Editor: Sonya Marvel
Contributors: All Members of My Mom Is A Survivor
This month's topic is wide-spread and very important, since we have all experienced it. We have added a little extra information to this topic in order to educate and hopefully help you to understand what you are feeling and how to remedy it.
After the loss of a child, you have a very low tolerance. You could be susceptible to Panic Attacks, difficulty sleeping, or sleeping constantly, headaches to name a few.
When a panic attack strikes, most likely your heart pounds and you may feel sweaty, weak, faint, or dizzy. Your hands may tingle or feel numb, and you might feel flushed or chilled. You may have chest pain or smothering sensations, a sense of unreality, or fear of impending doom or loss of control. You may genuinely believe you're having a heart attack or stroke, losing your mind, or on the verge of death. Attacks can occur any time, even during nondream sleep. While most attacks average a couple of minutes, occasionally they can go on for up to 10 minutes. In rare cases, they may last an hour or more.
What it is...a sudden surge of overwhelming fear that comes without warning and for no obvious reason. It is far more intense than feeling "stressed out", and is marked by physical symptoms such as breathlessness or chest pain.
How they're found...Panic attacks can be difficult to diagnose because their symptoms may mimic cardiovascular and respiratory problems. Four or more of the following symptoms may indicate a panic attack:
Shortness of breath of difficulty breathing. Dizziness, unsteadiness or faintness. Trembling or shaking Palpitations or accelerated heart rate. Choking. Nausea, stomachache or diarrhea. Feelings of unreality. Numbness or tingling sensations in fingers or toes. Flushing, chills or sweating Chest pain or discomfort. Fear of dying, "going crazy" or losing control.
What you can do...
Testing: There is now a written test called the Anxiety Sensitivity Index, which can help doctors gauge how susceptible patients are to panic episodes.
Cognitive-Behavior Therapy: Patients learn to reduce tension through relaxation and breathing techniques. Then, they are gradually exposed to the sensations of a panic attack, which reduces fear and can even eliminate attacks in 70 to 90 percent of patients.
people may require medication to prevent attacks or reduce their frequency and severity.
Make Lifestyle Changes
At first my panic attacks came on strong and heavy. My heart was hurting and racing very fast to the point that my arms were numb, my breathing was gaspy and I passed out. I was in the emergency room several times with the same discussion. The first time I went to the Emergency Room, they asked me what kind of stress I had been having in my life. I responded that my son had been killed the month before. They didn't even bother to check my heart. I was given a card with "Compassionate Friends" and the phone number on it! I had never had this pain before. I knew it was not normal. Finally, I was sent to a heart specialist. I was given a heart monitor to record any and all stressful moments for 24 hours. I took the heart monitor back to the doctor's office. A few days later, I called them to see the results, because the pain was still very bad. They lost my results and wanted to give me the heart monitor equipment again. At that point, I was ready to scream!
I went to my regular General Practitioner. He is the one who told me about Panic Attacks or Racing Heart, which was caused by the stress of losing my child. A lot of people do not know much about Panic Attacks. However, it is very real and very serious. Eventually I learned to control them with deep breathing and tranquilizers. I still have them today when I am going through stressful times. Once you begin having Panic Attacks, they are with you always.
Mom to John
9/8/69 - 1/20/89
When Angie died I was having panic attacks. It felt just like a real heart attack. I got the tingling in my hands. My left hand had curled up with no control from me. My chest was hurting. I had my husband rush me into the doctors office. My doctor immediately recognized it as panic attack. I still have them but they are further apart and not near as severe as they use to be.
I have been experiencing panic attacks for about 20 years. The first time it happened, I thought that I was having a heart attack and that I was going to die. I had terrible squeezing pain in my chest that went straight though to my back, I had difficulty breathing, I felt like I had a basketball in my throat, if I tried to lay down I could not breath. My skin was cold and clammy and I felt nauseated. I had no idea what was happening to me I was terrified but after about 20 minutes it all began to subside. Afterward, I felt like I had run a marathon and then been hit by a Mac truck. Unbelievably, I didn't tell anyone for 2 years. Then my husband witnessed an attack and insisted that I see a doctor right away. That was the beginning of a 15-year quest for a diagnosis. I was put through every test for the heart that you can imagine: EKG, stress test, blood work, chest x-rays, sonogram of the heart, echocardiogram, and finally, an angiogram. All negative. Then it was decided that this must be spasms of the esophagus...more tests. I had a tube put down my nose and another down my throat (I woke up in the middle of that one). Still nothing. The doctors said it HAD to be the esophagus...I was given a prescription for nitro-glycerin tablets and told to put one under my tongue when I felt an attack coming on. All I got from those were terrific headaches. The attacks continued. They seemed to come on at the oddest times: on the way to a wedding, while I was gardening, while blow-drying my hair, on the way to a restaurant, while shopping, and during the middle of the night...they would wake me from my sleep. My husband and I were both at our wits end. He felt so helpless and frightened whenever an attack occurred and I was becoming more and more afraid to go anywhere because of the fear that an attack may happen. I was, also, very discouraged because I new that something was wrong and it wasn't spasms of my esophagus but I wouldn't go to a doctor because I didn't want to be put through all of those tests again. If I was out with friends or family when an attack occurred, I would do my best to hide it...I was beginning to feel like it was ME and not a medical problem. I, also, felt like people were thinking that this was all in my head. Finally, in 1995, I saw a program on panic attacks and recognized myself right away but still I resisted making an appointment...after all I would be seeing a psychiatrist..."only crazy people go to psychiatrist"...or so my family thought. It wasn't until January,1996 that I finally made that call. By then, I was so depressed that I was actually contemplating suicide. I was evaluated by a therapist and immediately scheduled to see the doctor the next day. I was diagnosed with panic & anxiety attacks, posttraumatic stress syndrome, severe depression and insomnia. I, also, have hepatitis C, which I contracted through a blood transfusion in 1986, and have recently completed a year of therapy for the hepatitis. The medications given for this contribute to the depression. The doctor put me on an anti-depressant, a medication specifically for panic attacks and something to help me sleep. The first time I took the medications, I slept for almost 12 hours. It took about 6 months to get everything under control. The doctor had to change my medication a few times because it either wasn't working for me or I was having reactions to it. About a month before Christmas 1996, the doctor hit on just the right combination because for the first time since my daughter and son died (1968 & 1970) I was able to actually enjoy the holidays. I still have an occasional attack but they are few and far between. I'm still on medication and may be for the rest of my life but if it is going to control these attacks, it is well worth it. Some people have asked me when I was going to stop the medication because "you shouldn't have to take it forever". My response to that is, "If I had diabetes wouldn't you want me to continue to take my insulin?" "Of course", they say. Well, panic attacks are a medical problem too. They are not a personality defect and they are not something you can just control. Anyone who experiences these attacks, should see a physician immediately. There is help out there. There is no need to go on suffering, like I did.
