Video Games and Panic Attacks

I've actually tried to make this post a couple of times. Giving it another shot. Maybe third's the charm, right?

Story time.

This has not been a good couple of days. Actually, they've been down right bad, and explaining why involves also explaining why the days the preceded it were good.

After Dad died [not that it's been all that long yet], I gave up video games. Specifically, console/hand held games, basically shutting my DS and the PS2 [yes, I'm behind] up in the cupboard, while I would still occasionally play a game of Plants vs Zombies. It wasn't targeted, and was hardly intentionally, I just have this habit that when bad things happens, I deprive myself of something, usually something that brings me joy. I doubt it's particularly healthy, and I've only ever really met one other person who did it, and they were way more comfortable with it than I am. Actually just mentioning it here is making me bristle a bit.

I guess you could compare it a little bit to Lent. I'm sort of the opposite of religious, more superstitious really, so it goes along in that same vein. Sometimes it happens naturally -- when Mom and Doug split up, and I lost the house, just moving into my grandmother's spare room and giving up a lot of privacy was enough. I'm not even sure why gaming was what I decided to offer up this time. If I had to take a stab in the dark, I'd say it was just me being pragmatic; before Dad died, I'd just downloaded all these different television shows, some to watch with him. I was writing anything that I could particularly afford to put away, so that was out. And as many mixed feelings as I have when I get a new stack of comic books, a pull-list is like a binding contract... and anyway, a bunch of comics were still coming in the mail. It even crossed my mind to give up the blog, but as glad as I am to have this space, I don't always consider it a "fun" hobby. A lot of it is to keep me writing, keep me working, and keep me... well, for lack of a better word, sane.

And those who know me can attest, I don't really have a whole lot of fun anymore. So video games it was.

Lately I've been on a minor self-improvement kick, so I've been thinking back a lot to times when I was happy. Some of things I've come up with have surprised me, some less so, and few are really things I've been able to duplicate. But one time in particular did keep coming back to me, and that was during my second year at Bennington, when Ian and I still shared a room, and thanks to a sort of awkward situation next door, Sam was basically staying with us too. For Sam and Ian, it was kind of awful -- it put Ian out, and Sam really wanted her own space, but for me, at the time, I really enjoyed that, having one of my best friends and my girlfriend so close to me. Yes, there were little problems, and I don't want those who were around for those times to think I'm looking back with stars in my eyes, but I really felt at home then. Ian on his bed, Sam on mine, and me in Ian's chair, playing my Pokemon on my Game Boy.

Of course, there was no way to get those people back, not like that [nor do I really want that], but if there was anything out of that situation that could be duplicated, any part of it that might be a bit of obtainable joy, what would it be?

Why hello there.

I've always gotten a lot of flak for the Pokemon thing. It inhabits that weird place in the video game hierarchy -- the old school, Pac Man and NES Mario crowd aren't fans, and the more mainstream Wii/Guitar Band/Halo/FPS crowd find it childish. Even the hardcore RPG players like to give me shit for my habit, and these are the World of Warcraft types I'm talking about, so it's not a very popular hobby. Then again, I like Shakespeare and pro-wrestling [not together], so I guess I'm kind of used to that.

Occasionally, I'll get defensive. But I've never really cared.

Anyway, not long before everything fell apart, I'd bought the Platinum Version of Pokemon for DS. I'd gotten about half-way through before my self-imposed embargo, and when I picked it up again and started playing, I can't even describe how helpful it was. I shut off. Not completely, not emotionally, but my head, all the buzzing and screaming, all the ideas and the all the self-doubt, it shut up for a little bit. I felt like I'd finally switched off, a rare thing, even more so lately. I felt good.

And I think it translated a bit. For a few days I started sleeping normally. All these fun sort of ideas started popping up in my head -- nothing particularly cheery, that's not really me, but I got to that place where the ideas were flowing freely, sometimes faster than I could get them down on paper. And I was enjoying writing on paper again, even sort of fascinated with looking at my handwriting, how the marks of the pen dried on the page. It sounds a little ridiculous, I'm sure, but everything was a little like a movie. Close-ups in all the right places, a sound track that wasn't meant to drown things out, but to compliment the scene.

There were other things that could have been causing it too. It was cooler out, my sinuses had finally let up, I could breath for a change, and Grandma had just come home from the hospital without needing 24/7 oxygen. Also wrote an e-mail I'd been working up to. It had been a week for the small victories. I didn't feel anymore hopeful, life didn't seem brighter, I doubt I was even in what you'd call a "good mood," yet life seemed a little easier. No anxiety attacks. And I don't know if it was the weather or picking up the DS again and putting some time towards getting a Milotic, but things didn't suck.

Couple days ago, things started going back towards normal.

