Then we had two or three weeks of sunshine and... I started getting different headaches. They just really felt different, and didn't respond to Aleve, Advil, Tylenol, what-have-you--when I finally tried cold/allergy medicine (Coricidin), that made something of a dent in them, so I thought, okay: sinus pressure headaches. Summer's changing into fall, it's probably my allergies (unless it's the dead of winter, it's always my allergies). But nothing was really helping. And I was kind of starting to lose my mind, or my shit, or something, because I couldn't even hear myself think over the dull constant roar with a nice little spike behind my eye, like a cherry in the cocktail. Literally, in the literal sense of literally, "could not hear myself think." Like my brain was just full of static and there were some words in there, when I was trying to write, but I couldn't "hear" them long enough to string anything together. And all y'all started telling me on Twitter to go to a doctor. Well, yes. I had a scheduled quarterly med check this week, so I said, I'll go run all this past my psychiatrist ("BUT THAT'S NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR!" Well, she is--just not an internist) and see if she thinks I ought to see someone else about it. (What y'all did not know is that she is constantly telling me to go get checkups with other doctors, so I was pretty confident she was not going to pull a Dr. Sutcliffe on me, as it were.) In other words, I trust her to be knowledgeable enough and trustworthy enough to be like, "Not my division, go see someone else, now."
Then I had a massive panic attack Sunday night.
I haven't really ever had the same panic attack twice, I don't think--they're hard to pin down, as they can appear to be all kinds of different things--a lot of times they seem like heart attacks. That is, in fact, the kind I had Sunday night. It was... educational. I was lying there sometime after 10 pm, trying to fall asleep (as you do), and suddenly I felt absolutely convinced that I was going to die in the next, oh, let's say, five minutes. There was a sort of uncomfortable--but not painful--tightness in my shoulders and over my sternum, kind of like I was folding in on myself. I did not think that I was having a heart attack. I was convinced that I was going to have one. I just really do not know how to fully express that I literally, actually, completely, totally thought I was going to die. Not that I was dying; that I was going to die in the next five minutes, and all I could do was lie there and wait for it. No chest pains, no shooting pains, nothing on my left side, no shortness of breath, not even any heart palpitations--if I was dizzy or had vertigo, I wouldn't know, since I was lying down. It was pure fear, with just enough physical discomfort to lend it credibility. And I think I knew this subconsciously, because there was this secondary voice that started trying to tell me that no, you are not going to die, just lie here for a moment and YES I AM no, sh, you're not even having actual pains, just sit here with your phone and NOOOOO NO NO, DYINNNNG look, if you have any actual pains you can call your mother and tell her that you are, in fact, dying DYING!!!!!! sh, shut up, you're not dying YES I AAAAAAAM just shut up a moment and wait and see, you're probably not dying so let's just wait it out NOOOOOOOOO. This went on for about, I don't know, ten minutes. And then it passed. And I didn't die, and nothing even hurt, and I woke up in the morning not the least bit dead, and proceeded to safely go to sleep and achieve consciousness again several more times.
The all-day headaches and vague tightness continued, however. So Wednesday (was that yesterday? I am currently unmoored in time and space) I had my med check. I've had very few out-of-the-blue knock-down panic attacks like that one; they seem to happen as a sort of emergency brake, as if to say, "You have some shit going on that you're trying to soldier through, but you need to stop and work it out." The worst one I ever had was in a professor's office my first semester of grad school, during a very pleasant conversation where I felt just fine, and then I broke out into a vehement cold sweat, fought off the urge to hworf on her desk, and (I imagine) turned a pale shade of green. I thought some horrible stomach flu had seized me at the worst moment possible--I wasn't thinking I am going to die, but holy shit, it kind of felt like I was. And yet somehow I was determined not to let the professor see it, partly because my legs had also stopped working and if I told her I felt sick, I'd have to reveal that I couldn't leave, either. So I continued a full conversation with her for another ten minutes, managing to kneel on the carpet by pretending I needed to get something out of my bag and I just felt like, you know, chilling there on the floor while we talked. I still don't know how I brazened that out, but somehow I did, until I was able to get up and walk out on my own steam. And what I realized afterwards was that, since I had taken a year off between college and grad school due to burnout, and we were approaching the end of the semester, I was secretly sort of terrified that I was still off my game academically and wasn't going to do well on the final papers. For some reason, I seem to have that kind of violently awful panic attack right when I've let my guard down--I liked the professor, liked her class, and the conversation was just fine, and yet somehow, that was the moment my body decided to revolt. Same thing on Sunday--after a number of stressful things during the day, it was the moment that I let go and tried to go to sleep that it kicked in. So I talked about it with my doctor; I think there's a confluence of things right now, a number of family things I can't get into, that have made me really anxious. I have a really (great! exciting!) deadline to meet in a couple of months as well--and I think I'd started getting really, really anxious because the headaches were keeping me from forming coherent thoughts, much less actually writing anything. And somehow it all just snowballed, the headaches got worse, and--my doctor thinks I need to have my blood pressure checked (by a Medical Doctor Internist Professional, yes). And I kind of sat back and went... yeah, this does kind of feel like elevated blood pressure, which I've had before. Well, shit. And that's why the worsening headaches had stopped responding even to allergy medication--sinus pressure wasn't the real cause anymore. And then the headaches themselves were stressing me out, and--my body hit the emergency brake.
So I am now consciously trying to reduce stress in my life. As an experiment, I basically lay around and did nothing today, FOR SCIENCE, and there was some tightness in my shoulders and that general feeling of tension, but no headache. Like, for the first time in at least a week. The distant rumblings of a headache, but it never actually arrived. Obviously I have to get things done, but that at least told me that it is stress and high blood pressure, and there are things I need to be doing about it. When panic attacks are involved, part of the solution is always realizing that I was subconsciously stressing about something and pulling it out and defusing it, so I've already figured that out to work on. (I've also started trying to talk various plot points out using voice memo apps, since I seem to be able to do that even when I can't produce coherent text.) I'm going to have to spend less time on the internet--not walk away from it entirely, because Tumblr is my primary source of puppies yawning and I'm pretty sure those are medically indicated at the moment, but I need to spend less time, more efficiently. I love Twitter and Tumblr, but just the constant hamster-wheel quality of it social media (is there anything new? anything now? how about now?) just makes me anxious even when I enjoy it. If there is any kind of drama or fight or controversy, I am going to have to walk away from it (like, just reading about GoodReads flame wars makes me anxious, holy shit) (wait, are there really people who think the term "sci-fi" is derogatory? WALKING AWAAAAAY). And I've got my deadline at the end of October, which is exactly when I will theoretically start recapping NBC's Dracula series. I have to get the anxiety and high blood presure under control, is what I'm saying, and that's while also knowing that Seasonal Affective Bullshit is on the way. I'm basically preparing myself to politely decline, avoid, or walk away from anything I have to, in order to work on this deadline and the Novel of the Damned without keeling over--I would like to see a season of Dracula recaps through to the end, but I'm not (yet?) near as invested in it as Hannibal, so I'm not making that my goal the way I did with finishing the recaps in the spring. So I'm trying to hang on and scale back at the same time. I don't know how this is going to work out, though, because I apparently possess a strange magic whereby I state my intentions and then--sometimes through seeming cosmic interference--the opposite happens. I sound pretty cheerful about all this, I guess? Also, I have had a glass of wine. I don't really know how else to handle it. With cute animals, I guess.