Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

What a Panic Attack Looks Like

Beyond Blue reader Larry Parker has written a brave, raw account of a recent panic attack. He has used his gift of language to describe for others exactly how it feels to be trapped by a brain’s disease. To get to his journal entry, click here. Following is an excerpt:

And then I lost it. Completely.
When I pointed out to my stepfather he didn’t have to call me an idiot and moron for that, he said, “Yes, I do! You’re so clumsy that’s all I can do to remind you.” I forget what I said in response, but it was angry and at the top of my lungs. To which he responded (rather dubiously, given what he had just said), “Hey, I don’t have to treat you as an adult if you don’t act like an adult.” (A guy who, it must be said, blows his own stack every day or two on a routine basis.)
And then the chain reaction was complete, and the fuel rods disintegrated. And I just started screaming, “YOU HATE ME! YOU HATE ME! YOU HATE ME! YOU HATE ME!” at my mom, my stepdad, and probably half the neighborhood by that point.
And then I started hyperventilating, having heart flutters/palpitations, and basically a full-blown panic attack.


Bless my mother, she realized that even as wrong as I had been, something was seriously wrong with me. “Are you having a heart attack?” she asked, seriously. (She was also worried the same thing had happened to my stepdad, a veteran of four MI’s.)
“No, I’m having a panic attack,” I replied, truthfully. “Oh, and a brain attack as well.”
Meanwhile, my stepdad; when I tried to apologize 15 minutes later (after I caught my breath at last), literally gave me the Fran Drescher “Talk to the hand” signal. Ugh.
So I gathered up all my courage and said, “If you’re not going to talk to me, I need to speak my piece. And this is not about you — I said I was wrong and I’m sorry — this is about me.”
And here’s what I said:
“When you see me have a temper tantrum like that — and I’m not saying it’s right, it’s OK, it’s fair, it’s good or even that I have an excuse — I want you to understand something. What you see is what my brain is like every single week, every single day, every single hour, every single minute, every single second. And that’s with the best medicine I’ve ever taken, an excellent therapist, eating better and exercising more.”
My mother, rising to the challenge, said, “This is why I keep telling you to see another therapist or get other medicine. It’s not working.”
“No,” I said resolutely, “IT’S BECAUSE I HAVE A DISEASE CALLED BIPOLAR DISORDER. And it’s been worse in the past — oh, yes it has.”

  • Babs

    Larry — Sorry to read this. My therapist’s definition of depression is anger turned inward.
    One thing I’ve learned with my husband is that you can’t make people understand what they won’t. Your mom and step-dad sound alot like that. It is so much easier to continue the prejudice than examine their notions. It is often too threatening for parents to even really listen because of their own fears and insecurities. Sounds like your step-dad is a real _ _ _hole. Your mom picked him and your dad; says quite a bit about her, too.
    At least you had a good excuse for an exit from the situation. I hope that you are feeling better. Perhaps you can put on your thinking cap and think of alternative living arrangements. The hostility you are living with sounds quite unbearable.

  • zana

    Wow, Larry. Thank you for putting yourself out there, “warts and all.”During one session when I was telling my therapist how guilty I felt about the anger I expressed at my then husband when discovering his relationship with “a friend”, she said, “Do you know anyone who would be ok with infidelity? While you may not like how your emotions felt since you’re working on regulating them, it is a normal reaction to be upset about such a thing. Give yourself a break this time.” Well, I don’t know how anyone would not blow their stack when being verbally attacked like you were. I, too use my tongue to lash out when I am frustrated, (getting a bit better here) or feel threatened (still goes 0 to 60 in nano seconds). I don’t know about you, but I try so hard to keep everything reigned in all the time, when I feel anything that feels like I used to feel pre-meds, therapy, life style changes I am too hard on myself because I think I have “blown-it” when I am just being human. Somedays we’re all allowed to do so. Larry, you were standing up for yourself. (Insert applause here..I feel like punching them out…ok in my mind, i’m not really endorsing physical expression of anger). Remember Therese’s article, “They Don’t Get It”? This is about them, not you. Sounds like this might be a good time for some self-soothing. Take care of yourself. You cheering section at BB is but one click away, Amigo.

