You know, just last month I wrote about having a panic attack and landing in the hospital. Exactly two weeks after I posted that entry, I landed in the hospital again with an even more severe panic attack that I thought was going to be the end of me. I was terrified. Nothing felt right this time, because this panic attack came out of the blue. I’d been working with the Brotherhood at Temple Emanuel on preparing chickens and I’d been working writing a series of meditations on the Kaddish (still working on those) – so I was in a pretty relaxed place. Or so I should have been. While at Temple, I noticed all the early signs of a panic attack – the twitchiness, the sweating, the being able to notice every single damn beat of my heart. There wasn’t a cause. It just happened. I went home to see if the symptoms would go away. I paced around a bit. Nothing worked. I only had the constant feeling of worry that something bad was happening to me, that I was having a heart attack or worse, that I was losing my mind.
I made an immediate follow-up with my primary care physician and I forced myself to change. The first panic attack should have been an alarm – I ignored the alarm. I quit smoking, though it wasn’t much to begin with, and I quit drinking anything with caffeine in it. That has been hard. Periodically, the cravings get to be really significant and I have to remain absolutely committed to becoming better. I haven’t broken on the caffeine since the second panic attack, and it’s been 14 days and 21 hours since the last cigarette I smoked.
I quit smoking at the end of last year kind of on a whim. Somehow it was easy. I’d been smoking since stuff between Holly and I started getting really bad, so while I didn’t regularly smoke a lot, it did happen over an extended period of time. It shouldn’t have been as easy as it was – but I’d done it. I remained smoke-free until February 18, 2015, the day after I was fired from Freedom First. I’d been strong. I had remained strong and committed to it through the first day – I was too concerned about getting my house in order and figuring out how I’d survive. I was also pretty shell-shocked by being fired for s0mething so inane. But I digress – by the 18th I was feeling stress that I hadn’t felt since the unraveling of the marriage. I made the economically irrational decision of buying a pack of cigarettes. I didn’t know how to deal with the sudden chaos that my life had erupted into. But I know that buzz from a drag of a cigarette made me feel something that felt moderately normal. That’s a terrible excuse. Smoking is an inexcusable act of betrayal against your body. I knew that. I kept telling myself that. And I would go on 2-3 day periods where I was strong and didn’t smoke. But by the time the 4th or 5th day rolled around, it was an itch that needed scratching.
That happened over and over again, even after I regained employment at the end of March.
And somehow, despite that chaos, I didn’t have any panic attacks. I was focused on being productive. I was focused on getting my life back on track, even when it felt like it was careening off track.
Meanwhile, coffee. Coffee and I have a long history going back to college. The first panic attack I had occurred while I was in college after I had 96 ounces of coffee to keep my energy level up while I was struggling to write papers and cope with the realization that I wouldn’t be graduating college on time. Coffee was… just something I did, I guess. I just drank coffee and drank coffee and drank coffee. During the week before the panic attack on September 18, I think I’d averaged 4 or 5 cups of coffee per day at work. And the morning of the second panic attack, I was with… someone special to me… at… Target. And we sat down and talked about the life, the universe, and everything at the Starbucks in Target. I had a 20oz Pike Place blend. She had hot chocolate.
And that was the last time I had coffee.
Later that same day, after cutting up chickens, I had the second panic attack. It was completely terrifying. I demanded that the doctors at least put a stethoscope up to my chest to listen to my heart. Of course, nothing was wrong. My blood pressure was a little elevated, my blood was excellently oxygenated, and my heart sounded fine. The same person I referred to earlier picked me up from the hospital because this time, unlike last time, the doctor advised me that I shouldn’t be driving while under the influence of diazepam. I can’t begin to say how thankful I was and remain for her help that night. In any case, my car was in the hospital parking garage overnight and the next morning was a Monday. I got up at five and rode my bike over to the hospital to pick up my car.
Apparently no one thinks too much of it when someone with a bicycle walks into an elevator at the parking garage at Carilion.
I called my doctor and immediately made an appointment to set out a longer term treatment. I took the day off of work because, unlike the last panic attack where I immediately went to Lynchburg to volunteer at an event for work the following morning, I was more concerned about actually dealing with my problem than running from it. So I went to the doctor. Got put on a relatively light dosage of meds. Made some decisions about life choices.
I had to quit coffee and cigarettes; whatever sense of empowerment I got from them was illusory. The fact was that I had enslaved my body to the stimulants of nicotine and caffeine. And it was causing problems. So I quit them. Cold turkey. At the same time.
And it’s been rough. I’ve been telling friends that I gave up two drugs so I could take up a new one: running. I’ve been working on getting myself back into shape and better prepare myself for a distance run. This spring, I could barely eke out doing a mile in fifteen minutes. I was easily winded and it just wasn’t in me. I have now run or gone for very long walks for every day for the last two weeks, save for last Thursday when Scooter was sick. Last Saturday, the aforementioned person and I participated in a Zombie Run 5k in Salem. I was not ready for that yet. She commented, rightly, that I couldn’t just go screaming out of the gate. I had to learn pacing. I had to learn discipline.
Self-discipline and Ryan haven’t really ever been two things that have gotten along. It’s not that I constantly engage in self-indulgence, but, like with the smoking and coffee, it was easier to say yes than no on some things.
After the first 3/4 mile, I was shot. Every now and again I would have a burst of energy to run around a zombie or to climb / jump over / crawl through or under objects. But there wasn’t any consistency.
I made it a mission to be able to at least not look like an idiot in the 2 5k runs that are occurring on Halloween. My initial effort at pacing myself proved disastrous – the first mile or so I ran out of three on Tuesday was the fastest I’d done since high school. Somehow, I’d managed to keep a 7:20 pace for a mile. But by the time I hit the mile, it felt like my lungs were being stabbed.
So discipline. The next day I ran to the Wasena City Tap Room, it’s .99 miles away from my place. 9:17. Not super fast, but much more respectable than a 15 minute mile and I didn’t feel like dying. I broke a bit of a sweat. I had a beer and dinner. Ran back home. On a full stomach and a beer. 9:31.
I’m making progress. Today was two miles. Pacing was a little slower than I wanted, 10:08/mi, but I’m gradually learning to not come out blazing. And every day this week, I’m adding distance. More discipline. More work. More exercise. More adrenaline.
I hope this new drug treats me better than the other two. Because despite the change of the seasons from summer to fall, it feels like my life has finally come out of an unbearably long winter and spring’s promise for growth fuels my desire to continue improving and becoming better.