I need to talk to people who will understand what just happened to me because it was traumatic. A bit of backstory: I have a 30-year history of panic attacks and am diagnosed with panic disorder, but most of it is situational at this point because I've been medicated. Recently, my medication was switched from xanax to klonopin, although the xanax was working fine before that for 20-odd years. Before that, I was not medicated and was agoraphobic and did not leave my house. Now that I'm medicated, I've achieved a lot and basically "forget" I even have panic disorder at times. However, before being medicated, I had panic attacks throughout the day, did CBT without luck, was in therapy, and even wound up hospitalized. They began when I was eight years old, literally.
Fast-forward to now. I have some situational panic still, but otherwise, nothing, and I just avoid the situations that cause panic attacks since klonopin won't stop these whatsoever. These situations are almost all similar and feel the same to me and have to do with not being able to escape: being a passenger in a car (but no problem driving except in the left lane, which is easy to avoid -- I am not scared of how people drive, just being stuck in the car and unable to get out), crossing a bridge, taking elevators, being stuck in traffic on a freeway, sitting in the middle of a movie theater, subways, taxis, airplanes, but not buses or ferries. I'm probably forgetting a few scenarios, but they are all pretty textbook, and only the first really is a problem since I have to drive everywhere, which isn't that big of a problem except when I am traveling. Which just happened.
Here's why I am writing: I'm depressed. I haven't had a real panic attack in a few years. I'm about 40 years old. I was on family holiday and had to drive for ten hours as a passenger in a car, and I had the MOTHER OF ALL PANIC ATTACKS at the end of the ride :( It hit SO hard and SO fast, it felt like I was hit by lightning. I don't even know how to think about it. I was fine, my mother was the driver and she's 60 years old and a good driver, and we were on a rural highway for a long time with two other family members. I trusted everyone in the car and felt fine.
Suddenly, I felt as though I were just hit by a bolt of lightning in terms of the speed and intensity that the panic attack came on, and I had immediate tunnel vision with the overwhelming urge to jump out of the car while it was going 65 mph. I screamed "Pull over!!!!" and actually did dive for the handle and tried to get out of the car. I had no other warning symptoms. Nothing at all. Nothing. Luckily, she pulled over after ten seconds or something because I did open the car door and jumped out, and if it were still moving, I'd be dead. At that point, I began to shake from head to toe, like I was convulsing, and I was breathing a thousand miles an hour, but only AFTER the attack. The weird thing is that I never have a rapid heart beat either. At this point, I was just happy that the experience was over. It probably lasted twenty seconds. However, I was so scared that I couldn't stop crying uncontrollably, just sobbing. I finally had a glass of wine to calm down since we had a bottle in the trunk. I don't even drink normally. This kind of calmed me down enough to get into the car again, and I lay down in the back and tried to breathe and think "So what, it can't hurt me," and that kind of thing. Still, I was scared I might jump out of the car. Then, I had EIGHT MORE PANIC ATTACKS just like that first attack over the next few hours of driving, so I wound up literally just sobbing and sobbing hysterically in the car and shaking from head to toe.
As if this weren't bad enough, the next day, my mother had to drive me to see a relative an hour away. I was very nervous about this for obvious reasons. So, I got into the back seat and lay down from the get go. We were half-way to where we were driving when again, out of the blue, like a cannonball, I was hit with a panic attack so immense and fast that it felt like I was shot. I was alone in the backseat and actually got half-way out of the car, although we were only going perhaps 10mph at this point. She began to scream at me that I was insane, she was going to take me to a mental hospital, and that I was deliberately trying to sabotage the trip, and she scared me badly while I was in a terribly fragile state, so I got out of the car and ran down the highway into the woods, and I could barely even see because of the panic attack. This is not my usual behavior. Again, before this, I hadn't had a panic attack in years, and I am not a kid; I'm an adult and a professional woman. However, the combination of my panic attack and her response was completely overwhelming to me. We don't see each other very often, and she lives far away from me. I finally came back to the car, and she refused to let me drive, which I begged to do, and then she left me there on the highway! When she came back, she said I had to sit in the back.
So I did, and then WHAM! I had another attack that was like an overwhelming, sudden brick to the head. I have trouble describing them other than a sudden sense of all-encompassing NEED to be out of the situation coupled with profound fear. There aren't many other symptoms except tunnel vision and then shaking and crying for a long time afterwards. That's it. And people say you feel you will lose control, but the thing is, I kind of do lose control for real.
For example, I lost control completely because she began to shout at me about something really terrible when I was panicking, and I don't even know what it was about because I freaked out and wound up scratching my face and hitting my head on the glass. I have no idea why I did that, to be honest, and I've never done it before, but I've also never had someone scream at me during a panic attack like that. She then turned around and drove me home, and I had back-to-back panic attacks the entire way as she cussed at me about how I "sabotaged" the family visit as well as how I was insane because I scratched myself and tried to jump out of the car.
I do not want to ever feel that degree of fear again. I felt as if I were in combat, literally. I had no way to work through it mentally because it was TOO FAST to deal with or think about and came on with NO WARNING. What are you supposed to do when you have panic attacks that strike with this intensity and speed? There is no warning? Also, what if you really do something stupid to get out of the scary situation? I can see myself easily jumping off of a bridge or something in that state of terror, which really scares me as it should. Also, I have remissions, and I will be fine, and then it all comes back without my expecting it, so it's really "for life." I try exposure therapy, which is how I am not agoraphobic, but for other things, it doesn't work at all. Do other people have these kinds of panic attacks? And has anyone ever turned their fear into attacking themselves like I did? I'm sure that I did that because I was about to attack her, to be honest, but chose a better outlet for that level of adrenaline -- like the flight became fight instead.
I would like to try again, but I am afraid I might harm the driver or myself if I cannot get out of the car fast enough. I am also wondering if others have this level of panic and rapid-ness of onset of the attacks? I read online about panic attacks and am not sure because people tend to talk about things vaguely or talk about rapid heart beats, which I don't even get. People talk about things that don't even sound to me like panic attacks at all but more like "a lot of anxiety." I'm talking about an actual panic attack, like you're being shot at or something, where you just lose it completely. I'm depressed by what just happened and find myself crying this entire week, and I have no idea what to do.