Breast Cancer,  Life After Cancer,  Uncategorized

Reducing Panic Attacks – How I Cope

So pre-cancer I had difficulties with anxiety and depression.  Pretty normal.  However, I was not aware that the feelings I experienced when I walked in to a store; the claustrophobic feeling, the feeling where I instantly became angry and irritable with everyone and everything, the hotness, and the overwhelming sense of urgency in that if I did not change my circumstances very quickly I might start screaming at the top of my lungs or worse yet, start bawling right there in the produce aisle, were directly related to something.
In November of 2015, two months before my diagnosis, these attacks and my depression were at an all time high.  I cannot begin to tell you how many grocery carts I brought to a sales clerk, apologizing, as I rushed out the store.  I went to the doctor and was prescribed an anti-depressant and life was manageable.
Then January of 2016 came and some may or may not believe this, but the reason for my panic attacks and depression came to light.  I am confident that my body was sending me a message that something was different; for after my diagnosis I did not have a panic attack for over a year.  Okay – let me revise that.  I may have had a panic attack or two during treatment, but most of those were due to things like a routine colonoscopy all of  sudden became a “what if they find more cancer” concern; or the day they could not find a vein for the IV (thank God for ports – seriously).
But November 2016 guess what started coming back in full force and worse than before?  Pretty easy guess, huh?  Suddenly I did not want to leave the house.  I loved interacting with others, but if it involved my leaving the house or going somewhere I was unfamiliar, the panic started before I even got out of bed that day knowing what was coming.  Another round at the doctors, but this doctor asked if I had been receiving counseling since my diagnosis, to which I answered I had not.
Fast forward a few months and come to find out that all those previous attacks had been panic; and with my upcoming diagnosis anniversary date, they returned with extra strength.  In that process of learning what was happening, we also talked about things to try to help alleviate the panic and depression.  Two main points provided great assistance to me; one was easy, the other not so much.
The first one was to remember that just as panic attacks begin, they end.  So as soon as I felt one coming I would talk myself through it:  Deep breaths, this too shall end, there is nothing scary about where I am, you’re trying to trick me mind and it’s not going to work, deep breaths, etc.  I also learned that sometimes just changing my environment for a moment or two helped.  The other thing that helped was telling my husband or daughter I was having one (up until that point I had been keeping them secret and they had not realized how often they were happening or how severe they were).  They could not help them go away, but they were more patient and understanding knowing I had to regroup and gain control over my emotions.
The other thing that both my husband (if I don’t give him credit here I will never hear the end of it) and my doctor suggested was finding things I absolutely loved to do and to get involved.  This sounds great until you remember you don’t really want to leave the house, or get in the car to drive, where for some unknown reason a lot of my panic attacks started.  But I did it.  Slowly.  Baby steps.
Much to my husband’s dismay I started visiting our local pet shelter.  Three months earlier we had to put our 12 year old German  Shepherd down and despite my promising my husband we would not get another dog, those little puppy kisses and yelps made me happy.  Not let me say, I am one of those people who when they to to a shelter, while they are ALL cute and adorable and if I had the money and space I would take them ALL home; I can walk in and out without bringing a four legged friend home.
However, visiting the shelter I realized how much I missed training dogs; and this was the second step for me.  I had been training dogs on and off since I was 19 years old and I had always LOVED it.  While I was able to walk out without a new friend, I was not able to get rid of the desire to get involved with dog obedience training and perhaps move into other realms, such as therapy, or rally, or agility … the possibilities were endless.
So the day my daughter came home to adopt a cat she fell in love with over the internet, and we went to the shelter to adopt her, I had no intentions of adopting someone myself.  After all, I had promised my husband, “No more dogs”.  Until I saw this face:

IMG_4419
Adoption (Gotcha Day) for Mr. Harley Jones Horner. March 3, 2016

Could you say no to that face?  I couldn’t.  I had met my match.  (For the record, I made it 3/4 of the way around the dog kennels and was almost to the exit door.  Rodney says ‘whatever’, but I think that counts for something!!)  So I brought home this 3 month old fluffy, puppy, who had the softest fur, the shortest legs compared to his body, and a face that melts your heart every time he looks at you.
We had some issues when he came home.  First dog I ever knew who was afraid to be outside.  Of course he had spent his whole life in either a shelter or a rescue, so really how much time outside had he had?  That was a guessing game.  Second, he was sick.  That poor little body was running a temp of 104 degrees and suddenly we were holding him down to administer medication because he had kennel cough and who knows what else (very common for shelter animals – even though they try very hard not to have that happen).  Third, and most importantly for me, six days after bringing him home, I had a major panic attack – what was I thinking, how could I ever believe I had the energy to take care of a puppy, just one more thing cancer took from me, yada-yada-yada.  In the midst of this, as my face was all scrunched up from bawling; I felt this little warm body crawl into my lap, and put his mouth around my forearm.  He didn’t bite.  He didn’t bark.  He didn’t whine.  He laid down and gently held my arm until I started calming down.  And when I had, he calmly got up and went back to where he had been, and went to sleep.
He’s been my best friend ever since.  I don’t like being away from him, and he doesn’t like it when I leave him.  And believe me when I say he has got to have ESP or something because he knows every. stinking. time. I am going to leave.
A year later Harley and I are involved with our local kennel club, I am an assistant teacher for the Beginner’s class, and we are both loving every minute of it.  And would you believe my panic attacks have almost dissipated?  The only ones I really have are when Harley’s not around.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Does it matter to me?  Nope.
For if I have learned one thing from this journey, it is to pay attention to what my body is telling me.  Not my mind – because my mind likes to play tricks with me.  However, my body knows exactly what is going on.  And when I am with Harley, and my family, and doing the things I love, I am the happiest, most content I have ever felt.  And after what I’ve gone through, I deserve that.
So does anybody who has had to go through a lifetime in a very short period.  You deserve to be happy and content, despite your circumstances.  For me it was finding what brings me joy – photography, family (traveling), and my dog.
What is it for you?  Did you use to do something that brought you incredible joy, yet somehow over the journey of life, kids, marriage, work it was pushed to the wayside?  Think back to your early adulthood and what brought you joy?  (No, frat parties do not count – sorry!)
Maybe it is time to bring that back.  Maybe it is time to find something new.  I never would have had the courage to be an assistant teacher for dog obedience before.  I would have told myself I am not good enough or other people know more than I do; and that last part is true.  There are people out there who have been doing this longer, or have more knowledge; but that does not mean my knowledge is any less credible, or not as vital.  The same with my photography.  There are photographers that I look at their work and I get goosebumps (actually I get them typing this and just thinking about some of their work) and think I will never be able to shoot a photo like that.  But that’s not the point.
The point is to do what YOU love; and to NOT compare yourself to anyone else.  I am not an expert (I just play one in real life – HAHAHAHA), but I truly believe if you find your joy, you’ll find some peace.
Squirrel
Current picture of Harley looking for squirrels at my daughter’s apartment.

So what brings you joy?  Whether it is something you do currently, or something you used to do; leave me a comment and share your joy!!  You never know who else you might bring joy to just by leaving a comment.
Until next time – capture life kreatively!
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At 50 years old I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I am currently NED (no evidence of disease), and trying to spend every day reviewing the world through the new lens I wear as a breast cancer survivor.

One Comment

  • Brandy

    My Domeranian Atticus keeps me level and reminds me every single day about what’s important in life. I love the effect that animals have on our lives in these ways… they don’t care if we’ve had a bad day, they just keep moving forward and take us along with them. Also, I love that Harley has a middle name! You are awesome!!!

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