Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Allergic reaction

I went to Dr. Kelly for help on someone else’s recommendation, when I was not only at the end of my rope again, but gnawing on it.

I was no longer seeing the Diane Lane look-a-like therapist. After months of sessions I found I couldn’t do it anymore. She seemed kind and she listened, but for some reason I didn’t completely trust her.

I put off finding a new therapist, because that’s what I do, and in the mean time things spiraled out of control. I spent almost an entire weekend in bed, in full melt down mode, and did something completely out of character. I talked to my mother.

Here was a woman that knew about curling up in a ball and checking out. All these years of living with this anal retentive, overly-emotional control freak that drove me nuts...and in the midst of my mess, I finally saw her. I felt ashamed of my inability to comfort her when that was probably all she’d ever wanted, ashamed that emotional displays make me uncomfortable and physical affection has a time limit.

She crawled into the bed and lay beside me while I cried. I didn’t want to talk, I didn’t want to be touched, but I didn’t want to be alone either. She’s never understood much about me at all – but this she knew how to deal with, this she could handle. When I had trouble breathing, she coached me right through it, calming me down.

I was too far gone to be embarrassed and when my sister crawled up and lay on the other side, sandwiching me between them, I just accepted it. Most days I feel as though they’re both vultures, waiting for me to show signs of weakness so they can swoop down and pick at my flesh. But that day I lay bleeding and they didn’t once take a bite. And when I finally told them what why and how, or at least as much of what why and how as I could spare, they told me not to worry and then they let me be.

Each day after that I got a little better – I got up, I cried less, I stopped staring into space and actually concentrated on something, anything else. I laughed, I went to dinner and I returned phone calls I’d been avoiding. Sometimes I’d get angry or disgusted with myself, for being what I call “melodramatic”, but generally I just “dealt with it”. And by that I mean I put it all back inside and locked it up.

I knew I needed to do something different, to seek out another therapist or take more than the occasional Xanax to numb the things that crept out of that locked place from time to time, but I didn’t. I took Dr. Kelly’s number and it joined the receipts and lipsticks at the bottom of my purse.

Until one day, not too long after my meltdown, I was sitting at work. I’d picked up my favorite fast food for lunch, brought it back to the office and ate every bite. Nothing was wrong at all on the surface, I felt fine. Except suddenly, I seemed to have something lodged in my throat.

I could still swallow, still breathe, but it was uncomfortable and I couldn’t seem to make the lump go away. I drank an entire bottle of water, even took out a mirror and examined the back of my throat just in case, but there was nothing. I got a fluttery feeling in my chest like my heart had grown wings and they were beating rapidly at my insides. My face grew hot and when I stood up I felt disoriented.

My boss walked by, glanced over and stopped. “What’s the matter? You’re very pale.”

“I don’t know. I feel strange...and like there’s something caught in my throat.” I explained all my symptoms and she told me to hold on, disappearing around the corner.

She brought back a nurse from the next department – one of the sorts that have a degree for paperwork purposes only and haven’t really practiced much medicine. I relayed my symptoms again and she nodded knowingly, perma-tanned fake boobs wobbling with every jerk of her head.

“It sounds like you’re having an allergic reaction. What have you eaten today?”

I looked at her, horrified. “Only Chick-fil-a...and I’m not allergic to anything!”

She nodded again. “Well, that’s what it sounds like. They use peanut oil, you know. Adults develop peanut allergies later in life all the time.”

“Oh no! No, no!” I had to take deep breaths at that point; the fluttering was making me supremely uncomfortable. Did people my age have heart attacks? What the fuck did Orange Boobs McGee know about it anyway? But the others immediately agreed with her and I couldn’t think of an alternate reason.

One of the other employees ran across the street and returned a few minutes later with a box of Benadryl allergy tablets, shoving two in my hand. I swallowed them and waited. For twenty minutes I paced back and forth between my office and my boss’s, sitting down and getting up over and over again, ranting.

