Dysfunctional Fight or Flight

For some reason, last Tuesday when I woke up for work I got hit with a panic attack. I haven’t had one in awhile, so it completely caught me off guard. I woke up with a migraine, which happens occasionally. I’ve had migraines since about 17. They are extremely unpleasant, but they don’t typically trigger panic. But, what does trigger panic is time pressure. I feel an intense time pressure knowing I have until 5 at the latest to call out of work, if I need to (it’s like a fear of being trapped.)

I woke up with a severe migraine, took meds, then had the thought “what if it doesn’t ease and I need to call out”. I look at the clock and realize I have only 10 min to decide… this is what triggers the panic. Almost instantaneous full body sheet of sweat. Heart rate speeds up. Having called out of work for panic attacks before, the thought of needing to call out (or not calling out and being “trapped” into going to work while panicking) is now associated with panic attacks. Great…

In those 10 min, initially I tried to act normal. Got out of bed, started gathering my stuff to get ready for work… but I kept getting wave after wave of panic. I was sweating profusely, and freezing. And exhaustion. Complete and utter exhaustion. I laid back down, set a timer on my phone for 5 min and tried to deep breath, tried to rest. It just intensified. I decided I can’t go to work like this. I called out. Instant relief. The symptoms didn’t 100% pass, but they lightened enough that I felt like I could breath. Which reminded me that panic is situational and it is mental/emotional. It isn’t a physical ailment. It will pass. So about 10 min later I called back and said that my migraine meds had kicked in and I would be able to come in (the migraine meds were helping, that part was true). Within a minute of hanging up, the panic symptoms came back. Fuck. So I forced myself to get dressed, pack my lunch, gather my stuff and go. By the time I arrived at work most of it had passed. By an hour in, it was essentially gone. For the next two days I kept getting brief flashes of anxiety; fear the panic would come back. It didn’t come back full force though.

The symptoms of panic attacks are the sympathetic nervous system kicking into high gear, providing us with the famous fight or flight response. I don’t know about anyone else, but in the middle of a panic attack, while I’m coated in dripping sweat, freezing, shivering, pale, dizzy…. I sure as hell don’t feel like I could fight anything and god help me if I need to run. I know the biological function of those physiological changes, but damn. I wonder what would happen if I’m ever in a true fight or flight situation. If that is how my body and brain respond, well, I’m screwed. While looking from the outside, I wonder, if I jumped up and ran as fast as I could down the street and used those sympathetic responses for their intended purpose, would it make it pass? Granted, I’d look like a maniac. And, I can’t imagine being able to make myself do that in the moment, but it just makes you wonder. Stupid dysfunctional brain.

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