Blindsided by a Panic Attack

Blindsided by a Panic Attack

June 7, 2011 ~ In the midst of a panic attack that blindsided me, I came to wonder if I have PTSD.

You ask how this is possible knowing I’ve never been deployed to war.  What you don’t know is that I live in the middle of one.

This war began almost three years ago and daily, I face new battles.  These battles have redefined my life and I don’t like it. Fortunately, I’ve got my faith, for without it, I don’t think I would still be standing.  There’s no one reaching out to help me.  Instead the experts argue over whether or not what I live with day to day really exists.

I’m a casualty of war, though no one will ever give me a Purple Heart for my injuries.  My wounds are the result of caring for and loving a child who stepped up to serve his country.  The percentage of those returning from war who are suffering with invisible wounds is staggering.  The numbers being reported are far lower than what I believe to be a true reality.  Thousands, just like me, suffer in silence, frustrated because our cries for help go unheard.

While I’m struggling to survive battle after battle, and looking for support, I find that most people out there are busy bickering over whether or not the problem the condition is real and if so, how it will be categorized.  Is it Secondary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?  Is it Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder (STSD)? Could it be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Perhaps I’m just a hypochondriac looking for a good excuse to stay at home and bury my head under my pillow.

Frankly, I do NOT need a label or some sort of official diagnosis listed in the most current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV TR) to know that there is something terribly wrong, which is a fortunate plus for me since Secondary PTSD is not a defined mental disorder.

Secondary PTSD occurs when a person has an indirect exposure to risk or trauma, resulting in many of the same symptoms as a full-blown diagnosis of PTSD.

Skip the reference to “indirect exposure”. I’ve lived with a direct exposure to risk and trauma for over two and a half years now, in an attempt to be a support to my son, a disabled combat veteran suffering with mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and PTSD.

Ask any caregiver for our disabled veterans.  We are all in the direct line of fire, 24/7. When the system fails them, it is to us that they turn.  By the time they reach out to us, they are frustrated and filled with rage.  Who could blame them?  I’ve seen my son ignored, denied, judged, stamped with stigma, and cast aside….over and over and over.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Hurt people hurt people”?  You know it’s true.  When the system strikes another blow to our veterans who have so bravely given on our behalf, they lash out like wounded animals backed into a corner by the enemy.  As they strike a frightening pose and make a fierce sound, we, the caregivers, receive the brunt of this behavior.

My son doesn’t want to hurt me, but he lashes out because he has to let off steam. He knows that I will love him, unconditionally, no matter what he says or does.  The problem, however, is that he has been living in a combat zone with other Marines.  They talk about life in a way that is foreign to my ears.  This talk scares me to the core.  Does he mean what he’s saying?  Does he really want to die?  Will he really end his life if I say the wrong thing?  Oh, dear God! Help me!  What should I do? What should I say to make this go away?

I’m tired of walking around on egg shells.  Even when I do my best to tiptoe around the issues, I still manage to trip and fall and escalate the problem.  Everything else in my life seems to be falling apart too.  I can’t keep up with all of my other commitments because at any given moment, I’m suddenly forced into crisis mode and I can’t think straight enough to figure out which end is up and what I am supposed to be doing.  My to-do list continues to grow as I function in my elevated state, which in turn, escalates my stress level.  I constantly feel like I’m letting others down, and I feel as if I’m failing to do anything that can really make a positive difference in my son’s chaotic life.

Once a very organized person, I find that I am forgetful, I misplace things, and I feel like an absent-minded dingbat when I’m around my friends who all seem to have their ducks in row.  My mind is always somewhere else and that place is one filled with fear, anxiety, frustration, anger and worry.  One minute I’m trusting God and the next minute, I take the control right back as my mind runs wild with outlandish scenarios that could happen.

I’m tired of waiting for the next catastrophic event.  There was a time when I lived in fear of events conjured up in my mind taking place, but to my horror, some of my fears have come true and I’ve lived through some situations so scary that I am amazed I’m still breathing.  When your worst fears come to reality, it’s hard to keep from worrying that history will repeat itself.  We all know it does.

When the door rings, I panic.  When the phone rings, a feeling of dread comes over me.  I jump out of my skin when I hear a loud noise. I have trouble sleeping and when I do, I have nightmares.  I have a lot of anxiety whenever I’m around my son because he can become agitated without a moment’s notice. I have a lot of anxiety when I’m not around my son because I don’t know where he is and whether or not he is okay. I have even begun to worry about catastrophic things happening to my other children knowing that I couldn’t be strong enough to handle another trial that involved their lives.

I’ve been unable to relax for almost three years now so it’s no wonder I’ve finally reached the stage where I’m having full blown panic attacks.  I’ve heard about them before, but I never really understood them until I found myself in the middle of one of my own.

I wasn’t in a dangerous and unfamiliar setting but something triggered an involuntary response.  I do know what the trigger was, but that is another story for another day. One minute I was fine, and the next minute, I was overcome with panic.  I couldn’t breathe.  I felt as if I needed to cry or scream.  My heart was racing and I was completely paralyzed with fear. The nausea was consuming. There was nothing I could do to calm myself down.  I broke out in a sweat and felt the need to run for cover.  I was in no physical danger, but the feeling still came over me because something very subtle had just reminded me of a very horrible, life-threatening reality I had lived out several months ago.

A week later, the second panic attack came without notice. A different trigger caused a more violent reaction.  I was in an environment in which I had no control and I wanted to run from the crowd but I couldn’t.  I did my best to keep myself under control so that no one would know I was freaking out, but more than I was frightened by the panic attack itself, was the fear that this was a reoccurring situation for which I had no control.

I recently read an article about PTSD featuring a story about a National Guard soldier, Major Benjamin Tupper.  He made mention of the absurdity of him worrying about a Taliban ambush in his suburban neighborhood back here at home in the USA, but he said that an event or a sound or a smell will recall a moment at war and his ‘anxiety trumps logic’.

I now understand that concept from firsthand experience and a week after my second panic attack, I find that I’m really upset. Anxiety does trump logic and lately, the anxiety seems to be the driving force. I shouldn’t be living like this because the system isn’t set up to support our combat veterans. I’ve been begging for someone to help us but my cries continue to fall on deaf ears. Looking back seven years ago, when my bright eyed 17 year old enlisted to serve his country, we had no idea that the repeated deployments and injuries would seek to destroy his life as well as ours.  We are just one of the the thousands of families who gave our all and served on behalf of the USA.  One would think that the least America could do was take care of their own.

If you are suffering with symptoms of PTSD or STSD or Secondary PTSD, please don’t ignore the problem.  There are many of us who are working together to create support networks. There is always strength in numbers.  We must reach out and help one another move forward.

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