Monday, November 26, 2012

Conquering Crazy

I stared at my doctor, my allergist, "So basically I'm making all of this up, and I'm not allergic to anything?"


I laughed, "Awesome.  Always good to know you are a little crazy."  I stared at my arm with little prick marks tracing it from my wrist to my elbow, "You've had this happen before, right?  I'm not like the only one who thinks they are dying, but are really having panic attacks?"

He nodded.  I chose to believe him.  Not that I went immediately to the nearest seafood restaurant and ingested my growing list of food allergies: shell fish, hazelnuts, unusual cheese, hard cider....

"Something is triggering the beginning of your panic attack and that part is legitimate.  You had a real reaction to penicillin when you were young and the body remembers and so is mimicking the symptoms."  This made sense.  I remembered from my college acting class that truly, the body does remember.  You'd better be careful what you practice or when the show comes up...that's what you'll do.

"What do you think is the real symptom?"

"Heart burn?  Too much chocolate, so heart etc."

I looked at him. I looked at my arm, "OK, I believe you.  This is cheaper than counseling."

Not that convincing my body that I wasn't going into anaphalactic shock would be easy, no way!  My challenge was great and my admiration for my mind was unparalleled.

I told my story to my friends.  I refused to be ashamed.  I think this was perhaps the first part toward conquering my mind.  It is always good to admit you are crazy, right?

First I decided to try rare and delicious cheese.  My mind began to work: my heart started to race, and I was sure my throat was constricting.  I sipped water and told myself over and over that if my throat was constricting then I would not be able to drink the water I was swallowing.  Slowly I calmed myself down and the symptoms went away.  The cheese was delicious.

Next I moved on to hard cider.  This was tricky because the night when I was sure I was having a reaction to this drink, my friends all saw the red rash climbing up my throat and neck.  It seemed so real. I had witnesses.  But then I remembered the words of my doctor, "No one is ever allergic to alcohol.  Many people come in here thinking they are allergic, and they are just not used to the effects of alcohol or they are eating really rich foods and having heartburn." (Mine was probably a combination...we were all enjoying some nachos together, nachos and jalapenos.) I pushed through the panic, and trusted the evidence.

Hazelnuts were fairly easy to break since they were my most recent allergy, and the panic attack I had associated with them was fairly minimal, plus I really wanted to continue my love affair with Nutella.

But the shell fish.  That one I wanted to hold on to.  I mean, couldn't my doctor have been wrong on at least one of his tests?  I mean, people die from shell fish allergies.  The time I reacted to shellfish the reaction had been so immediate, so real, so connected.  I decided to avoid all seafood except salmon.

This last weekend I was helping myself to the Thanksgiving snack bar and didn't realize the dip that I was thoroughly enjoying had crab in it.  Into my second helping I cautioned myself, "Wait, that looks like crab."  Sure enough, my symptoms began.  I tried to battle it myself, tell myself that I only began to have the reactions once my mind knew what it was, but the crab panic was hard to break.  I pulled my husband aside and told him what was happening.  He laughed.

And so did I.  "No, that's good...make me laugh.  That will help me relax.  So he did.  I sipped some water and he made fun of me."  Victory!

This has been a powerful experience for me, really.  One I am glad I've had.  I have new respect for panic attacks in general.  I think I might have made this all sound too easy, but really it has been almost a year of working through these matters-of-the-mind.  I also have great sympothy for people who have panic attacks.  It is really horrible and gets worse with each attack.

I know so many people who have gone to allergists and are told they are not allergic to anything, but they disagree. They find another "expert" who gives them a list of intolerances and they continue to avoid many delicious foods.  I hardly want to recommend doing what I did...I mean, what if I'm wrong, but I certainly can't be the only one out there.  I know I'm not the only one who has had this happen to them or is letting this happen to them.  Right?  Thoughts?

(Note:  Food concerns/beliefs have become fairly major in the last few years and there are some very real allergies, but I just wonder if a lot of it is all in our heads.  I feel a bit risky posting this because beliefs on food can be just as sacred as beliefs on religion or politics.  Let the comments begin!)


Theresa Angel said...

You are not crazy, you are human. If you want to meet crazy, I can give you a few references. Panic attacks are indeed real, and sometimes aided. I used to have panic attacks any time I had novocaine. I later found out that novocaine has epinephrine in it, causing my heart rate to accelerate. That feeling triggers the attacks. Now that I know that, I can prepare myself and calm down, some. There is a vast amount of information out there that we still don't know about our bodies and their reaction to food. Sometimes, it is easier to avoid the triggers than to go through the psychological journey to conquer it. That past statement can be true of many scenarios (i.e. social anxiety, spider phobias, etc).

Rebekah said...

Theresa, great response! I think that was what was happening to me with caffine and chocolate and my heart would race. The body and mind is very fascinating. I agree that sometime avoidance is just better in some cases, but what was happening to me is that my list was growing and growing and making eating out very stressful. I had totally planned on just avoiding the crab but then it happened by mistake. Still, it would be difficult for me to have shrimp and I might just avoid that one still. Funny.

Heather said...

I am so glad you went in and that you now have answers. I've had panic attacks before and I know how scary they can be. The lastest one was due to social anxiety - speaking in larger groups.

I am so glad that you are working through them and fighting back. I'm still working on mine and sometimes they still get the best of me.

Theresa Angel said...

Rebekah--I have panic by osmosis every time Logan eats something new. Because his body is always in an allergic state, I never know what is going to trigger his reactions. Sometimes, it's a combination of things. I agree that you can't hole up and not face the anxieties, but I like to choose the atmosphere of my battles. I would rather be at home trying something new, for instance, rather than out at a public venue. I know that you understand. As for shrimp, I avoid them cause they're dirty, but we won't get into that. ;D