Mother’s Little Helpers: A Story of Panic Attacks, Loneliness and Drugs

Okay. I love my friend Karen. For so many reasons. And after reading this post, I love her even more. For always telling like it is and for being so willing to share her struggle and her soul in this space. I hope you take the time to read her post.

Written by Karen, a mom without a blog
What’s a mom to do when she can’t help herself?

It was one of the worst pains I think I’ve ever felt, save for childbirth. It was this searing, clenching, doubled-over kind of pain. It squeezed my heart and absolutely took my breath away. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time I felt this, so I knew exactly what to do…

I took a quick second to collect myself, calm my breathing, and lay down on the couch. I forced myself to think peaceful thoughts. But not for too long, just enough for the pain to subside, then I was up and continuing with my day.

No calls to 911, no trips to the ER, not even any panicked text messages to my husband. Because it would pass, just like the hundreds of other times it had happened. I knew I was back to square one with this beast I couldn’t shake…anxiety.

This was March 2008.

I finally came to terms with the inevitable – I needed help. I couldn’t cope with every day life with this kind of pain constantly coming out of nowhere. It was becoming a daily occurrence. I finally went to see my primary doctor for the first time since I moved to Utah in 2001. I told him my symptoms and described my history. His question? Why did I wait so long for help?

Good question.

I was treated for these same symptoms about a year after moving to Utah. Back then, my husband and I thought doctors were going to find something terribly wrong with my heart and that my death could be imminent. So really, we felt a lot of relief when it was diagnosed that my chest pain was from panic attacks! It took a while for me to start to obsess on why I could possibly be suffering from a mental illness for the first time in my life – a mom now, a 35-yr-old responsible for children on a daily basis, why was this happening to me? I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t control it – which terrified me.

A myriad of issues contributed, one of the biggest being major changes in my life – I left my career in television production in Los Angeles to move to Utah. I took a small research job that I could do from home in my newly minted basement office. (I don’t really recommend basement home offices… unless you are ultra organized and are able to provide yourself with nice background music, plenty of plants and peace-inducing zen objects strewn about).

I was NOT organized (we still had many unpacked boxes piled here and there) and I didn’t have the foresight to look after my mental health while stuck in the basement by myself in the winter in Utah. Can you say LONELY?

Anyway, this very nice physician’s assistant prescribed the drug Effexor and revealed to me that there were large percentages of women in Utah being treated for anxiety and depression – more than almost any other state per capita! Now, I never did do the research to confirm this statement, but it made me feel a little scared rather than comforted. Where was I living that all these women were needing drugs to get by? This didn’t help my situation. But miraculously enough the drugs did!

It was hard for me to admit that I was taking a mood-enhancing drug, let alone that it made a difference. I didn’t tell very many folks about it. Of course, I didn’t have any friends or family in Utah, so who was I going to tell anyway?

After about 4-5 months on Effexor, I become pregnant (not planned, of course). I decided to go off of the drug ASAP and weaned way too fast. I couldn’t believe the mind trip I went on while weaning off this drug. It truly feels like you could be undergoing some kind of shock treatment. I called it “brain zaps” – heinous, really. It made me decide NEVER to go on anything like this again.

Fast forward to Winter 2007.

I was in the 3rd winter of being a mom of a child with special respiratory needs – basically house-bound for several months to keep her exposure to germs down. It had been two years since I worked. My life consisted of my husband, my children, my pets and the confines of my 2300 sq. ft. home and the inside of my mom taxi, I mean mini-van. For some reason, the joy in having my sweet miracle daughter with us could not overcome this heavy feeling in my chest. I tried more “dates” with girlfriends (I had a few friends by then, thank God), more exercise, more “me” time – but I couldn’t seem to expel the pain.

I felt like such a failure as I scheduled my doctor’s appointment last spring. That’s what took me so long – I just wanted to try to help myself first. I sucked at it. It pissed me off that I couldn’t fix this – I always was someone who prided myself in my ability to help my friends in need and come up with solutions on the spot. I found no solutions for myself.