It's almost funny. I woke up sneezing, and way too warm. Added that extra blanket to the bed just a little too soon. And before I even got up, in the back of my head there was this Hunter voice, saying "there's nothing out there for you, and you goddamn know it. Shore up your defenses, and wait the bastards out." Those were the exact words. I thought it was funny, and put it up as my Facebook status. I should have listened to myself.

I spent the morning writing. Had some good ideas, actually had a really good opener to go along with what I posted the other day, but I couldn't seem to get motivated enough to get off the paper, and start typing. I felt irritable -- mostly about stupid things, for instance, several of my friends on Facebook, and a few of the writers I follow on Twitter all were making remarks about prescriptivism, preaching about grammar, antiquated phrases, slang, and colloquialisms. Rather than be argumentative, I thought I'd sit down and write up my own thoughts on the subject, for solidarity [it's not as obsessive as it sounds. I recently found some of my old writing from high school, and I figured if my views now seemed as unintentionally hilarious to me in five years as those did today, it'd be a nice a little thing to have posted, to look back on]. This blog is supposed to be about writing, after all.

But again, I couldn't seem to get it going. I got half-way through a draft that seemed forced, and then started feeling nervous. I suddenly wanted out of the house and away from the computer -- not odd, so I grabbed my jacket and headed outside. While I was walking, I noticed something about the jacket that hadn't bothered me before -- there was a flap, on the inside seam, that was white on the opposite side, and had folded over. On a black jacket, I thought it looked like crap, and after once around the block I realized I really wanted a much longer trip out. So I decided I'd take the long walk out to the block of stores [a couple of miles, at least] -- where Smith's and Rite Aid was, and pick up some safety pins. If they were black, I could pin the seam back in place, punk-rock style, and maybe I wouldn't feel so useless.

It's hard to describe a panic attack. A friend of mine has been toying with putting them in something he's working on, and because of that I've been thinking about how hard they are to really explain properly. Especially since I think they're a different sort of thing for different people -- just thinking about how I've seen them in movies: Sean Connery freaking out in "Finding Forrester" with all the deep, echo-y breathing and the quit cuts to the crowds, or Jack Nicholson's fake heart attack near the end of "Something's Gotta Give" [please go back to making fun of me for Pokemon]. Mine have never even been remotely like that; usually they're focused on pushing through, functioning, hiding that I'm even having one. And naturally, the lack of sympathy for the thing that I'm not letting anyone know I'm having starts to make me irritable.

Sound familiar?

Later that evening, I had to go grocery shopping. I wasn't feeling much better, but I had at least exhausted myself a little with the long walk, and having acquired my mundane little trophy in the form of black safety pins [which I still haven't used]. Still, when I got into the store, country music was blaring loudly over the speakers, and in way too much of hurry I wound up tangling the headphones of my iPod badly. As I tried to pull them free from themselves, I only made the knot worse, and as I'd already taken a shopping cart, I felt like a pretty big obstacle in the empty aisle of the store. I panicked more because that, absolutely sure some unseen shopper was going to start sighing impatiently behind me, and my hands started shaking which just made it take longer. In my head, I had to keep telling myself that I was there shopping, and that there was no rule that said I wasn't allowed to take five or six minutes and untangle my headphones so I didn't have to listen to the prattling of Taylor Swift or Toby Keith. I felt sure someone was going to say something to hurry me along. And I really, really didn't want that to happen, for some reason.

I finally got everything back in order, but it never really let up. I don't know if it's possible to have "rolling panic attacks," but that's certainly what these have felt like. I've done my best to keep from snapping at people, but my fuse has been a lot shorter, and any time I seem to get a break, I just feel absolutely exhausted. I only spent about an hour today writing, even on paper, which feels like a shame since even without much in the way of new ideas, the past few days have given me a lot I could be working from. I feel like I could be getting some things done.

Highs and lows. I sort of hope that today is the end of it, but not sleeping tonight has not made me optimistic. Hopefully I'll get out this weekend, maybe see some people, and just generally get my mind off things. I'd probably feel more sure about that if I knew where all this came from, but for the time being I'll be happy enough if it just goes away.

More later. Might have an important post next week.

2 comments :: Video Games and Panic Attacks

  1. It is possible to have "rolling" panic attacks, and they don't need to be brought on by anything specific. In other words, if you're prone to them it doesn't have to be something in particular bringing them on (stressful situation, etc.)

    I've had panic attacks my entire life since puberty, but I've had two extended periods of them. One was the entire time I was at Capital High, where I was put on medication for them because I just didn't know any better at the time.

