Type of anxiety attack people never heard of?
May 15, 2007 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone had the experience of being sick, weak, panicky, malnourished, anemic, perhaps about to faint, and the world turns into a kind of claustrophobic twilight horror zone where you feel like a ragged ghost or like you've stepped into another ghastly dimension, even though everything looks and sounds EXACTLY the same and you know you're physically in the same place and you can even talk rationally, but now your world has just turned into a kind of hell?

You also get particularly vulnerable to horrible images on TV, and may have intrusive thoughts of the horrific variety? I had several of these experiences when I had panic disorder from being malnourished and having severe anemia. For some reason, because I needed company or some kind of validation of these experiences I tried to look stuff about it under Psychology, anxiety attacks etc. on the Internet, but all I got was the boilerplate anxiety attack descriptions. Somehow, "anxiety attack" just never seemed an accurate name for these episodes, although technically maybe that's what they are. I just wonder why I can't find anything on it under psychology searches, Metafilter, etc. Although I guess I have heard people say things like "the world was closing in on me" or "feeling of impending doom." It happened more in hot, stuffy places of course. I guess I just think there should be a name for it, or a clearer way to talk about it, or something.
posted by serena15221 to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you thinking of a panic attack?
posted by |n$eCur3 at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2007

It sounds like a panic attack, except the anemia & malnourishment which I guess could either be a cause or result of the panic attack or generalized anxiety disorder.

Why were you malnourished? That's not something that just sort of suddenly comes on. Or did you just FEEL malnourished & dizzy like someone with low blood sugar? If so that can definitely be a sign of a panic attack. Panic attacks can feel like completely physical, terrifying, bizarre events.
posted by tastybrains at 1:10 PM on May 15, 2007

Also a possibility: Agoraphobia which has similar symptoms and often coincides with panic attacks.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 1:10 PM on May 15, 2007

(I am not a practicing mental health professional.)

That sure sounds like a panic attack.

I'm sorry to be one of the AskMeFi OMG SEE A DOCTOR people, but if these events are a recurring thing, I think you really would benefit from seeing a psychologist, or a psychiatrist.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 1:12 PM on May 15, 2007

Low blood sugar+panic attack="feeling of doom".
posted by Dizzy at 1:14 PM on May 15, 2007

This feeling you describe sounds like a panic attack, a common symptom of anxiety disorders (natch) or obsessive-compulsive disorders.

There's not really a fitting word in English for it. The Germans call it Angst, and it means "fear" or "dread." In English, though, angst means a free-floating anxiety, not a sudden unreasonable unfocused fear.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:15 PM on May 15, 2007

It sounds like panic + depersonalization to me. I've experienced similar sensations, especially with having to avoid scary/traumatic media images. For me, the hellish feelings comes from suddenly being unsure if I'm dreaming or not. I logically know I'm wide awake and not dreaming, but there's that strange doubt that creeps in. When your mental equilibrium is thrown off like that, suddenly everything will feel wrong or misplaced or hellish. Definitely frightening, but from my anecdotal opinion, it's still nothing more than a panic attack. All of this coupled with hypoglecmia is bad news; your body wants you to feel panic so you'll feed it.
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:20 PM on May 15, 2007

Oh, and if you're not actually malnourished/anemic, but feeling as if you are, adrenaline rushes can feel very similar to low blood sugar, with the faintness and shakiness. (At least, they do to me.)
posted by Zosia Blue at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2007

What Zosia Blue said: panic + depersonalization. I know it can be really scary when you don't know what it is; it took me almost a year to figure out what was going on. I did some CBT, and it got a lot better. My triggers include: cold light (overcast days, twilight, flourescent lighting), being hungry, and claustrophobic situations.
posted by dame at 1:44 PM on May 15, 2007

total panic attack. it can happen even when you are not panicked in the slightest. just a weird stress reaction. try stimulating the vagal nerve / dive reflex - a lot of times that can reduce or eliminate the feelings almost instantly. fill a sink or other basin with the coldest water you can find, tapwater plus lots of ice works well, and put your face under water for 10 seconds. Make sure the water level comes to your temples, chin and cheeks, almost to your ears. This will quickly drop your heart rate as well.

I've also had similar feelings and the emotional dimension as well when my blood sugar was very low or after a long run or swim that I wasn't quite ready for.
posted by luriete at 1:44 PM on May 15, 2007

This is definitely a panic attack. When I have them I have suddenly get the aforementioned "impending sense of doom" and the intrusive thoughts, and feel physically uncomfortable (butterflies in my stomach I can't get rid of) for seemingly no reason at all. I can still talk, but it's an effort, and I often start crying if I try, or feel frozen.

