…go together like a horse and carriage, or more appropriately, a gin and tonic. Panic attacks are linked inextricably to binge drinking, alcoholism and even the early stages of alcohol withdrawal. A panic attack is defined as: a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety.
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation.
- Heart palpitations or a racing heart.
- Chest pain or discomfort.
- Trembling or shaking.
- Choking feeling.
- Feeling unreal or detached from your surroundings.
Have you ever had a panic attack?
A few years ago I was living in Ponte Vedra, buzzing back and forth to The Bahamas (an appropriate term as I was buzzed most of the time) and dating a peach of a guy who chased his morphine with a case of beer and three packs of cigarettes a day. I was feeling poorly most of the time: dizzy and faint with waves of nausea. I’m sure the runaway wine consumption, late nights, lack of food (morphine addicts don’t ever eat) and second hand smoke were at fault.
One day I woke up feeling worse than usual. I sat on the porch on a beautiful spring day, the Intracoastal Waterway bubbling by, an egret pecking in the mud for clams, when my chin went numb. I felt short of breath, my heart was pounding like a bass drum and the fingers of my left arm were tingling like they do when an appendage falls asleep. I was sure I was having a heart attack.
I got my boyfriend to take me to the hospital and while he went to the café and flirted with nurses, I was put through a battery of tests. At some point I was taken to what looked like a small gym, hooked up to wires and put on a treadmill.
I said, “Excuse me? I’m having a heart attack? I don’t think I should be exercising?”
The technician said, “We monitor you closely.”
I said, “Great. So you’ll notice when I die…”
One of the nurses said, “Oh my God!”
I was like, “WHAT? What’s wrong?”
She pointed to the chair where I had put my personal effects. She said, “I so have bag envy right now. Look, she has the new Mark Jacobs’ purse!” That’s how seriously the staff took my “heart attack”.
They revved my heart and the doctor arrived. He looked at some diagnostics, smiled benevolently, pointed to a video of my pulsating, internal organ and said, “You have a healthy heart. You had a panic attack.”
The purse enthusiast asked some questions about my lifestyle (I lied), had me fill out a check list of what I consumed on a daily basis (I lied) and booked me a follow-up appointment with a heart specialist “just to be safe” (I didn’t go).
Since then, whenever I feel anxious, I tell myself I have a healthy heart, take several deep breaths and think of something else. I don’t recommend this for you. I have the ability to compartmentalize to the point of delusion.
About 6 million Americans experience panic disorder in any given year, and women are twice as likely as men to have panic disorder. Experts say education is the key to managing anxiety and there are a myriad of control techniques such as: therapy, medication, meditation and the limiting of alcohol, caffeine and cigarette use.