Do you remember as a kid saying things like, “That was a panic!” Or, “What a panic!” when you and your friends had a crazy, fun, spaztastic time? I’m talking about those times when you laughed so hard, snot came out your nose, and maybe you accidentally peed your pants? I’m not sure of the origin of this expression, and I don’t recall how old I was when I stopped using it. It came to mind recently, though, for reasons that weren’t too funny.
If you are familiar with my blog, you know that I started writing when I was rehabbing from a nasty foot injury, caused by (ignorantly) overtraining for my first marathon. (Read about that here.) You would have learned about my injuries, diseases, allergies, asthma, and other obstacles that I regularly deal with in my life and in my athletic training. I have dedicated countless hours to learning how to overcome these challenges, by studying the science of exercise, nutrition, training, hypnosis, and meditation, all in an effort to not only help MYSELF, but to arm myself with the tools I needed to coach others in the running and triathlon community.
Lots of my friends and fans believe I have it all together. Flattering, but come on, do you really believe that anybody has it ALL together? No way; some of us simply master the skills of making it look that way.
Training for any athletic competition takes dedication, time, discipline, and perseverance. Throw obstacles in the way, and there are ALWAYS obstacles, and the athlete has to find a way to overcome them. For me, the three main obstacles I am faced with are: allergies, asthma, and blisters on my right foot. OK, no biggie- there are things I can use to treat these, right? Well, not so simple. Regular use of most allergy medicines has been linked to early onset Dementia and Alzheimers. Flonase is linked to Cataracts- and I have the start of one in my left eye from long term use! Blisters? Well, I continue to try just about everything out there….
During my Ironman training in 2015, I suffered from severe seasonal allergy symptoms, which put a serious strain on my running training. I found myself getting asthma attacks while training out doors all Spring and into mid Summer. I’m talking stop-in-my-tracks-bent-over-gasping-for-air-to-the-point-of-almost-passing-out attacks. Consequently, my long distance running abilities suffered. After long training bike rides, I would often end up with my eyes swollen , red, and itchy, and three times wound up with sinus infections. (That’s another story that is unfolding as we speak)
Bound and determined NOT to suffer the same ill fated training season this year, I decided to get a complete physical, and bring my entire list of complaints to my doctor and see what she recommended. While I do have allergies, and exercise induced asthma, it turns out that the biggest surprise diagnosis is PANIC ATTACKS. What? Yeah, those ATTACKS I kept having where I start wheezing, gasping for air, getting hysterical, and nearly fainting? Panic attacks. They start out like asthma symptoms, but quickly morph into the most terrifying, heart palpitating, can’t breath, throat closed, “fear of imminent death” panic attacks. I can’t describe the absolute all encompassing primal terror that I experience during these attacks. They can last for minutes or hours, and the severity of them can bring me to my knees. Both my boyfriend and my coach have witnessed the episodes, while we ran together, and now we know what is actually happening.
I have had these attacks a few times in my past. I remember having one on an airplane flying home from China. It was like the plane was closing in and suffocating me, and I was completely helpless to survive another minute. I hyperventilated, and death-gripped the tray table in front of me, all the while struggling to suppress a guttural scream. Another time was in an elevator in Denver, and a few times while driving in Portland. The driving one’s prompted me to seek medical attention immediately, fearing I was having a heart attack. BUT, these were all years ago and so much in my life has changed since then. I am healthier, happier, and stronger. So what the heck???
This past weekend, it happened again, and it came out of nowhere, at a time that I never would have guessed. It started in the swim portion of the Pine Hollow Triathlon, after warming up for several minutes in the crystal clear, comfortable water, in the most peaceful, serene setting.
I started swimming competitively in Kindergarten. In open water in the Long Island Sound. With jelly fish, and seaweed. I am not afraid of swimming in open water, like many people. So, after my first few strokes that morning, when I started hyperventilating, and wheezing, I was caught completely off guard. The intense panic set in suddenly, and in less than a minute after the start, I rolled over onto my back, and briefly thought about quitting. I was terrified, gasping for air, and confused-desperate, more like, and frantically tried to find relief. I did a few breast strokes to try and keep myself afloat, and summoned every ounce of my will to move forward and continue the swim. I know how to swim; I know how to make myself relax in the water. I know ALL the tricks. Nothing worked. I swam, trying to breath every stroke, all the while fearing that I couldn’t get enough air. I sighted the red buoy that marked the turn around point, and it never seemed to get any closer. I felt my wetsuit crushing my neck, my chest, and my shoulders. The breaths I took sounded like screams. I prayed that it would end. 850 yards. Just under 16 minutes. No relief. When I exited the water, I was dizzy from hyperventilating, and in an agitated state. I don’t remember much of the run-or walk, I should say, to my bike. I got out of the wetsuit, got my shoes, glasses and helmet on, and took off. The bike course was hilly and I never caught my breath. This aepisode lasted until the 9th mile, when it fizzled. The rest of the race was more brutal because it was 91 degrees with no shade, and the 4 mile run, was on a technical trail with lots of gravel, steep hills, downed trees to climb over, and my body was spent. Here’s the funny part. In all my hysteria, I managed to be the 2nd overall female finisher, and 1st in my age group.
There you go. I couldn’t believe it.
SO! I am learning to identify the warning signs. I have started to take proactive actions when my body starts spiraling. I now have medication for the times when it comes on suddenly, and I need the help. Thankfully, I do NOT need daily medication, as many people with anxiety disorders require. (Been there, done that, thank you very much) I also have a new app on my phone called Calm that reminds me every day when to meditate, and guides me through a 5-10 minute relaxing meditation.
Strangely enough, I am more excited about this diagnosis, that you would think. Up until now, I thought that I was powerless to the negative effects my seasonal allergies had on me, and doubted the benefit of my Albuterol Inhaler. I felt doomed to suffer and fight through every Spring and Summer. Now, however, I know there is something I can do to fight this thing and hopefully become equipped to defeat it! I am not powerless to this challenge anymore! This past weekend gave me the chance to test it, and once again, I was able to power through.
IF you suffer from anxiety disorders, please get help. Talk to your doctor. Meditate. Do yoga. Equip yourself with tools to get you through it. I have a lot to learn, and hope to beat this.