People use the phrase hyperventilating a lot. Even me. I see crazy things, or fangirl about something and say, “oh my gosh. this is amazing. I’m hyperventilating.” And I’ll breathe heavily.
Now I will never do that again, because I know what it is like to actually hyperventilate.
I didn’t actually catch on that I was hyperventilating until I got back to my apartment. You can talk when you hyperventilate. But it’s at about 5 words per minute. You sound very deep and like the squeaky kid who just hit puberty, except way, way worse, because you also sound terrified. I don’t even think I comprehended that something was wrong with my breathing. The only thing I felt was that something was wrong.
When we breathe in, oxygen comes into our airways. From the airwaves, the oxygen moves into the bronchi, which are the branches of our lungs. The smallest of those branches are the bronchioles, and at the end of the branch are little sacs alveoli. Capillaries by the alveoli will take the oxygen and the alveoli will exchange CO2 that goes back out.
Hyperventilating is when we take in too much air. Too much oxygen is coming in. The alveoli are overwhelmed. They send out more CO2 to compensate–more than we even have. All this overbreathing causes our blood pH to rise.
So I knew what was going on, I just didn’t recognize what was going on. I was a mess. I knew I was embarrassed but I couldn’t even comprehend my own embarrassment. I was at work, surrounded by coworkers and strangers alike. In my head I knew these other workers cared about me but I just needed to get away. My direct manager came after me and tried to calm me down but it did nothing. He said he could take me anywhere, hospital or home, but I was not too enthusiastic about the hospital idea (hospitals and I have not gotten along). I think I knew inside that this was something that was going to pass. That didn’t pause my terror though.
I got a hold of my mother. Gosh, I am so incredibly lucky to have the parents I do. They drop everything for me. First, I thought maybe I needed to scream–to much oxygen was coming in and I was thinking the scream would get rid of it. It worked for about a millisecond. When my dad got on the phone was when I finally was able to say “I’m hyperventilating.” That was when the plastic bag came out, the breathing in and out into it. That really helped it.
All of my weird things were caused by stress. If you’re stressed, your tastebuds can alter around and that’s where the metallic taste came from (though I probably should still do a better job of brushing my teeth). Your lips in return can also become swollen in dry, which is what happened the morning of the panic attack. The memory lapses? Stress. Stress can cause you to lose track of where you are and forget basic things. I should have known this because I’ve heard from people with EDs that went to the hospital after becoming a skeleton of a body, and while they were there they didn’t remember much basic things, such as how to count. The fighting parts in my brain? A little bit of psychotic medicine for me to go along with my unsustained eating habits, sleep deprivation, and extreme stress.
I know this whole thing is a physical as well as mental thing, yet I will never stop learning and being surprised by the extent of how much stress and anxiety can ruin you.
I spent the week at home but I am back in school now. This morning I went to work and it was okay but I a bit awkward with one of the managers who was there when it happened initially–it should all pass though, I think. I hope.
This will never happen again. I will never have that kind of extreme panic again. I will not let myself get to that point again.
…maybe if I say it enough times, I will believe in it.