The blog of Laszlo Bokor

The blog of Laszlo Bokor

Saturday, 24 December 2016

My story on panic disorder

Hi again,

I thought that within this blog post, I would focus on panic disorder. I began writing this weeks ago and today it is already Christmas Eve; so Merry Christmas everyone, time to complete this piece of writing now!
The reason that I want to bring up this topic is that I have had about 14-15 years of experience with panic and the related issues, and since I have been controlling it better and more effectively for many years now, a couple of weeks ago I suddenly found myself wearing the similar pair of shoes that I did in 2002. Yes, that is the year; when all started for me, and I began to understand what it really was just almost 10 years later. I thought that if I started writing on the topic and opened myself up, I would be able to work more of its specifics out which might also be useful for others with the same or similar conditions.

Bear in mind that very little things happen just out of blue. A panic attack would certainly not develop without reasons. And one of its most typical causes is subconscious fear. At least that is what 'they' say. It is definitely a strong one, something that you cannot really explain or realise. This thing overwrites the rationality inside your head. It literally bothers you. Mine probably started developing and receiving its first impacts when I was a small child. I grew up in a broken family, my parents got divorced when I was 2 years old, and I was brought up by my mother. You often hear that people cannot remember a thing of their babyhood between infancy and age 3, but I do. I can recall things. Or maybe it is more like a sensation than an actual memory, but your 'hard drive' can store anything and after, even decades later, it can bombard you with indescribable and unexplainable sensations related to those certain indescribable and unexplainable things stored in your brain cells. Without going into further details, my mother in her 20s did not have an easy life besides my father. It is good that they broke up, and I have never missed a father in my life. When I got older and I understood what the reasons were that led her to divorce my father, I could also become more aware of a number of my childhood reactions and fears easier. 

I had an awesome childhood, though! Even if I grew up in a blockhouse jungle in Szombathely, Hungary. I had everything that a small boy needed to be happy. But I never was a calm and relaxed child; some would class me as hyperactive, but I was certainly lively and naughty. (This might also be one of the side effects when you are an only child.) Of course, I knew limits; therefore, you would have not caught me setting fire to a hay silo or beating the shit out of the younger and weaker, but I certainly had my things: one of my most memorable moments was, for example, stealing the morning newspapers out of all letterboxes that afterwards I sold in front of the local shop. I often sold the papers to those from whom I originally stole them. Or the other thing was filling up rubber balloons with water and throwing them at pedestrians from our fourth-floor balcony. This was fun though, but scary to think how brave I was as a child. Boys liked doing naughty things and I was not any worse than anybody else in the area where I grew up - In fact, even though I was definitely a challenge-seeker, I was absolutely responsible for my acts which had never left me without being slightly nervous - this may be a good sign that I am not a psychopath. My slight nervousness was later also noticed by my teachers in primary school as you could hear it in my voice or read it off my body; but they called it "anxiety" of some sort, and I remember one time when the head of the class visited my parents and wanted to initialise some sort of psychiatric training for me. At that time we were laughing at her (literally fuck off), but whenever my father was around, I went quiet and I was definitely nervous. I felt the same with unknown adults, especially those who had authority (like the head of the class). Now when I think about these things, I had weird reactions sometimes, but I do not think I was any more nervous than anybody else around me; although, I never felt comfortable with having my father around, despite I liked spending time with him. Sounds weird, does it not? But I really never was relaxed around him. This changed as I got older, but for the child myself, I can recall some funny things that might have influenced my later-developed panic disorder.

As I got older, I grew out my anxiety; I also started cycling which made me fantastically confident in myself. I developed an awesome relationship with everyone. In 1999, I completed the first stage of my secondary school studies, and I made one of my childhood dreams come true: I became a qualified cook. I loved cooking! I still love. But back then I quickly realised that a cooking career was not designed for me as I only liked preparing nice dishes for myself and my family; therefore, the next three years were all about bringing myself and my knowledge up to a satisfactory level which would open the way for me towards higher education. Since I was a very little boy, like 5 years old or so, geography interested me a lot, so when I came up with an idea to a change my career path, I knew instantly what professional route I had to place my feet on. In 2002, I applied for a university scholarship to Pécs, Hungary. The years between 1999 and 2002, however, were difficult. I started working, first in a kitchen which I did not like at all, and then, in 2000, I started working in the newly built Tesco in Szombathely as a pizza chef. I worked there for 2 years whilst I was completing the second stage of my secondary studies, doing the bicycle training, occasionally took on temporary work positions too, and I was preparing for the university entrance exams. That was the first period in my life when I felt extremely exhausted and, of course, as today I know, I was under heavy stress by pursuing all of those activities at the same time - but I never said that I was stressed because I had not known that feeling before.