  • Nancy

    Wow – Larry – what a power event. I was going to say story, but it’s not. It is your life. I thought I had a pretty good grip on the deep clinical depression that I’ve been treated for, for many years.
    However, when the added illnesses of me/cfs/fm entered in, the sense of control that I maintained was smashed. It’s not an excuse, but yes, at times my brain feels as though it is on fire, or filled with sickness, and it is truly a biochemical issue. It sucks. It feels as though it wants me dead at those times, and I would be all too glad to accept that, as to battle with what exists within the brain at those times are almost unbearable.
    So, friend, my prayer is that you have gotten some relief by this afternoon.
    Nancy L.

  • Nancy

    Therese – you are confusing the heck out of me. First I’m thinking that it’s January 10, 2008.
    Now, I just thought I was seeing things, and that I wasn’t clicking correctly on the posts that were duplicated.
    I guess Tech. Support at Beliefnet is working with a skeleton crew today? I don’t know how your stuff gets in to the system.
    Anway, Larry, one other thing is that your step-dad was very verbally abusive. So, you kicked the cat’s water and food bowl. Was that really comensurate to the lashing out he engaged in? I think not.
    Nancy L.

  • Nancy

    Ok – now my “comment” came up on both of the same posts. Weird.

  • Nancy

    You’re not losing it. The system keeps getting stuck when I post, so I accidentally posted Larry’s twice. But then yours was the only comment on the extra one, so I copied and pasted it into the first with the others. This is really confusing. Never mind! –Therese

  • Patricia B.

    I guess sometimes it is okay to live alone, then me,myself and I can have it out!(don’t have to deal with those who’just don’t get it’,at least not as often). So you kicked the cat’s water and food bowl…………at least you didn’t kick the cat!! Hope you are feeling better.
    Everyone remember to eat your black-eyed peas on New Years Day for (?) good luck(?)!

  • Jeff

    I’ll thank Larry again (and Therese) for putting himself out here. My panic attacks are similar. Hyperventilating and feeling an intense amount of energy in my limbs, (good thing you didn’t kick your stepfather ;-). My head spins and my ADD goes into high gear; I can’t focus on anything and want to curl up in a ball and wait for my life to be over. The best thing I’ve gotten out of 2007 is the ability to retain the knowledge that “this too shall pass”.
    Last Spring I went through another heart wrenching break up and learned to give in to crying. It stops. Not when I’d like it to, but it does.
    Usually we can’t do much for people who can’t understand that we are beginning to understand our own diseases. And as one who has passed on but lived steeped in his own diseases, William Burroughs once said, “If you encounter a person in whose presence you feel like you’ve lost a quart of blood, avoid that person at all costs.” Even if it’s just going for a walk. Love, Jeff

  • Wisdum

    Hi Larry,
    it keeps striking me that your Life and mine seem to parallel. I don’t know if you admit to being a strong willed child though. My stepfather, used to say crap like “You are like a nail, you have to be beat over the head, before you’re any good!” My favorite one (rhat changed my relationship with him) was “You are a stupid kid and I am an adolt. You will never win an argument with me !” . . . and my response was “Hmmm … I guess then, there would be absolutely no reason for you and me, to ever discuss anything, ever again !” … and we never did, until he died ! (it’s real easy to divorce yourself from somebody, who is not you real father !)
    LUV 2 U / LUV 2 ALL

  • Larry Parker

    You remind me that for our very different experiences and perspectives, sometimes things just cut right to the heart of the matter.
    Yes, you described my stepfather perfectly. (And I didn’t think it was possible for someone to be a bigger jerk than my dad … in comparison, my dad is just a dolt.)
    Yes, it says a lot about my mother.
    And, as I said before to some people off-line — and I’ll say to the BB community now — remember that I have bipolar disorder; my mother’s mother had bipolar disorder; my mother’s grandmother had schizophrenia; and my mother herself had a nervous breakdown when I was 10 (and took anti-depressants and was in therapy for years before angrily cutting off both).
    I’m not a doctor, so I’m not allowed to connect the dots. But the dots are clearly there.