When I go through periods of anxiety, I tend to eat less because I feel nauseous -- I don't get hungry. This tends to become a self-perpetuating cycle in which I don't eat because I'm anxious, even when often eating something would improve the situation (by increasing blood sugar level). What is key is to consciously decide to eat something even though you don't feel hungry or feel like you might throw up, even if it's just crackers.
posted by puffin at 1:49 PM on May 15, 2007

Whoa, yeah. Panic attack plus depersonalization. It's horrible and hellish, like my body and my surroundings aren't 'mine' somehow. It can be triggered by lots of different things. For me it's stress, being really sick (heat exhaustion especially), and when my blood sugar crashes.

Best way I've found to describe it is a sudden fit of unrelenting Lovecraftian horror.
posted by cmyk at 2:04 PM on May 15, 2007

I totally had this. Years ago, after several traumatic events in my life I started having intense panic attacks. I thought that I was going crazy and that it was the worst thing ever, I also experienced brief thoughts of horrible images. I never was a danger to myself but by the time I was having all-day full blown panic attacks I couldn't stand to be alone.

So during this I found I had lost my appetite and was no longer eating, after it got super awful, I got myself to a doctor. They said I have a generalized panic disorder, and put me on Zoloft and some meds to help me sleep and after one rough month of recovery I was fit as a fiddle and more able to take care of all the things I needed to.

So yes, get thee to a doctor. Talk to a head shrinker if you need to. But as most have been commenting, it sounds like a panic attack.
posted by sweetmarie at 2:27 PM on May 15, 2007

Just nthing panic attack and/or depersonalization. I've actually been talking to my therapist about this lately. I often get just the depersonalization without the actual panic attack. I've done it basically my whole life (I grew up in a very abusive household and l learned to pull detach. Alas, what started out as a coping mechanism can rebound terribly).

I'm working on a combination of relaxation and breath control as well as cognitive behavioral-type stuff. I have also found that ice on my face and palms can help snap me out of it.

It's odd but sort of comforting to read about so many other people with symptoms so similar to mine. I think the nature of the beast is that you feel terrified and utterly alone, but it seems a lot of us feel this way.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:53 PM on May 15, 2007

Nth panic attack. When they happen just remember to tell yourself over and over that there's nothing physically wrong with you and that you're going to be fine.
If they keep up you might want to look into getting ativan or something similar...I found that just knowing I had them and could take one to stop the attack if I needed to was enough to make them stop, a lot of the time.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 3:10 PM on May 15, 2007

I used to get that, Doctors said stress, but seriously, I had no stress then... quite a while later, turns out I had a constantly inflamed gallbladder, which in turn gave me an ulcer. The operation was quick, healing the ulcer took a lot longer.

These days? I rarely have them (none in 2 years), unless I do stupid things with what I eat.

I wrote all my experiences down at the time, but it is long and not interesting. If you have none of the side-symptoms related to gallbladder problems, then it probably isn't it. (serious pain on right-side, just under ribs, usually in the evenings, lasting hours, and generally after eating things like onions, or eggs)
posted by lundman at 5:40 PM on May 15, 2007

You know.. I may be way off base here, but have you had your thyroid checked lately? I had those same symptoms at one of my worst points with Graves disease.
If you have yourself checked by a psych, you could also try your family practitioner.. just to be on the safe side.
posted by czechmate at 6:25 PM on May 15, 2007

Malnourishment and anemia aren't caused by panic disorder... if you truly believe you are malnourished I really think you need to see a doctor as soon as possible. IANAD but if you're malnourished it would seem to follow that you'd feel faint and even hallucinate.
posted by loiseau at 7:07 PM on May 15, 2007

Response by poster: Sorry to be unclear. I was malnourished, anemic, hypoglocemic, possibly dehydrated from not eating enough and bleeding way too much every month, and facing a hysterectomy. I know perfectly well that all of that stuff is what caused the anxiety. Now that I am healthy I only get the occasional mild anxiety attack when I'm really exhausted. I certainly would second that anyone who is having extreme anxiety or weird mental episodes definitely needs to find out if it's a physical illness and before they even do that, start taking better care of their physical body (regular meals, fresh air and so forth) rather than just seeing a shrink.
posted by serena15221 at 7:33 PM on May 15, 2007

Been there, had that--only once, thank gawd. I hadn't been eating, was probably dehydrated, there's a good likelihood anemia was involved, and I was in the middle of some serious hell from an escalating bad situation I had no direct control over (and which I later learned was probably nine kinds of wrong, ethically).

I didn't faint but I seriously wanted to if for no other reason than for relief from what I was feeling. It was a truly horrible, mainly because it came on so unexpectedly.

I read your last comment and it sounds like you're dealing/have dealt with it. I wouldn't wish repeated panic attacks on anyone.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:02 PM on May 15, 2007

A related ask mefi thread?
posted by iamck at 12:54 AM on May 16, 2007

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