Friday, March 5, 2010

What we talk about when we talk about anxiety

Let's talk about anxiety and panic attacks. I'm so thrilled for Athena Diaries latest family additions and I'm not surprised that she said her panic attack was stopped by her one of her fabulous new puppies. I have a very sweet springer spaniel poodle cross sitting on my lap right now telling me how much she loves me. If only I could have her with me during swim starts I'd be the most relaxed triathlate every. But she's not and anyone who knows me know how much I have struggled with panic and anxiety in my fabulous triathlon life. But of course races don't happen in a vacuum and that wasn't the only place I had panic attacks.

You know I really hate how we don't talk about mental illness. So here goes. When I was 10, in 1974 my oldest brother shot himself dead. I can't say shot himself it has to be shot himself dead. He did it and that was the result. DEAD. SUICIDE. It was a time when cancer would still be whispered so I'm making up for that with all caps - no whispers. This is what we should talk about when we talk about mental illness, when we talk about anxiety, when we talk about depression but mostly when we talk about suicide. And it hasn't stopped. Walter Koenig and Marie Osmond have just lost children. We've all seen the news but we haven't seen the news about someone I know whose beautiful 22 year old daughter gassed herself a year and a half ago. No one ever saw the news of my brother's death, or the other brother up the street or the attempt by the very cute friend of my youngest brother. Or the co-worker of Alex. Or, or , or...

And we need to talk about how mental illness makes those who suffer not terribly pleasant to be around. And how it makes families not function and how that carries on for years or even generations after.

Wow, that moved off a tangent. But here is what I talk about when I talk about anxiety. Panic attacks in the middle of the night when I would claw at the door trying to figure out where the doorknob was so I COULD JUST GET OUR OF THE ROOM. I remember a panic attack at the side of the road on a ride with Alex and 2 friends. One friend made the mistake of coming up behind me and slapping me on the back to say hello. I'm sure that as he held my hands on the side of the road he wondered exactly where it all came from as I HAD TO JUST GET OFF MY BIKE AND OFF THE ROAD AND MAYBE EVEN OFF MY MISERABLE LIFE.

Panic attacks for me meant that I was in a war zone not knowing where the bullets were coming from. No use taking shelter the snipper was just as likely to be behind the wall I crouched behind.

So that's what I talk about when I talk about anxiety. But I also talk about the effect that omega 3s have had on my brain. How last year I did a cross country bike race that I had panicked in 2 years earlier and how this time I alternated between singing "keep the car running" and "I am the greatest man that ever lived" as I swept over all the gravel and single track that left me gasping for breath just two years earlier.

So when we talk about mental illnes, and we should, we should also talk about what we can do to allow us to do what we want to do. Little things like Ironman.


  1. I'm so sorry about your brother. My sister took a bottle full of pills a few years back, but then called someone who saved her in time.

    Panic attacks for me come on somewhat oddly...I get tremendously itchy, everywhere, and drive myself more and more nuts scratching. Still haven't figured that one out. You've come a long way facing your fears!

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  3. Thanks for opening the door on this topic, for me Susie. I know nothing about it and I agree that it is not discussed. Sorry to hear about your brother and I respect how you phrase it in all caps. This topic should not be a secret.

  4. Hi, Suzie. I wanted to thank you for your tip on my blog. I did start taking Omega 3 and eating more cold water fish after I got a rather predictable bout of winter-onset depression, especially with as cold as the winter has been. The anxiety started after that, and I'm doing some CBI interventions that are working for me. Sometimes I snap a rubber band on my wrist when I feel a panic attack coming on. I've even slapped myself in the face. Both seem to work, and they seem to be getting further apart. Cheers!

  5. Another comment...I have a long family history of suicides and depression (father's side) and panic and overeating with resulting obesity (mother's side). I work in a children's psychiatric facility, and one of the observations I've made is that depressed kids are sleepers, and anxious kids are eaters. Lucky me, I was lazy AND ate too much for a long time! I got away with the overeatings for a while, until my thyroid tanked, and so now I can do neither. I think that's why things have come up as they ahve, and now I have to deal with them. My own trauma comes from having been abused by my first husband, who tried to kill me, then stalked me for a year, and then killed himself. Keep up the good work.