  • Larry Parker

    Patricia B.:
    I loved living alone. That’s part of the reason, parental dynamics aside, it’s so frustrating now.
    You captured the “zero to 60″ analogy perfectly. Since I’m an auto racing fan, one name I use for a meltdown like yesterday’s is “the Ferrari within.” I love my Ferraris, but I never know when mine is going to accelerate out of control and crash itself (with me inside).
    Well, your observation was exactly the reason I noted my biological father’s response to my strong-willedness as a young child. He beat the cr*p — and ultimately the strong-willedness, at least in outward expression — out of me. (Always doing it with then-socially accepted spankings, of course, so he couldn’t be accused of child abuse.)
    But you’re right — the will is always there, underneath. Unfortunately, mine has learned to express itself at times in highly dysfunctional ways :-(

  • Larry Parker

    PS to all —
    Just hit “refresh” a couple of times if your post doesn’t show up at first. After two or three “refreshes,” it will.

  • Anonymous

    Re- Larry Parker | December 30, 2007 10:16 PM
    **Oh he tryed to beat the crap out of me also, and as far as the rest of my family was concerned, it definitely not socially acceptable. Remember those penny belts they used to have (you might be a bit young for that) I got beatings with that … and had Good Ol’ Abe’s face on my ass as red welts …The only thing that kept my brother and myself strong was our mother, whose Love we never for an instant doubted ! That whole relationship with that guy was a total sacrifice for her two children, right after my biological father died. The only thing I have to admit, is that guy made me, one hell of a strong person, who will die before I let anybody get the best of me (although I have a long history of being taken advantage because of my “LUV 2 ALL” beliefs). And I had to rise above all of that crap in order to survive.
    LUV 2 U / LUV 2 ALL

  • Margaret Balyeat

    Hi, guys, and Happy New Year!!!
    Mt own father’s “instrument of choice was a leather belt split into two at one end. He called it the “dogstrap’ because its original purpose was to imitate the sound of a gunshot while he was training his hinting dogs not to be gunshy. It hung on a pegboard near the back door, and we would be sent to “fetch it” (sometimes for use on ourselves. other times a sibling. I’m ghonestly not sure which was worse, the actual beating or the angst-filled walk to collect and deliver it! to this day I shudder when I har the crack of a whip on television. hadmany welts, but grew up in a time period like wisdum did; it was referred to as “being strict” and no one DARED to say the words “child abuse” today it would definitely meetthe criteria, back then i’m not sure there even WAS one! Parents we EXPECTED to “discipline” their children; it was the mark(No pun intended) of a good parent!

  • Babs

    I was lucky that my dad didn’t believe in beating kids including spanking (I think). Beatings don’t have to be physical, though, and however administered kill part of a child. You may “become stronger” in some sense, but you have lost some of what it means to be you.
    On this New Year’s Eve, I regret that I did not understand my emotional state and damage earlier. My children, whom I love, paid a price and though we have talked about it and I have said many “mea culpa(s), you can’t go back and start over. I was consumed with a rage I didn’t understand and had to use all my strength to contain. I often failed. While my children are close and I know they love me, how wonderful it would have been had I gone for help earlier. How wonderful if I had never grown up in the atmosphere I did.
    Larry, I think I’ve told you that my grandfather was an alky, my mom suffered from depression (untreated), my sister had OCD and deep depression, I’ve got my stuff, and one of my kids is diagnosed bi-polar (though I question whether she isn’t uni-polar depression). As you know, my problems stem from my dad’s treatment of me, so there must have been some bad things going on in his family. We can’t change our history; just muddle through the best we can, asking for help when we need it.

