Panic Attack

I’m a type-A, control-freak, lawyer. I research everything, obsessively. From what car to buy, to skin care, to child care, and everything in between (unless its something that bores me to tears). So, naturally, when I first realized I might have MS, I started researching MS, reading articles, studies, watching videos, listening to podcasts. And, when the neurologist told me it might not be MS, I started researching all the other things it could be, from Lyme and Lupus to thyroid conditions. I had tons of blood work taken, a lumbar puncture, and seemingly endless lab work. Every time I got an alert for a new test result, I checked my online chart, reviewed the results, and consulted Google.

At first, researching every possible aliment, symptom, and lab result was reassuring. I felt a little more in control. I knew what was coming next and what to expect in various tests and appointments. I came to terms with having MS quickly. I expected the tests to confirm MS and then to start treatment. But, when that didn’t happen, and the test results became harder to decipher, the comfort from researching everything morphed into anxiety, which grew heavier and heavier, slowly swallowing me like quicksand.

The neurologist that specialized in MS wasn’t sure it was MS. The high level of white blood cells in my spinal fluid were not consistent with MS. A high WBC count usually indicates meningitis, which is scary, but no one thought I had meningitis, I didn’t have the symptoms, and, at some point, a test came back negative. But, I wanted answers. So, I kept looking, Googling, researching. My tests results came back negative for everything else they were testing for; there was no explanation for the high WBC count. And, based on my investigative, non-medical skills, what I determined was that if it wasn’t MS and it wasn’t any of the numerous conditions that had been ruled out, it might be cancer.

I was so scared it might be cancer, I couldn’t even bring myself to say that out loud. To anyone.

One night, after coming to this conclusion, I worked myself up into an emotional frenzy. You know that thing we do, where we start to catastrophize things in our heads, and think of every worst-case scenario, until it feels like reality and we are sobbing? No? Just me? Well, I started to let me brain go down that awful, scary, rabbit hole. I imagined cancer and chemo, not being able to work, helping my son manage his emotions and not be scared, getting sick, dying. I pictured what that would be like for my son. And, I cried. He sleeps with me, so I stared at him and snuggled him while he slept, and spiraled out of control. I did not sleep.

At some point in the middle of the night, I started shaking, uncontrollably. My heart was racing. Was I having a seizure? Tremors? Was this an MS symptom? Something worse? I tried to hold on to the bed to steady myself and I realized I wasn’t moving. My body still, but it felt like I was convulsing. A steady, rapid, back and forth, up and down my spine. When I realized I wasn’t actually shaking, I tried to calm myself down. Deep breathes, in and out, like I learned from the mediation podcasts. Deep inhale, slow exhale while saying “calm.” My heart slowed, the convulsing slowed. After several minutes, the internal tremors stopped. If I could stop it, it must be mental, not physical. A panic attack?

In the morning, my tee-shirt was drenched in sweat. And I don’t sweat. I immediately took it off and put it into the washing machine.

I’d never had a panic attack before. It was terrifying. And, my fault. I decided I should stick to law and not pretend to be a doctor. Every time I got an alert of another lab result, I deleted the alert and did not look at the result. Every time I had an urge to look, or my brain said, “cancer,” I told myself, “You’re a lawyer, not a doctor. Leave it to the doctors.” I’d remind myself of the many times non-lawyers attempt to interpret the law and get it wrong. Lawyers go through a lot of training to understand and apply the law, we know the questions to ask and the issues to look for because of our experience, and doctors are the same. Why on earth did I think a few hours of research could compare with a medical degree in a specialized field? I talked myself down day after day, sometimes several times a day. I told myself, “There is no point in worrying. It won’t help.” I decided to accept the unknown and wait until the neurologist reviewed all the tests and told me what they thought.

In the meantime, I continued to struggle with my vision. It had been gradually getting better, until the panic attack.

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