigarette and I was talking with friends. Luckily I had my friends there and I got home safe but I had one and a half beers and then it was total blackout until I woke up in my bed the next morning. After that I stayed in my apartment for two weeks straight. I couldn't venture around the block without severe alarms going off in my head and throughout my body.
My brain speeds through thoughts so quickly that when I try some techniques from some of the books I've read to avoid thinking about whatever is making me anxious or panicky that no matter what I think of, end up within seconds back thinking about whatever i was thinking about in the first place. Slowing down to even write this nearly stream of consciousness diatribe is difficult. I've tried the touching the ground or "grounding yourself" technique but that was mostly worthless. Then there is the snapping a rubber band against my wrist as a way to ignore your thoughts so that the anxiety will pass by itself but that never works. It takes like 15 minutes for the wave of adrenaline to metabolize in your body from the first moment you feel it. This says nothing for the multiple waves that are to follow. So snapping a rubber band is more annoying added to already being in survival mode.

So since I'm resigned to living with this. Not that I care to but such as it is I don't have much choice.
I have managed to figure out some triggers raise my anxiety levels or blow up full on panic attacks, one thing that is a sure fire way to unleash the waves of panic is lack of control. What I mean by that is being in situations where I cannot choose when or how quickly to escape. Being a passenger in someone's car with set me off since I am not the one driving. Being in the car in general can really do it. Oh what awful times I've had being stuck in traffic or just crawling along in stop n' go driving. I go all white knuckle.
Shopping heightens my anxiety to in the unmanageable levels. If I do go shopping I am very "get in, get what you need, get out as fast as possible". If I have to take my time, say shopping with my wife or really anyone else.
I'm on edge.
Very keyed up.
Being in places with only one bathroom can spur a panic attack or at very least make me pace around like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Put me somewhere with no bathroom access and I lose it.
A few months back I was at a niece's birthday party and I had the bathroom occupied and then I hear a knock and it's a mom trying to get her daughter in to use it, the more they knocked the more I could not breathe. I could hear them outside of the door waiting right next to it. It was awful. I was shaking, adrenaline surging throughout my body. As soon as I got out, I had to gather up my family and leave. With so many people there and no having immediate access to said bathroom was something I couldn't handle.
Another rule I have is never leave the house on a full stomach. I'm just asking for trouble.
Yes, I've had been through enough tests and to enough doctors to make sure that my "stomach issues" aren't the cause of my anxiety. Its my anxiety that brings on the stomach problems is about as much as anyone can tell me.
Anticipation can do it to me too, which goes along with bailing on plans. I have to decide on the fly if I feel calm enough to go places or do anything that is outside of the house or work. I have wanted to see about 15+ bands in the past year but I missed them all because I was anticipating the show and it built up in my head so much that my anxiety swells until I just have to go home to feel "safe". I have always been a home body but since my panic disorder has manifested itself, I only want to be home, preferably on the couch watching a movie. The levels of anxiety keep me from doing much else when I am not at work. Hell another example is tonight, there was an after work party and I could not bring myself to go because it stirred up my anxiety. Even if people know about my... illness i guess, I don't really know what to call it, anyway even if they know they never seem to understand. It is fine the first few times but after awhile they just assume I'm using my "illness' avoid doing things I don't want to do. Thats the worst part, when someone thinks I'm using this to my advantage. There is no advantage to feeling like at any moment you could be crippled, shut down by your own body/mind for what might be no reason at all. Oh yeah, even though I have figured out some of my triggers I still get severe panic attacks out of absolutely NOWHERE. It makes people think I'm just lazy that I don't do much of anything when it all probability it is the fear of an attack in a place I cannot escape or around people who don't understand what it is like. It seems like it's easy to seem like I'm faking to do only what I want. That is one of the biggest curses.
It isn't like I never leave the house, I do quite often but in short bursts or places where I can feel in control of my situation. At my job they have enough bathrooms, the movie theaters are perfect because of the amount of restrooms. The mall... not so much. I know my family would love it if I were up to do anything at any time but the cold hard fact is I just can't most of the time. I just look selfish which trying to keep my level of personal comfort is a bit selfish but I know that me agreeing to go places when I'm just going to have even a mini meltdown is far worse. I cannot stand being told I'm being lazy or selfish when I'm only trying to keep myself in a manageable level.

Alright, so background on what I go through i hope explains why I would stick to a medication ritual that causes me to have such a shitty memory. I hate that simple things I blank out on even if they just happened yesterday. I mean I remember important stuff, how to function on a daily basis, even older memories but for instance there is a girl I dated back in 2008 for like two months and I remember going places, conversations, even the particularly mess break up BUT i do not know her name. I know where I met her, nearly all of it but her name escapes me. I recall the names of one night stands, people I worked with, friends of friends but not this girl's name. There are a great deal of things such as remembering this girl's name I cannot do. Kind of a fucked up thing to not remember or even rack my brain bothering to remember. It's just a symptom of an annoying problem even though it's a problem I still would gladly endure rather than not being able to leave the house for two weeks like what happened when this bout set itself upon me.

I've read studies that link anxiety and panic disorder with dementia in older people. Sometimes even early onset. I cannot help but wonder if this will be my fate. I with all my heart hope not. That's pretty scary, not to the point of being panic inducing but it's a worry none the less. I'd be more worried of having an aneurysm while on the toilet. Pulling an "Elvis" minus the drugs.

Now that I've opined about what I deal with on a daily basis, it's not for sympathy but for me to clean out my mind, kind of like spring cleaning. And I just realized that I probably have written about my panic attacks before, hmmmm...