Is This How Normal People Breath?

This is the question I woke my husband up at 1 a.m. to ask him. Yes, I do crazy things like that and yes for the most part he tolerates the crazy questions. He is amazingly patient with me when I am acting a bit crazy (as he puts it).

Remember how I was struggling really badly with anxiety and panic attacks when I first quit smoking a year ago? (You can read it about here, here, here and here.) It was bad. I had been struggling with anxiety for awhile, I recognize that now that I am a non smoker before I always blamed it on cigarette withdrawals. The thing about anxiety is it is so hard to explain it to people who don’t have it. Just picture that every stressful event basically triggers your fight or flight response, so instead of being able to calmly decipher between serious threats vs. smaller threats, you take every threat (even something like we ran out of milk.. not that I drink milk) as a big deal, a really big deal. Eventually all this stimulating your fight or flight response for small things, adds up and you overflow. Which results in a panic attack. It isn’t scientific, but hell, that is how I basically see it.


I struggled with those panic attacks for 6 months. I was having sometimes 2 panic attacks a night. I was afraid of eating. I was either constantly starving myself afraid to eat or suffering from sleep deprivation because I kept waking up in panic mode. I felt the worst I had ever felt in my life (and that is saying something because PCOS has knocked me on my ass one too many times as well) and I was in a constant state of fear. I hated leaving the house. I hated eating. I was missing work. I was falling apart and unraveling at the seams. A panic attack is fierce. It can leave you shaky, convinced you are dying and wondering when the next one will hit. But it took me 6 months, several doctor appointments, a new prescription and a whole bunch of relaxation techniques taught to me by yoga, but eventually I settled into having anxiety but not panic attacks. I never really thought about it, I had assumed I was feeling better due to hard work on my part but when I started taking the Propranolol, I did start to feel a lot better.

Propranolol is a beta blocker. I have had issues with high blood pressure (thank you genetics and PCOS) for a long time and I didn’t want an anti-anxiety drug because the LAST time I took one of those I had some interesting side effects (think insomnia, weird thoughts and itching from head to toe). It also helps with irregular heart rate (thank you PCOS again for those beautiful heart palpitations) and also helps calm down my fight or flight responses. Which thanks to my anxiety were on super super sensitive alert mode ALL.THE.TIME. It was a great compromise between my doctor and I, she was lowering my blood pressure and I was getting a non anxiety drug to help with my anxiety. Win win.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago. I ran out. Now normally I am on top of refilling my prescriptions like a responsible adult buuuuuuut I have been super busy and I kept forgetting and I kept procrastinating and the pharmacy is never open when I am ready to pick it up and and and [insert another great excuse here]. I honestly didn’t think anything of it. I really didn’t put much thought into the fact that again I was getting heart palpitations, that I was struggling to breath, that my intercostal muscles (those lovely muscles between your ribs) were sore and that I was having anxiety creep up on me again. I yawned nearly constantly not because I needed to but to prove I could take deep breaths. The thing about anxiety is, it is always there once you have it and I wasn’t looking at the smaller warning signs. I could feel the small symptoms first, crankiness, snappish, not wanting to hang out with anyone, wanting to read in bed all night, poor sleeping habits again. Don’t get me wrong, I can always feel it rolling and burning under the surface. Like a volcano. But also like a volcano, if I don’t let pressure off in some way, it will erupt. And it did. Monday night. I found myself sitting straight up in bed at 2 a.m., woke up out of a dead sleep, convinced I wasn’t breathing correctly.

I tried to lay down. I thought, “I will go back to bed” and that is the LAST rational thought I had for about 25 minutes. Panic attacks are not rational. Not at all. I kept breathing (because it is an automatic response) but it felt forced, it felt shallow, my heart was racing, I was dizzy, I was light headed, my stomach hurt, I felt so panicked. I ended up doing what I had always done before, crawled into a hot shower and hummed to myself. Now that might sound crazy but I hum because it reminds me that I am breathing, see you can’t sing or hum if you aren’t breathing and that calms me down eventually. I ended up letting the water run cold. Eventually the husband came in and sat down with me, rubbing my back and then convinced me to head back to bed. I was done with the panic attack but the fear of waking up like that again was strong. The next day, my very worried husband went and got my subscription filled for my propranolol.

Last night was my second night back on them. I have been seriously stressed at work and home. Lot’s going on. So sleeping hasn’t been a great place for me and one of the problems with panic attacks is, you are always looking for the next one. So I took my pills, settled into bed and woke myself up at 1 a.m. Why? Well because I was breathing normal. What?? I know, bear with me. I had gotten so used to not breathing normally, as in having it feel forced and using my chest to breath, that I didn’t recognize deep diaphragm breathing. The only reason I knew I was doing it was because I had succeeded in doing it in yoga a few times. For once I wasn’t thinking about breathing or struggling to breath. It was happening all on its own. Wait, DOES THIS REALLY HAPPEN TO NORMAL PEOPLE?? I also couldn’t feel my heart beat. Since the anxiety I have always been hyper aware that I could hear and feel my heart beat loudly. And suddenly I couldn’t anymore. I was scared. Like really scared. Since I wasn’t anxious (actually I felt pretty relaxed), I had a little bit of a mental panic attack. Which resulted in waking my husband up at 1 a.m. After I Googled suddenly relaxed breathing and why can’t I hear my heartbeat anymore, of course, duh.

You know what he did? He laughed at me. Yep. My own husband laughed at me, at 1 a.m. Then he showed me how he breaths and wow, he was breathing how I was breathing. Turns out normal people don’t think about breathing, they don’t force themselves to take in deep chest breaths to prove that they are breathing, they don’t have a constant weight on their chest and they don’t hear their heartbeat (unless you are exercising or freaked out of course). Turns out those are signs of anxiety and possibly other issues. Hence the intercostal muscle aches I had been experiencing. So when did feeling good get to making me feel so anxious? Did I really get THAT accustomed to struggling? Was I really freaking out over being relaxed?

It took me a bit to fall asleep but eventually I did. And guess what, I woke up this morning. I am still breathing. I can feel a bit of my old chest breathing sneaking back in now that I am working and stressed a bit, but for the most part I feel fine. I feel relaxed. I don’t feel out of control or crazy anxious. It will take some getting used to. I am used to being tense. Even if it was just for those few weeks I ran out of my prescription. But at least I can feel my sanity returning again, something I really relish and love. I can feel my smile and reasonableness and the want to have lunch with my coworkers again returning. Even if this morning I had to promise to not wake up the husband when I was feeling good and only to wake him up for true emergencies, you know like midnight snack runs or when I remember something I need him to do tomorrow.

Do you have anxiety?


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