In April 2008, I started on Celexa. Within a month, I started feeling better. By 2-3 months later, I hardly had any attacks. And by the end of summer 2008, I was chest pain free! My doc made me commit to the drug for a year, especially over the winter, as this was my trouble spot the year before. I decided to let go and trust his treatment plan. It was worth it to help me shift focus from pain back to what really matters – a quality life with my family.

So here I am. I am looking at my LAST bottle of Celexa. Hopefully. I could get a new prescription, but I feel like I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to take this on myself. I’ve been SLOWLY weaning myself off for about a month. I’ve suffered a few minor “brain zaps” but nothing to temper my resolve to be drug free.

How is it going?

Well, I feel surprisingly good overall. I have to admit, I’ve experienced a couple chest-tightening moments in the past few weeks and that scares me a bit. But I still want to stick with the wean.

Please don’t think I’m discrediting the need for drugs like these in my life or in other people’s lives by saying I can simply quit taking them. I know it is not that simple. Drugs like Celexa work for countless people in our stressed-filled universe, and I would never judge someone’s need for them.

They absolutely worked for me when I couldn’t help myself. My family and I benefited LARGELY from the addition of Celexa to my life. It gave me the leg-up I needed to put me back where I am supposed to be… in the moment with my kids with a grateful and peaceful heart.

But that said, I’d like to try to get back to being me without the assistance of a drug. I truly don’t know if I will succeed. I just want to give it a try. Emphasis on the “TRY.”

I’ll have to keep you posted.

Especially as another long winter is around the corner…

5 Responses to “Mother’s Little Helpers: A Story of Panic Attacks, Loneliness and Drugs”

  1. […] Mother’s Little Helpers: A Story of Panic […]

  2. I am glad to read an article about a fellow panic attack survivor who advocates the use of medication in treatment for her panic and anxiety symptoms. There are wonderful meds that really do help take the edge off and allow us to function in society. Most people don’t stay on this meds for prolonged periods, however, if they do, I hope they don’t become stigmatized about it. After all, if we had diabetes and needed an insulin shot several times a day, would we consider that a crutch? Mental health is an important as physical health and if meds work for you, then so be it.

  3. Amie says:

    Hi Karen, so how did you do coming off of the medication? I have been going through the exact same thing the past 6 months. That horrible feeling in your chest and I get the worst stomach aches. So bad I want to stay in bed all day but I cant because my anxiety is so bad it kills me to lay there, plus I have 2 kids to take care of. I was laid off from my job because I was unable to complete my job duties. I just wonder if it will ever go away. I tried Celexa and had a horrible reaction to it after my first pill so I thought I would do this on my own but its killing me!! I have an apt. with my doctor tomorrow to see if she thinks I need medicine to get over this. A little scarred about it but I have to do something. Thanks for sharing your story!!

    • karen says:

      Hi Amie – I’m SOOOOOO sorry that it has taken me so long to respond to this. I am now a HUGE advocate for medication, ESPECIALLY if you have kids you have relying on you to not only be there for them but need you to be your best self as much as you can. Did you have any luck in your dr. appt in August? What is the latest? Was your doc able to help? I actually have gone through a lot since I wrote this post and should write a follow up for Lee at some point. But overall I am doing well, but I am back on the meds for now. It helps me cope, it keeps the anxiety (mostly) in check and keeps me able to be engaged in life without constantly fighting chest pain, etc.
      Keep up the good work raising your kids but make sure you are taking care of yourself. And meds are nothing to be ashamed of and something you should definitely try more than one kind if the first doesn’t help, it is worth it. I still look at it as temporary, but we’ll see. 🙂 Take care!!
      My Best,

  4. Barb says:

    You have no idea what a relief this was to read. I’ve struggled for over the last two years with anxiety and panic attacks… Not knowing or understanding that was what was happening until recently. I have found a great doctor and have recently started seeing a therapist with hopes that I can start to fix me. I’m on Prozac which is thankfully helping. I’m not scared to lay down and close my eyes as much with the fear that I was dying.

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