Note: I found this entry in my Evernote App, written almost 4 years ago. At the risk of making this blog all about my intermittent panic attacks and anxiety, I’m posting it. Because it’s a real thing. And this is real life.
Original date: March 27, 2015
I don't think I'm the kind of person who has panic attacks. I mean, I didn't think I was a person who had panic attacks until I had one. Then another. And another.
At first, I didn't know what was happening. I thought I was just having a moment. My parents had both passed away within a few years of each other. I was handling it pretty well if you didn't count the moments. And I wasn't counting the moments.
I also wasn't counting the yo-yo periods of blazing activity, long hours of work, and two-a-day work outs. I certainly wasn't considering the days of hiding under the covers or staring mindlessly at the TV watching really bad shows on the CW. I figured alternating restrictive juice cleanses with weeks of eating only ice cream for dinner was probably pretty normal.
So yeah, the relatively rare moments when I'd start almost-sobbing in a crowded subway car or in line at Whole Foods weren't great, but I just sort of let them pass by me. “Oh. That happened."
As an aside, "almost-sobbing" is an important distinction because I don't cry a lot. I used to cry a lot as a kid, but somewhere along the way I determined that this was unwise. It made me appear weak, which made me a bigger target for school bullies and annoyed older siblings. I do not let people see me cry, at least not without a fight. So, this phenomenon of "almost-sobbing" in public places was a little concerning.
But, you know, grief and all.
My therapist told me that I was experiencing anxiety. She said that it was relatively mild, but people around me probably don't know I'm experiencing it because I hide it. And that might make the anxiety even worse, resulting in panic attacks. We discussed the possibility of a low-dose antidepressant or anti-anxiety meds. I've never been on any medications, and I was a little reluctant to start down that road just yet.
Then she said I could try St John's Wort, an herbal remedy. I liked this idea better because I could buy that at Whole Foods which, as I mentioned is one of my favorite almost-sobbing joints, so it's pretty convenient. I bought the smallest bottle of SJW I could find, but not the cheapest one. I'm superstitious about these kinds of things. I don't want to trust my whole emotional future to off-brand herbal remedies! I brought the bottle home, ready for the next moment.
But the first time I realized, for sure in the moment, that I was having a real, honest to goodness panic attack, I was not ready. I was working from home, nurturing a cold instead of muscling through the day at the office surrounded by other coughing and sneezing maniacs. I got an email from one of the people on my team - someone with whom I have a sometimes challenging dynamic.
The content of the email was so trivial that I can't recall it, something that would normally be mildly annoying at best. But that day, I found myself pacing the floor in my apartment, breathing fast and shallow, my throat feeling as if it was closing, eyes stinging with tears that wouldn't fall. I kept pressing my hand to my chest, willing myself to calm down, to breath deeply. My mind was whirling and I felt that I was separating from my body, watching the panic mount from some other vantage point as if I was perched above myself and just behind.
I felt afraid in a way that's still hard for me to explain.
I grabbed the bottle of SJW and took one. I didn't feel any effect so I took another one. I was sweating. Is it even OK to take 2 of these?
The fear still rising in me, I googled St. John's Wort overdose and was weirdly re-directed to a forum discussion on using high doses of SJW to get high. I started hyperventilating.
Then I remembered the Zannie Bees.
Several years ago when my sister was still married, she told my mother, other sisters and me that her husband was using again after presumably being clean and sober for many years. We were sitting on the beach in Avalon, NJ, a place that is special to all of us because it hold so many of our life memories and experiences, our striped beach chairs arranged in an imperfect circle. She told us that she had suspected he was off the wagon for a long time and finally decided to put her detective skills to work.
My sister is the kind of person who loves to solve a mystery. When Nancy Kerrigan, darling of the US Figure Skating team, was attacked before the Olympics by a maniac with a metal pipe, my sister immediately said, "It was that skanky little blonde girl - I know it!" She was referring to Tonya Harding and, of course, she was right.
This time she started to search through his things, going deeper and discovering all the hidey holes that druggies create to hide their stash. She found a small bag of pills hidden well up under the dashboard of his car. I didn't know you could hide things in there. I filed that away for later use, in case I ever needed to hide something and in case I ever had a car.
She'd found the pills, she said, and "Dad had them analyzed, so we know it's bad.”
Ah, hang on there. "DAD had them ANALYZED?”
In this very serious moment, we all started hysterically laughing. Our Dad was a recently retired restaurant owner and entertainer. He did not, as far as we knew, have any connections in the narcotics analytics field. "He took them to CVS! The pharmacist says it's street Xanax.”
Street Xanax. That did sound serious, which made us all stop laughing momentarily. Until my mother chimed in, “Yeah, they're called “Zannie Bees.”
Fits of hysteria again. We’re all protesting. They are NOT called Zannie Bees. That cannot be a thing. My mother was now giggling uncontrollably. From that day forward, any “illicit” or sedative drug was ever-more referred to as Zannie Bees. When my father was dying at in-home hospice, he had a prescription for Ativan and those also became Zannie Bees.
A few years later, in the weeks before my mother died, I was talking with another sister about the stress and anxiety of the situation. After rummaging around in her bag, she thrust a mostly empty Rx bottle into my hands saying, “Don't worry, I have a huge bottle of these at home.” Not wanting to alert the nurses standing 20 feet from us to our little exchange, I shoved the hard plastic bottle into my pocket. Other than the momentary surprise of hearing that my sister presumably had a Costco-sized stash of pills at home, I didn't take the time to register what I had.
What I had was almost a dozen Zannie Bees. I threw them into my dresser drawer and forgot about them for almost a year.
But during this epic panic attack, I remembered them. I took one and immediately started googling: St John’s Wort and Xanax - will this kill me?
It didn’t kill me. It just made me feel calmer and a little sleepy. I haven’t become a regular Zannie Bee user. I’ve been trying not to numb myself out when anxiety or panic sets in.
But every once in a while, I appreciate the help.
Anyone out there have anxiety? Or find years-old essays and post them on the Internet? Sound off below.