I had my first real panic attack today. For the last month or so, in hindsight, I think I may have had quite a few. They would usually happen when I was low, or thought I was low, e.g. on the way home from work. I would start feeling dizzy, as if I was fainting, would measure my BG and find nothing wrong with it, and then it would pass. What I discovered this morning, when I had a real attack, is that the BG goes up at the time of the attack! So last week, when I felt dizzy and measured myself on the bus, and my BG turned out to 87, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it hadn’t been at 65 a few minutes before…
Here is how it happened: As part of the guided archeological walks that I am participating in here in Rome, today we visited the Basilica di San Clemente. It has two underground levels, and while we were descending, I was acutely aware of the smell of mold and thinking about how this would not be good for my (very mild) mold allergy. As we went further down, I started to feel dizzy, first just a little bit. I kept at the back of the group and started breathing through my mouth, slowly in and out, in order to try to get things under control. Then, when we went down another level, I had to sit down because of the vertigo I felt. All this seemed to take hours but in the meantime, I was keen to hear the guide’s explanations, and not to make a fool of myself by simply fainting. Then I measured my BG, thinking I was low (2 hours after breakfast) and discovered that I was at a whopping 152, which is absolutely unusual for me. I started breathing through my mouth again, but the vertigo became worse and white spots appeared in my visual field. I felt as if I was a second away from keeling over, and asked to the lady next to me to excuse me to the guide while I would wait for the group outside. She turned out to be an ANGEL! She actually came with me outside - I was almost running, just to keep from falling over (or so I thought), and she had a hard time keeping up with me. The moment I hit the courtyard and took the first breath of fresh air, I felt 100 times better! First, I only saw a blur, but my vision cleared up within seconds. And when I had sat down - within 5 minutes I felt normal again -, she started telling me about the 4 years that she had spent having panic attacks, while she was trying to figure out why with the help of a psychiatrist.
Since this was my first real attack, I had not idea what the physical symptoms I had meant. When I measured, I was sure it was just another low BG - now I am starting to think that I have never felt a low, those have always been panic attacks! The explanation my “guardian angel” gave me was that if you feel limited by something in your life (and after three months, I guess I start thinking of my diabetes as limiting! but there are other issues, too…), then you may have these attacks… it’s funny how an actual confined space brought it out so strongly for me. I sat in the sunny courtyard for almost an hour, just happy to be alive and not down there anymore. During the rest of the guided tour, I had two more moments but they went immediately. The sense of relief and the sense of having undergone something really unusal is still with me now.
Wikipedia has a good article on panic attack which has helped me understand a bit more what was happening and why, after writing the above - e.g. it does mention hypoglycemia as a possible “biological” trigger for attacks. I am not too keen on reading the whole article right now since I have a tendency to experience symptoms after having read about them.
What is your experience with panic attacks, if any? Do you think the causes are biological or psychological?