Saturday, February 21, 2009

Because it helps to talk about it

Since December, I've been having a racing heart. I don't know how to describe it other than feeling like my heart is beating out of control--like I've been surprised or scared, except it hasn't slowed down. This happened a few times while I lived in Lubbock, and it seemed very worrisome to me at the time, but it would go away after 5 or 6 hours each time. This time, it hasn't gone away.

So, I went to the doctor and had my blood pressure checked out. Sure enough, I was right. My heart didn't just feel incredibly fast, it was incredibly fast. The average person's heart beats about 60-100 beats a minute, depending on what they are doing (it's sometimes much higher if they are exercising). Mine was monitored over the course of about an hour, and it was around 100 the whole time. A tiny bit lower, at one point. It's not too good, he said, if it never slows down. My average should be around 80, not 100. However, the dr. said it was not too out of range to get worried, so he didn't feel like he should rush me to a cardiologist. Instead, he did an EKG that measures the electrical activity of my heart, and my heartbeat looks normal. There were no extra beats or in-between activity that would make him worry.

They did other tests to check everything else out that could make my heart go crazy, but everything checked out normal. Everything except for my adrenaline levels, which were sky high. So, that's the culprit of my racing heart.

For some reason my body is pumping extra adrenaline because something is telling my brain that it needs it. The doctor said that I'm either scared by something or scaring myself, worrying constantly, or putting irrational and unhealthy pressure on myself. OR, my brain is tricking itself into thinking these things. OR, any combination of these things are causing "fight or flight" signals in the brain which speed the production of adrenaline...

There were so many possibilities, but I'm guessing it's a combination of school/job/ worry, not enough sleep, and a million irrational stressors attacking my brain and body. Whatever it is, it is putting my body in sprint mode for marathon lengths. One 10-second little worry (like merging onto the freeway, for example) will set my body into making enough adrenaline for days. That, in turn, causes an anxiety attack and leaves my head reeling, feeling panicky, worried, and generally stressed out. Not the "I have a paper due" kind of stress. (Because I always have a paper due. I will always have a paper due.) It’s more like "the world's going to explode" kind of stress. Hence the crazy heartbeat for over two months now.

I don't know what set me off, but something happened to my body or brain in December to make me sick. The doctor thinks that therapy will calm me down, or at least give me a "safe place" to let out what goes through my brain that could potentially cause one of these anxiety attacks. My psychiatrist thinks that my illness has probably been a long time in the making, due to my “perfectionist, self-induced worry complex.” Hmmm…am I crazy? No, not at all. Just extremely over-worked, over-stressed, and under-rested. Nothing that a little graduating in two years with my Ph.D. won’t cure. In the meantime, I’m supposed to take deep breaths, relax, and keep telling myself, “it’s okay, you’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay” whenever I feel panic coming on. Surprisingly, it’s actually helping.

You know what else is helping? Prayer. Real prayer. Real worship. Time spent not thinking about anything else other than something omnipresent and omnipowerful. It’s amazing how healthy my heart feels when I envision my Lord holding it, protecting it, and calming it down. Calming me down. This might not make sense to everyone out there, but—dear reader—it makes sense to me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

full of heart

In my last blog, I hinted at some health problems that I have been having. Is it normal for a heart to race for weeks months on end with no relief? Well, it is beginning to feel normal for me even though this clearly is not a common problem. But before you start worrying, let me briefly explain that the EKG and a wide scope of blood tests all confirmed that my heart is fine. In fact, it's great. And ditto for my thyroid, kidneys, liver, etc. (On a slightly humorous note, the dr. said he'd never seen a 26-year old grad student with better cholesterol. Go me!) Unfortunately, even though my body parts are working fine, there is an abundance of adrenaline being produced which keeps me continually on edge, on alert. I can never relax or rest because my brain is receiving mixed signals from the excess of adrenaline, which makes me anxious (or worried or scared or irritated, you name it). If the condition doesn't improve on it's own, I have the option of taking medication, but I would only be treating symptoms unless the adrenaline production decreased.

So, what was the doctor's prescription? Therapy. I kind of chortle as I write it, but the way he explained it, it actually made sense.

I need an outlet for emotion and ideas since my brain is working over-time. Talking to a trained counselor might be exactly what I need to calm down and make some sense of the ways in which I often feel completely overwhelmed. I started "treatment" today, and I am looking forward to stepping out of my (wildly chaotic and, therefore, ironic) comfort zone more often.