Jackie Comeaux, Mom to
Michelle Suzanne Comeaux - 2/26/67 - 1/19/68
Gerald James Comeaux - 3/5/68 - 9/6/70
I have had anxiety and panic attacks for over 8 years maybe even more, but diagnosed in 1991. When Todd was murdered, they began to get worse and more often. The first attack I really remember after getting the news of Todd's death was when my husband told me Todd was gone. I could not breathe and all I could do was repeat, "It is not him" over and over. I suppose I had many more in the days to follow (memories of those days are still a blur). On the night of Visitation at the funeral home, I continuously had panic attacks, so bad that I was given medication and taken outside to get fresh air to see if I could relax and not go into another attack. Well, after many tries I had to leave and then I felt that I had abandoned Todd. When I got home, more attacks followed at least that is what I have been told, because to be honest, most of the few weeks after Todd's death are a blur to me now. In the last 3 years I have been changed to many medications to help these attacks but so far none have stopped or helped them ..Oh, I have a medication that helps but for only a few hours. I was sitting and thinking about Todd while looking out my window and panic hit me so that I could not breath. I begin to shake and cry at the same time, wanting to scream "Help". The feelings that go along with panic and anxiety attacks are so extreme that you can not describe them except to say, you lose your breathe and get dizzy or shake uncontrollably. The loss of my son has really hit me in so many ways I never imagined. My mental and physical health have gone down so much. It is like your heart being ripped out of you and a hole so big inside that you seem to fall in, thinking you will never be able to live again without your child or never climbing back out of that hole. I pray everyday for God to give me the strength to go on. One Day At A Time.
Mom to Todd
5/25/64 - 10/13/96
A panic attack can sneak up and ambush us especially as the holiday season approaches, which makes us so very vulnerable. When we are at the mall, shopping side by side, with "intact" families, when we are sitting down to dinner and there is an empty chair staring at us, haunting us, reminding us of the deafening silence that the void of our missing child creates. Anxiety can be created, when you come to the realization that you cannot go out and buy your child a gift, cook his favorite meal, listen to his special songs, show enthusiasm for his aspirations for the future. A panic attack can be triggered by receiving mail in your child's name. What makes us most anxious, is knowing that our child will not burst through the door and throw his arms around us. More grounds for sheer panic, is when a group of parents are talking and the inevitable subject of children arises, which results in the question, "how many children do you have?" Since they have not walked in our shoes, they can show no empathy towards us when we are longing to see our child's face, their sparkling eyes and their familiar loving voice. Panic attacks are a justifiable direct result of being a bereaved parent.
Mom to Glenn Lewis
When my son, David was being taken to surgery, they allowed me to tag along all the way into the pre-surgery holding area. As I stood there holding David's hand and tried to reassure him all was going to be okay, I realized I was standing in the same room where Jason had been placed after his organ donation surgery. The same room where I said goodbye to him 4 years ago almost to the day before. This realization triggered a physical reaction I suppose could be called a panic attack. I became instantly sweaty, shaking, nauseous and could hear my own heartbeat in my head. I had the uncontrollable urge to run from the room and feared I would passed out if I didn't get out right then and there. As it was David had already been given the pre-op medication and was too groggy to see what was happening and the doctor came in at that moment to have me sign the consents. I grabbed the papers from him and took them out to the hall where I signed them and was unable to walk back into the room. So I took the elevator up to the main floor and went outside for fresh air. Everything turned out OK and I doubt anyone was paying that much attention to me at that point in time, but I now feel so guilty like I ran out on David when he needed me. Anybody know what I'm talking about or ever have this happen to them?
Sue Overton Mom to Jason
6/17/85 - 8/28/95
The Antidepressant Survival Program
How to Beat the Side Effects and Enhance the Benefits of Your Medication
By Robert J. Hedaya
You or someone you love may be one of an estimated 25 million Americans currently taking antidepressants for a wide range of psychiatric and physical disorders. But there is a dark side to these "wonder drugs" --- punishing side effects such as weight gain, lethargy, and sexual dysfunction that afflict up to 80 percent of the people who take them. Until now, side effect sufferers have had nowhere to turn for help.
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