Sometimes I feel like I complain too much. I feel like when things are going well, it’s hard to say “I feel great and everything is wonderful” without sounding braggadocious. When things are going terribly, it is easy to dwell on it. Sometimes I think it’s easier to complain because maybe it makes a person more relatable. I have always felt the need to externalise my fears. I have to share them, because I dwell on them so much they become just too much for me to deal with on my own. So I talk about them. You know, I say something like “yeah, I’m just a little nervous about work” or “I feel a little let down by that person.” When I can identify my problems, I find them easy to share. I’m okay with that and I think my friends appreciate the honesty.
But what about when I can’t identify my problems? What about when I should be fine, but I’m just….not.
I am currently out of work on sick leave. I have no idea what is wrong with me. What I do know is that I have been dizzy and lightheaded. The other day, I stood in front of a class and almost collapsed. I couldn’t breathe properly and my chest was tight. I felt like I was in a nightmare, not really experiencing reality at all.
I was diagnosed a few days prior to that experience with labyrinthitis. I had bled out of my ear (sorry for the visual) and had been a little unsteady for some time. I had been experiencing dizziness and weakness for weeks. I was out on antibiotics and that was that…
…Or so I thought. It wasn’t my ear that was troubling me really. I mean, sure, I more than likely had an inner ear issue that needed to be fixed. But there was something else. Something I really found difficult to verbalise. I felt completely fuzzy. Like I was trapped in a constant fog. I felt like I was experiencing a dream and that I was out of touch with reality. I told myself that it must be the viral infection playing tricks with my mind. But I felt so off that it was difficult to ignore.
I noticed that the dizzy episodes and the difficulty breathing were only happening in certain classrooms. And never at home, or while driving or when comfortable. Always when I really, really didn’t want them to.
My usual doctor believes that I’m probably allergic to penicillin since I reacted especially badly the other day. But deep down, I know something else…something I’ve held from her and from myself:
I am having panic attacks.
I’ll admit; I knew next to nothing about them. I thought that to experience them you had to be especially or noticeably stressed. You would presumably have some knowledge that they were about to happen, right? You could control it surely?
Well, no. No you definitely couldn’t. And you might not even be fully aware of your stress. On the surface, everything might appear perfect. I know that I felt fine; happy even. But I wasn’t and I’m not.
And how the hell did I arrive at the conclusion that I’m having panic attacks anyway? Well, through a process of elimination. Besides the labyrinthitis, there’s nothing else physically wrong with me, except for chest tightness and breathlessness. After a careful medical examination, any heart issues were ruled out. My GP was a little confused, naturally. How could I be having such extreme symptoms with so little physical evidence of a major problem? As much as I like my GP, I had to seek a second opinion. “Waiting it out” didn’t seem the most viable or attractive option when at least once a day, I felt like I was suffocating and choking.
My second GP barely needed to ask me how I felt before she knew. She took a look at my chart. When I had an “attack” I experienced these symptoms: chest tightness and pain, feeling of choking and throat swelling, neck ache, tingling and pins and needles, hot flashes but also shivers, derealisation, dizziness and lightheadedness, and a general feeling of weakness, like I would collapse if I didn’t sit down. It almost exclusively happened when I was being really focused on, like in class or during a conversation with someone I wasn’t overly comfortable with. The worst thing of all is I can never, ever predict them. They literally come out of nowhere and completely overwhelm me.
Even though I was sick, GP2 (what a lovely name, I’m sure it’s French) was sure it was anxiety attacks. The thing is, she can’t really tell whether they are being caused by the labyrinthitis or not. They have certainly been exacerbated by the antibiotics. I guess I had a kind of psychological allergic reaction to them, if there is such a thing. She feels that maybe I am excessively stressed because I don’t want to appear ill in front of my students, and the pressure to be okay is actually causing panic attacks. So I have had almost a week off work, which feels like forever. I am still very foggy and unwell and prone to anxiety. I am trying my best to self-talk my way through it but I would really appreciate advice from anyone who goes through anything similar.
Anyway, my bloods have been done so I’m waiting on those. And I’m going to take a few days to decide whether I feel the need for medication. The rest is doing me some bit of good but I am alone for large portions of the day and that is just no fun.
So, woah, Negative Nellie is out in force today. But I feel at least here I can try and make sense of whatever the hell is happening to me. I can make sense of who I am. Or who I’m not, I don’t know.
For now, I am doing okay. I’m not in any imminent danger and I am surrounded by wonderfully supportive family and friends. I feel the need to remind myself of that quite often. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the fog will lift and I will see clearly again. For now, I must get used to seeing in the dark.