“If I’m allergic to Chick-fil-a, you might as well go ahead and kill me now. Either that or I’ll eat it anyway and stab myself with an epi-pen every time!”

She laughed at me, but when I didn’t fall to the floor racked with convulsions she quickly lost interest. I decided I needed a second opinion.

“Mom”, I said with false calm after the receptionist connected us, “there’s something wrong with me.” I told her the problem, explaining how the feeling in my throat hadn’t gone away but got better and worse, better and worse. I told her the nurse’s theory about an allergic reaction and the Benadryl.

“But she’s got fake tanned fake boobs and I couldn’t real...”

“Alyson, do you have a Xanax in your purse?”

“Yes, why?”

“Because you’re not having an allergic reaction, you’re having a panic attack. You have no allergies, nor have you developed any. Take the pill, concentrate on breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth and call me back in twenty minutes.”

“Oh”, I replied, stunned. “Ok...”

When I called her back and reported positive results, she sounded a bit smug. “What kind of nurse would tell you something like that?” But I didn’t really blame the Boobs MD up the hall – I hadn’t recognized the real problem either. I’d never had a panic attack out of nowhere before, not like that. I’d always been very upset to begin with, agitated or crying, before one presented itself. The seemingly random arrival of this one scared me and for it to happen at work, to cause me to lose an hour of my time, well that wasn’t acceptable.

“It’ll be alright”, she added after her rant.

“Thanks mom”, I said. And I really meant it.

I dug through the debris of my purse, pulled out the doctor’s number and took her next available appointment. I still had to wait a week and during that time I experienced several more attacks, including one in the car that was so bad I had to pull over. When I finally walked through her doors, I was doubling up on my precious, actually illegally procured Xanax.

Sitting in the exam room waiting on her, I wondered how much to say. Doctors can be funny about people admitting to taking drugs that don’t belong to them, but how else to explain how I’d been dealing with the problem thus far?

I was shocked when a woman that looked no older than me walked in and, truth be told, slightly miffed. I didn’t want a new doctor, I wanted someone more established. She looked more like a TV MD than the real thing.

But the minute we started speaking, I changed my mind. For an hour we talked – I answered all her professional questions and then, somehow, I was telling her about my dad and about therapist Diane Lane. And without divulging too much, she told me she’d been through some very similar experiences. My new doctor was young and optimistic – she seemed to “get it”, and she was only a family doctor. There was likely no couch in her office, in fact I didn’t even know if she had an actual office.

It wasn’t that I found someone to relate to, there were plenty of people that could say, “Yes, I know exactly how you feel and I’ve been there”. There was just something about her that put me at ease; I trusted her. I even told her about the pills. And I’d never once had that feeling with Diane Lane. With her, I’d laid out the things I thought she needed to know, resenting it and her, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I wanted it to work, so I forced it until I couldn’t anymore, but gave just enough to get by and little else.

At the end of our appointment Dr. Kelly gave me two prescriptions – one for long term use and the other for more Xanax to use for panic attacks until the first had time to build up in my system. She said she thought therapy was something that I should continue with and she would call two of her colleagues for referrals, that I should keep trying until I found the right one, that it had taken her several tries too.

“It’s a shame”, I told her on my way out, “that you aren’t in that field.”

She smiled. “Don’t worry, you’ll find the right one. Call me anytime.” And I’m sure she really meant it.


Baglady said...

Great writing, nice to have you back (you say you have more - BRING IT ON!). I hope you find the right therapist for you soon (there must be a Dr Kelly just waiting for your call.

In other news I have tagged you in a meme. Obviously I wouldn't do it if it wasn't any good. Hope you give it a go as I'd love to see what you pul out of your archive. Missus. http://baghabit.blogspot.com/2011/09/meme-seven-links.html

Baglady said...

Is "missus" too British a comment to post on a US blog?

JUST ME said...

Try Holy Basil - in tincture or supplement form. It's a good, natural mood stabilizer that takes a few weeks to get going, but it helps your body start to work FOR you, on it's own...