  • Larry Parker

    Oh, my dad’s family was American Gothic itself, Babs. The grandparents I adored as a child I now think of with a combination of pity and genuine terror.
    My dad was not just physically or emotionally abused, as he did to me, but neglected and sexually abused as well. In retrospect, it’s amazing he was “only” an alky, and a high-functioning one at that. Intellectually — if not yet and perhaps never, emotionally, in my “inner child” — I do accept and believe he did the best he could.
    I don’t think my mom’s family was more dysfunctional than the average family, in contrast. (Except that she and her siblings have atrocious taste in spouses — passed on to my and my sister and IMHO my cousins, alas.) I think they just have really bad genes.
    You combine them, and what do you get? Me and my sister (who suffers a constantly life-threatening, incredibly severe case of Type I diabetes).
    My sister, as BBers know, thinks she has it way worse than me and that I’m just a lazy loafer sitting on my @$$. I think we’re pretty even-stevens with our health horrors myself.
    I just do the best I can, one day at a time. And in Therese’s spirit, while I constantly try for self-improvement, I’ll try to think of January 1 no different than today.
    (Though I wish everyone a wonderful 2008.)

  • Larry Parker

    … and thanks to everyone who left comments directly on my blog.
    For those of you who don’t “do” the Bnet social networking thing, here’s what I wrote in reply:
    “Everyone — thanks for your good wishes.
    “I’m really fine. Like most panic attacks, it was very situational and, though I would say my mood is still hypomanic/agitated, generally it’s within the acceptable range, at least on the bipolar spectrum.
    “As everyone has noted, it’s a very difficult situation here. The key part to me isn’t even the panic attack — frightening though it was — but what happened afterward.
    “My parents really are trying to help me out (let’s face it, I have nowhere else to go), but they have this resentment in the back of their minds, the same one my sister expresses openly — that I’m just a lazy bum and my financial problems are my own fault.
    “Sure, absolutely, when you consider I have to take responsibility for being downsized, using up savings, etc. But they do not want to comprehend — correction, seem to have no capacity for comprehending — the seriousness of this disease. And in my mother’s case in particular, given her family history, the lack of understanding is quite willful.
    “So I guess I have some resentments too I have to work on — or at least boundaries I have to (re)set — in the New Year. Larry”

  • Gary Moulton

    Panic attacks are horrific and my heartfelt sympathy goes out to anyone that has to deal with them. There is help and hope. ____The only way to fully eliminate panic and anxiety attacks from your life is to rid yourself of the thoughts of having another one. Meditation exercises, techniques, diet, prescribed medications and alternative medicines are not permenant cures. This article points you towards a solution that can rid you of this horrific disorder forever.

  • Panic Attacks Guy

    It’s moving to have read such an article and the comments that followed. I can only imagine the dreadful fear of having to live with these attacks on a daily basis. Despite monumental advances in Medical Science, there is still a lot of gray area around panic attacks cause. Medication does not seem to always work, sometimes leaving the person dependent upon the prescribed drug. More and more suffering with this disorder seem to be turning to natural treatment.

  • Anxiety Attack Disorder

    How Can I Tell If Im Having an Anxiety Attack?
    Anxiety disorder is a blanket term covering several different forms of abnormal and pathological fears and anxieties which only came under the aegis of psychiatry at the very end of the 19th century. Current psychiatric diagnostic criteria recognize a wide variety of anxiety disorders. Recent surveys have found that as many as 18% of Americans may be affected by one or more of them…

  • Clay

    Ive suffered from panic attacks in the past. Persistent anxiety topped off by paralyzing fear of whats to come. Over the past few years, I have engaged in a number of non medicinal cures for Panic attacks. Meditation, relaxation techniques, visualization. All of it has helped but it is a continuous struggle and something I hope to conquer.

  • Bruce decosta

    In the this fast moving world panic attacks are very common in people specially in adultslogo designand We should help them to overcome their difficulties

  • Will

    Panic attacks are not generally mental disease. Curing panic attacks is very possible. In fact, recent science indicates that a sensitive brain may only be experiencing increased pH levels due to increases in CO2. Don’t let a horrifying experience like having a panic attack while driving cripple you and ruin your life. Relief is not far away.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Selina

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