Despite all the so-called stress and exhausting life-work balance, I did an outstanding job and managed to secure my acceptance to the University of Pécs (I made 106 points out of 120), and the life I am living now was eventually set to the right direction. But just one week before the first term at the university was about to begin, I had ended up in the hospital with being in a horrible mental condition: shaking, sweating, fast and strong heart beating, and the cherry on the cake, with a blood pressure peaking 200/100 mmHg. Imagine that! I had never had problems with my blood pressure before, never in my life. In fact, I had never had any health issues, but just before I wanted to start my well-dreamed and well-deserved university studies, suddenly I ended up in the hospital with irrational health conditions and nobody had an idea when to discharge me. I started the university with a week delay. It took me about 10 years to realise that on that night when I walked into the hospital in Szombathely, I was actually a subject of an extreme panic attack. And that is how it normally starts: if you experience it for the first time, you will not be able to control it! It feels like you are literally dying and panic makes you believe anything. If you had seen one of your relatives knocked out by a stroke or a heart attack, then you imagine that you are just about to have a stroke or a heart attack respectively. I personally imagined that I had high blood pressure, but the weirdest thing is that my panic manifested as an actual physical experience.

I have never in my life been told that I developed a panic disorder (a chain reaction of panic attacks), but doctors initially tried to fix my high blood pressure with all sort of medications. Straight into the drugs instead of understanding the psychological implications first! Typical, is it not? Of course, none of them ever helped, because my problem was not blood circulation-related. The only things that helped, however, were Alprazolam (Xanax) and Metoprolol (Betaloc). Sedative and beta-blocker. Many years later you understand the reasons why. And I have never had high blood pressure when I was calm. But both of these medications can push you into serious addiction which is exactly what happened to me. By 2005, my initially prescribed 3 times 0.25 mg portion had been increased to 4 times 1 mg of Alprazolam; whilst beside these, I had to take 3 times half a Betaloc, and I was also given, first Telmisartan (Micardis), later Losartan (Cozaar) to treat my blood pressure imbalance which actually helped. Only these two types. Later I worked out that both Micardis and Cozaar are used to treat hypertension by controlling the aldosterone level. I find this important because elevated aldosterone levels suppress parasympathetic function (the calming function) in the nervous system which could have been a direct answer to my anxiety.

I suffered intense panic attacks throughout my studies in between 2002 and 2011. I can recall moments when I was in a lesson and my pulse was about 45/minute, but then suddenly in the next moment, my pulse rose to 145/minute and I had to leave the classroom. I often ended up in the loo pouring cold water on my head which actually helped and then I went back to the classroom. To make you feel the difference between the two moments, here are two songs from the same band, Burzum. In fact, these two songs are off the same album, Hvis lyset tar oss (If the Light Takes Us). This is actually my favourite Burzum album which completely translates my panic disorder and the associating feelings into music.

Video 1. Burzum - Tomhet


Video 2. Burzum - Hvis lyset tar oss

Exam periods were the high points for me. During these times, I visited my doctors and psychiatrist more often than usual, but in the later years, I became better and more efficient in controlling my episodes; although I had lots of lost battles, fallbacks, and other extreme situations. The first months of my university studies in 2002 were the hardest; I can recall times when every day I had to walk into the A&E because I lost control and I thought I was about to die. These got improved and more controllable in later years, but a high number of my exams, conference speeches, and other important performances were heavily affected by panic attacks which pulled me and my achievements down. Many of my teachers, colleagues, and friends were probably not even aware of my condition, or those who were aware of it did not understand it well; I did not talk to many people about this thing because I did not see the point of trying to explain something that they could not understand without having it. It is a bit like when you are trying to make others understand about your depression. Instead, I fought my battles on my own. Sometimes I lost, sometimes I won. As I am getting older now and have trained myself to handle public situations, I am actually dealing with my panic demons just well. I have also got an awesome wife who is always by my side. But I know this thing will always be hunting me. I can instantly realise when I am about to have a panic attack, I know the feelings, I know the side effects; therefore, I can reduce its impacts, but I am not able to block it fully. I still have a more elevated excitement than what other human beings naturally have, and I can clearly get petrified when it comes to picking up the phone to an unknown number, or if I have to speak to unknown people on the train or in the shop.

In this post, I just wanted to point out that panic disorder can happen to anyone, and like it or not, you are the only one who will be able to get your arse out of it. I see an extremely strong correlation between panic and stress. Just before Christmas in the past weeks, I have actually been overworking myself. I am a workaholic, so I actually enjoy working, but I often end up overdoing myself and then I feel shaky, dizzy, and I have a faster heart beat. And then you know there is that peak point when your body suddenly becomes not compatible with your dictator brain and starts acting on its own way. That is panic. A serious call of your body that you must slow down and have to adapt to a healthy life-work balance. Otherwise, you will end up with a ridiculous mental condition. A condition that makes no much sense, your brain will never understand it; but it is stronger than you, so you have no chance to win over it. At least, this is how it tries to convince you. I spent 8 years on drugs and it since 2005, it has taken me almost a decade to conquer my panic attacks. I am now 35 and they often bombard me, but then I fight back. It sometimes takes a couple of days for me to feel better, but I need to bear in mind that I am the rational one and then I am able to overcome any situations. I am.