There are similarities between panic attacks and orgasms.
Sometimes they can sneak up on you. They can often arrive with little notice, or sometimes can take absolutely ages to explode.
And that is where the similarities end. Or does it?
Mrs Woog freaks out
I remember my first panic attack like it was yesterday, but in fact it was in 1997. I was a young, wide eyed, ambitious, suit-wearing cubicle jockey trying to rise up in the ranks of a small publishing company. What often happens with small publishing houses is that big companies come along and buy you, like cheap stockings on sale at Priceline.
They then assess the staff, cut off the slack and incorporate you into the fold. If you are lucky.
So there I was, I survived and was now swimming around in the big pond.
The company, whose mascot was a small flightless bird, was a major player on the scene and I was desperate to be noticed – at the time I was in my twenties and required validation from others to feel fulfilled.
I was asked to address the entire company, including the Grand Pooh Bah who had flown in from New York. I put on my best black suit, chucked a few notes together and made my way though the crowd. As I stood there, surveying all those faces looking at me, I had a heart attack and dropped dead.
At least at the time I wish I had.
I had a pain in my chest, which spread throughout my body. I was speaking, just, but the words echoed around the room, bouncing around in slow motion.
The room started spinning. My body started shaking and I stood there, in front of a hundred people, thinking in my head…
“Oh this is just fucking terrific. I am about to faint.”
I have no idea what I said, but from the look of people’s faces, it did not make much sense at all. I made a really lame joke and took my leave.
I stumbled back to my chair to the sound of slow clapping with all eyes on me. My colleague asked if I was okay.
I was so not okay.
Mrs Woog chickens out
I moved forward from that point, vowing I would never speak in public again. I still did not know what happened, all I knew was that I should never put myself in a position where there might be a repeat of me totally embarrassing myself.
Of course avoiding a situation that might bring on a panic attack is not an effective way to lead a full life. Over the next few months, I experienced panic attack after panic attack in different situations, which in turn, brought on changes in my life.
Because I would simply avoid them.
Mrs Woog bows out
Life again, changed dramatically for me following the birth of my kids, and my panic manifested itself to a point where the whole thing called life just got too much, and I simply shut down.
Image from The Emily Blythe Jones Anxiety Realized Series via trendhunter.com.
Mrs Woog breaks out
I invested in myself. Time and money to sort out the ridiculousness that had become my life. For hours I sat in cognitive behavioural therapy doing what I thought at the time were just ridiculous physical exercises, but were in fact helpful ways for my therapist to show me that my physical reactions were not something to be frightened of.
That I was not going to die. That I was going to be okay. It made little sense at the time.
She forced me to do things that I didn’t want to do.
Like walk down the main street in the city, telling myself that the buildings were not going to fall on my head.
Listening to my heart beating faster and the fuzziness build. Telling myself that “Yes, that is your heart beating faster. It will stop soon.”
Mrs Woog kicks the door out
Over a period of time, I stopped fearing my panic attacks and started just being really pissed off with them. I would be somewhere and I would feel that old familiar buzz starting to come on, and if I was alone, I would yell at it.
“Oh come and get me, you bastard….”
I am not sure whether my method is theoretically sound, but from my CBT sessions, I knew I was not going to die. It was now just a pain in the ass, temporary inconvenience – much like having a cold sore.
Mrs Woog gets her freak on
A few months has passed when during a session, I spoke to my therapist and told her that my panic attack symptoms were much like having an orgasm.
She put her notes down and looked at me, a mild look of bemusement swept across her face. I went onto explain. The dizziness, light headedness, the palpitations, the hot flashes and the trembling and shaking… On paper, the symptoms are quite similar.
She agreed. And wrote something on her notes, smiling as she scribed.
That was my last session with her. She said I should call her if I needed a top up, but that was years ago. I got it.
Mrs Woog moves on
Well, I’m trying to anyway. I let that bastard change my life for a decade. I have had to learn to live with it, but I am no longer frightened of it. I continue to push my way out of the cocoon of protection that I had built around myself.
Some days are crap but most are good. And then there are the terrific days. The main thing is that I have learnt to control them.
And the occasional orgasm helps.
Do you live with panic disorder?
How do you deal with the bastard?