    The second was about 3/4 of the way through college. I can remember when it started; one day I just had that awful feeling that you get, and I went to bed thinking that I would feel better in the morning. I didn't. Which just panicked me more. I didn't feel any better for a couple months. Every day in class I'd have to calm myself down. I'd feel like I was going to die for no reason while I'd be sitting there in a lecture.

    I went to hospitals to get checked out, make sure it wasn't actually my heart and all that stuff (I don't know if you have this with yours, but one of my symptoms is a heaviness in my chest that makes me feel like I can't breathe.) Staci had to take me to the emergency room once during this period. I also think it's the most I've ever freaked my parents out because at one point I was sitting with them in an examination room basically begging them to tell the doctor to give me a shot that would put me to sleep so I didn't have to feel like that for at least a few hours.

    All the doctors wanted to give me medication for it, but I refused it. One thing I have lived by since surviving Capital is that I would rather be miserable and be myself than be on any kind of mood altering drug. And I got myself through it. It took a while, and it's not like I did anything specific other than wait it out. Everyone on my mom's side of the the family is on anti-depression medication, so it runs in the family. And to put it as nicely as I can many of them have less than desirable lives and lifestyles, and I didn't want to end up like that. So I guess the moral of the story is that(in my opinion)it is important to overcome these things yourself, because you can do it. The human body is capable of it, and you're capable of it. And you're better for it in the end.

    I guess one thing I did try to do during that period was go out and do different things rather than stay at home. You feel like you want to just hole up until you feel better, but I kinda forced myself to get out and do things even though at the time it felt like that would only make it worse. I'm glad I did that because in a way it's like you're saying that you're stronger than the problem, kind of like climbing a ladder if you're afraid of heights. It was something my mom taught me. She also suffers from anxiety and panic attacks and she also very successfully overcome them without medication.

  2. Yeah, I agree it is possible too. I will admit to engaging in a little bit of rhetoric there. Part of me dealing with all these things is trying to get them down on the page in some manner I can stand to look at them.

    I appreciate you sharing all that, and it further proves what I thought, that these panic attacks can really affect different people in a lot of different ways. I don't get much in the way of heart-like/chest related symptoms, though my heart rate does tend to rise, I rarely get pain or shortness of breath. On the other hand, some of what you mentioned ring very familiar. The spiraling, feeling worse, for not being able to make yourself better is one, but also your recounting of the bargaining aspect, really reminds me of my own. In your case that manifests as you pleading to have something done to offer you some relief and sleep, while in my case I usually end up pleading with my own mind, offering this and that in return for it calming down.

    And that's really where most of mine comes from -- most of it is mental and emotional, and very difficult to explain in broad terms. There are physical symptoms with mine, but most of those come later, usually in the form of exhaustion. As I mentioned in the main post, I'm not entirely comfortable talking about some of it here, but I wouldn't mind talking about it in a more one-to-one situation.

    As for fixing the problem, I'm not entirely sure. I thought this was a more recent thing for me, but thinking back, and having found some things I'd written as far back as middle school makes me think that maybe it's been something that I've been dealing with a long time. Medication is sort of a touchy subject -- I do believe it can help people, I've seen it do as much with dear friends, but I worry that it would impede my creative side, which is one of the few things that I do still manage to get some satisfaction from. I'd never begrudge others something that might help them though, especially since many people have far different responsibilities and priorities than I do. Therapy is something I've considered, and I even think analysis could benefit me, but without a job or insurance, it has to be, as you say, something I have to work through myself.

    Despite what I think is the general opinion of me, I never really have the urge to "hole up" as you put it. A great deal of my anxiety comes from loneliness, and very little from social awkwardness [not that I'm not a little socially awkward, I just don't get anxious about it], and though these panic attacks tend to make me irritable, and even more confrontational, the only time I sequester myself away from others is when I'm worried I might hurt their feelings or lose control. There have been times I have, as its much easier to lose my temper, and I always regret that later. But I'm getting a little better at managing, and I try not to let it impede me.

    So I don't avoid the chance to go out or see people, and it'd probably surprise some to find out that times when they saw me I was trying very hard not to completely flip my shit. I'm lucky, in so much that there are certain social norms and things that people expect from me [cynical, ranting, bitchy], that allow me to hide it easier. Honestly, I'd love to spend more time with friends, but said friends are either spread out to places like Los Angeles, New York, Pittsburgh, Japan, Connecticut, Portland, and many more places, or nearby but [understandably] busy with various responsibilities and significant others. Which leaves me mostly to deal with it on my own, or be glad when I can catch someone to talk to, on the phone or on AIM.

    Again, I can't thank you enough for sharing all that, Glen, especially since a lot of this is sort of highly private, and there's some about mine that is still hard to talk about at times. I sometimes liken it to talking about a migraine, that just describing what it's like makes it feel like one is coming on, so why even bring it up? So I appreciate your candor.