And now I will get off my hippie soapbox and say that I am glad you are being proactive and moving toward what works for you - your writing has been missed mama!!

dys·func·tion said...

Congrats on finding a GP who is kind to you. My family doctor is a real gem to me, and I can't help but hope that the universe rewards him in massive ways.

One time I got Norwalk and when I came in for him to write me a return to work note, he tacked on three extra days. As stress relief. :D

Kiss or Kill said...

I found a card for yet another therapist casually lodged into my wallet after leaving my parents house this weekend...think it's a hint? I hate going to new therapists...maybe I should give this one a try though?

On a side note: even though Orange Boobs McGee seems like somewhat of a tard, she wasn't entirely off with the whole "allergic reaction" thing. I developed tree nut allergies as well as a whole slew of allergies once I hit my late teens/early twenties...but clearly the one fact that she remembered from her schooling was unhelpful in that scenario haha

gweenbrick said...

I am new to your blog, and I really enjoy your storytelling-
Panic attacks absolutely suck!
It helps a little to repeatedly remind yourself that thats what they are and that you are not going to die or have a heart explosion-but still, terrible!
Fake tan fake boobs-I hope no one ever describes me like that

Penny Dreadful said...

I always have panic attacks at night, when it is dark and quiet and you can't escape your head. Ergh. It is great that your mum can help out with this, good luck on finding a new therapist you click with x

David Henderson said...

Again with the great writing.

When are you going to produce a book?

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Wow, sorry you've been having such a rough time, dude, I truly am. I'm also happy you've pinpointed the problem and found someone to help. And that your family came through as well. You feel better, ok? Do what you need to.

And boy am I glad you don't have to give up Chick-fil-a. :)

BugginWord said...

Me, too. Chick-fil-a is ALMOST as precious as a bojangles cajun fillet biscuit with extra pickles.

And you know what's better than both of them combined with a burrito supreme with extra sour cream? A doctor you can trust. Fingers crossed.

Heather Rose said...

Thanks for being brave enough to share your story. I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder 3 years ago- I can mostly control it without meds now, because I never liked 'needing' them, but its still scary and frustrating when they come out of nowhere.

Also, I developed a gluten allergy in my early/mid 20s, so no more chick-fil-a for me... ever. Enjoy some of those waffle fries for me!

Lady Jennie said...

I'm glad you sorted out what you needed. I have to go through this too.

Happy Frog and I said...

I really admire how you can write about your own experiences so honestly and so well. I've suffered from panic and anxiety attacks and I know how debilitating they can be. I have found, like you, that it is so important to have the right person to talk to and to keep looking till you find them.

T. Roger Thomas said...

I wonder why in all this compelling writing that drew me in and made me want to read more that "Orange Boobs McGee" is the most memorable line I took from the reading experience.

Helle Kristine Tumbridge said...

It was only about three or four months ago that I started getting panic attacks out of nowhere. I also didn't at first realise what was happening. The lump, the fluttering, and temporarily losing the ability to swallow. I know how terrifying and awful it is, and how debilitating. My thoughts are with you.

Little Miss Sarcastic said...

There's nothing quite like the feeling of finding a doctor that 'gets' you.

I hope you find a therapist soon. One that will work in your favour. Good luck!

Ally said...

Amazing post. It's crazy... I feel like from what I know about you from via blog, I would never have imagined you have panic attacks or melt downs :( I know all too well about that shiz. Wishing you the best and I hope it gets better.

Chic-Fil-A is heavenly-it's my favorite part of us living down south now.

Bth said...

A brave and brilliant post. I can absolutely 100% relate to this. I suffered panic attacks a couple of years back. In my opinion they crept up because I hadn't dealt with a few traumatic experiences in the past. I'm an 'I'm fine" kind of person. I hate being an inconvenience to others and as you (and I) put it, 'melodramatic'. The panic attacks finally went away after about a year (and now only *very* occasionally resurface). I'm sure it's because I finally realised it was OK to lean on others, talk and stop bottling up absolutely everything I worried about. You're brave, strong and you'll be ok. x