PLACES I HAD PANIC ATTACKS IN 2016
Hey there, my name is Cassie. I live here, in Missoula, and currently work as a bartender, as well as side hustling my spare time, making artwork and sewing. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from The University of Montana. I worked as a Psychiatric Technician at St. Pat’s from 2018-2019. I stopped working there because I learned that, as an empathetic person, it’s not always the best idea to have a job where you could potentially take a lot of other people’s issues home with you, or at least, that was the case for me. Although I am not currently working in the field of psychology or social work, it is something that I have a lot of respect for and value everyone who takes on roles in the field. This art show is my way of still trying to spread awareness and education about mental health.
In 2016, I experienced panic attacks regularly after returning home from studying abroad. My doctor concluded that mine were triggered by a deficiency in vitamin B12 and D (not enough animal products or sunlight). I was 21 years old at the time. Hoping to graduate at the end of the upcoming school year. This is my personal experience with anxiety and panic attacks. First, I have defined Anxiety and Panic Disorder from the APA (American Psychological Association) website, as a precursor to telling you about my experience.https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/panic-disorder
“Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.
People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.”
“Panic Disorder is a serious condition that around one out of every 75 people might experience. It usually appears during the teens or early adulthood, and while the exact causes are unclear, there does seem to be a connection with major life transitions that are potentially stressful: graduating from college, getting married, having a first child, and so on. There is also some evidence for a genetic predisposition; if a family member has suffered from panic disorder, you have an increased risk of suffering from it yourself, especially during a time in your life that is particularly stressful.
A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than the feeling of being "stressed out" that most people experience. Symptoms of a panic attack include:
difficulty breathing, feeling as though you "can't get enough air"
terror that is almost paralyzing
dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
trembling, sweating, shaking
choking, chest pains
hot flashes, or sudden chills
tingling in fingers or toes ("pins and needles")
fear that you're going to go crazy or are about to die
You probably recognize this as the classic "flight or fight" response that human beings experience when we are in a situation of danger. But during a panic attack, these symptoms seem to rise from out of nowhere. They occur in seemingly harmless situations--they can even happen while you are asleep.
In addition to the above symptoms, a panic attack is marked by the following conditions:
it occurs suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop it.
the level of fear is way out of proportion to the actual situation; often, in fact, it's completely unrelated.
it passes in a few minutes; the body cannot sustain the "fight or flight" response for longer than that. However, repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.”
I studied abroad in Denmark for a year in college. I didn’t have access to a car during that time, and when I came back to the states, I no longer felt competent behind the wheel. I was having terrible headaches, which I had never experienced, and was dizzy whenever I would begin to drive. I had to pull over while driving multiple times because I thought I was going to pass out and swerve off the road. I would pull over, have my panic attack, and get myself back on the road, pretending like it didn’t happen.
My Parent’s House
I was living with my parents that summer, after returning from my studies. When it was time to move back to Missoula, my parents and I loaded up their truck and my car. I was having panic attacks the night before about potentially getting a panic attack while driving to Missoula and getting in an accident. The next morning, I started off pretending like I was fine, but as we got closer to leaving home, I started having a breakdown. I was crying and finally told them I wasn’t feeling like myself and I was pretty sure something was wrong with me. They were scared for me and asked if I still wanted to go. I did still want to go, and finish my last year of school. They drove me to Missoula and straight to Cost Care, where I could see a doctor right away. The doctor took my vitals and said they would get back to me with the results.
I would sometimes lay down at night, sure I was going to have a heart attack or that my heart would just stop. I was having terrible heart palpitations, which is when your heart is beating irregularly. All of a sudden, it would be beating a million miles an hour, and the next, I wasn’t sure if it was even beating at all. I told a friend that I was living with everything, and she told me to wake her up if I was ever really scared, and she would take me to the hospital.
The doctor that took my levels got back to me, with the news that I had vitamin B12 and D3 deficiencies. He said that these deficiencies could actually make a lot of sense with the symptoms that I was experiencing. My stress was temporarily turned into excitement for the thought that these intrusive, debilitating feelings could end by taking vitamins.
The problem was, vitamin deficiencies take a while to amass into a problem, and, similarly, they take a while to regulate. This concept was difficult for me to grasp. I wanted immediate relief, and probably would have benefited from an anti-anxiety medication.
I had to leave the classroom multiple times in 2016 because I felt dizzy and like I was going to pass out. One time, it felt especially terrible, and I left class and got sick in the bathroom. Luckily, I lived right across the street from campus, and was able to run home quickly. I called my brother and was panicking and crying and he was really scared because he could tell how afraid I was. He drove me to the emergency room. I told the doctors everything that had been going on. They gave me a heart monitor that they taped on me for numerous weeks that I was to mail back to them to make sure nothing was wrong with my heart. It was terrifying. They also called me back in to have an MRI to make sure that I didn’t have a brain tumor.
My go-to place to run after the classroom panic attacks was the bathroom. There, I would just sit for however long it would take to pass, and then head out as if nothing happened. The ironic part of this story, and also the part I’m most thankful for, is that I was getting my degree in psychology. I was taking a class called ‘Abnormal Psychology’ which touches on Anxiety and Panic disorders. I was studying about the exact things that I was experiencing daily, as well as some possible solutions. One of my professors talked about her view on anti-anxiety medication being something she rarely would ever prescribe. She noted that, in her opinion, it took away from actually dealing with the cognitive distortion taking place. Her opinion dissuaded me from taking medication, and I went to a school therapist instead of a psychiatrist. In retrospect, I think I could have benefited from medication at the time, with a combination of therapy. I also tried to exercise regularly and practice yoga and meditation to calm me down.
After getting vitamin B injections and taking vitamin D pills for several months, I did start to feel a bit more like myself. The version of myself that doesn’t regularly get panic attacks. The vitamin correlation made it really easy for me to tell people that something was going on with me. People seem to be much less afraid of talking about vitamins, than mental health.
How much panic attacks and anxiety had to do with vitamin deficiency, I have no idea. At the time, I thought it was the only cause. But looking back, I think it was a combination of: the vitamin deficiency, re-integrating into my college town, where several friends had moved, and a lot had actually changed, the self-pressure of graduating in 4 years (it took me an extra semester), finding a new job, deciding whether or not I wanted to be in a relationship,just being 21 in general, and being scared that I had something severely wrong with me and that I would die.
I think the scariest part of Panic Disorder is that you really have no idea if you are physically sick, or if it is in your head. I am thankful that I am no longer experiencing regular panic attacks, and am able to work on my breathing techniques when I get anxious. I am thankful that I was able to see a Therapist, a General Practitioner, and talk openly with my family and friends about my mental health. I’m also thankful to have had the time and finances to go to yoga classes, practice meditation, purchase books about anxiety, and buy tinctures from my friends.
I hope that if you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, that you tell someone about it. You are not alone! If you’re not ready to talk to someone, here are some things that I found to be helpful tools to combat the anxious feelings:
Drink some herbal tea
Pass on the coffee, your heart rate is already accelerated
Practice meditation, I really enjoy the ‘Headspace’ app
Write out what’s going on in your head, instead of constantly looping through it
Go on a walk with a buddy
Take a bath
Light a candle
Get a massage
Get a some solid sleep
Get some lavender essential oil and a diffuser.