8 days ago, I passed out at work.
I wanted to share the experience with you all as a way to be honest and open about my mental health, and to show that you are not alone.
It happened so suddenly that I had to ask someone who was there to walk me through what happened. It was like any other day for me, usual commute to work, standard breakfast, and regular work tasks to be done. My boss and I were going over some costs for some marketing materials we wanted for an event coming up. That was when my whole body began to tingle. It was like the feeling of when your foot falls asleep but all over my body. I still had a sense of touch, which meant I didn’t have paralysis or anything like that, just a tingling sensation all over.
Then the tunnel vision kicked in. Everything in my peripheral vision disappeared almost immediately. I began to have a claustrophobic feeling like my body was stuck inside a plastic bag, and I was struggling to find air.
In a panic, I slowly got up out of my chair to try and “walk it off.” Thinking all I needed was to get my blood flowing. Turns out, this made things much worse. My legs felt like jelly, and my thoughts were in slow motion. Eventually, I managed to say, “I don’t feel so good,” before tumbling right into my boss’ lap. Thankfully I didn’t hurt her or myself, but I lost consciousness nonetheless.
A few seconds later, I hear my coworker asking me questions.
Coworker: “Jeff? Jeff, are you okay? Jeff, are you diabetic?”
C: “Can you call 911 Cheryl? Jeff, do you have any heart history?”
C: Does your family have any history with either?
C: What year is it, Jeff?
C: Can you get in a chair?
M: I think so.
C: I was then helped off the ground and onto a chair. I was given some water, and I took a few sips.
“What happened,” I asked my coworker, who happened to be medically licensed and a volunteer firefighter.
“You went down, man,” he said, “out cold. I can’t find a pulse on you, and you’re white as snow.”
“I can’t afford an ambulance. Please don’t make me go in one.” This was my first thought after passing out for seemingly no reason. Not being able to pay for potentially life-saving healthcare.
The paramedics came, and they checked me out. My blood sugar was normal, my pulse eventually rose to normal levels, and my color came back as did my sense of surroundings. After being coerced to accept the help of the paramedics, I took a ride to the hospital. In the ambulance, they put me on an EKG, pulse monitor, and attempted to put an IV in me unsuccessfully.
Ten minutes later, I arrive at the hospital, where I am put into a room and wired back up to an EKG. I am alone and terrified, thankfully my wife answered her phone after I initially went down and had left work to come and see me. My guess was another 30 minutes until she would be there.
Before she arrived, they took my blood to run several lab tests to see what is happening. In the meantime, they gave me a TV remote with no batteries in it and told me to “try and relax” while they monitor me. After that, they left.
After closing my eyes and doing meditative breathing, my wife comes into the room. Once she is there, I do what I always do when I am in stressful or uncomfortable situations: make really inappropriate jokes. It is a defense mechanism that I’ve used since high school. Most of the time, it goes over well, but there have been times where I managed to make things worse with my jokes, thankfully, this isn’t one of them.
My tests come back normal across the board. No heart issue detected, and nothing in the blood work they ran came back with anything definitive as to what the hell happened to me.
They tell me it was something called vasovagal syncope. Basically, my heart rate slowed, and my blood vessels opened up too much, causing the blood flow to my brain to slow, which is what caused the tingling and tunnel vision. Turns out that when I got up to “walk it off” I accelerated this and released enough blood flow in my brain to cause my body to lose consciousness.
After some time with the doctor, he tells me that if I get these kinds of symptoms again to “go horizontal and breathe.” That’s it, that’s all I was prescribed: a simple breathing technique and allowing gravity to do the rest. I wanted to tell him I went horizontal after I lost consciousness, so I had that covered. I thought twice about that, though, one of the things I learned about comedy is to know your audience, and this audience wasn’t in the mood for laughing.
On the one hand, I am relieved my morbidly obese body didn’t have a heart attack or anything related to diabetes. On the other hand, I was hoping to get something more than a prescription to “go horizontal.”
After the doctor came, I was discharged shortly after that. A nurse gave me my papers and a handout on vasovagal syncope for me to read and look into. Turns out, it is actually quite prevalent, and it can be triggered by an onslaught of things. The one that caught my eye, though, was a stressful situation and/or anxiety.
The only other time I had similar symptoms (minus the losing consciousness part) was when I had a panic attack at my doctor’s office after throwing my back out. I went white, had severe tunnel vision, and had a tingling sensation across my whole body.
Eventually, I put two and two together and realized that this entire thing was because of my anxiety. The problem was I had nothing triggering the anxiety. I wasn’t under any stress at all. We weren’t going over anything that was above my knowledge or capabilities, it was just some numbers and costs.
So now I can apparently have an anxiety attack for no reason, which may or may not result in me having a vasovagal response making me lose consciousness.
I finally understood how people can “have anxiety about their anxiety.”
Anxiety was something I didn’t have before, at least it wasn’t such a presence as it is now in my life. Two years ago, I started to notice instances where I had an irrational fear that something terrible was going to happen to me, it felt like I was dying. This ongoing stressor that something is about to happen to me hung over me like an anvil. I learned later that this was anxiety, and have since taken measures to cope with my stress when it begins affecting my day-to-day life. For the past 2 years, I have been taking anti-anxiety medicine for it.
Some days are great, others I am on edge for no reason whatsoever.
So as I sat there wondering what the hell I can do to thwart this from happening again, I began talking to my friends about it. Thinking that panic attacks weren’t common, I felt like my recent encounter with them would be nothing they would understand. One by one, they all came to me to share times where they also had anxiety-related panic attacks. Some were caused directly by a stressful situation, others simply came out of the blue. The more I heard from the people I am lucky to have in my life explain their perspective, the more I realized that this is relatively common.
That is when I learned that panic attacks can happen without being triggered at times, and they can occur when you are perfectly relaxed in your home. For the past week, I have had more doctor’s appointments and encountered more medical staff than I’d like to see in a year. They all have told me the diagnosis I received at the hospital is correct.
Almost every single one of the people I spoke with about this had stories similar to mine where they had anxiety-related attacks, and they each offered me different things to try if/when I feel anxious again.
I am yet to try most of them, but I do intend to try them soon.
I write all of this not to ask for pity or sorrow, I write this because had I not had my own experience regarding anxiety I would have never had the veil lifted from my eyes. I would have never found out just how common anxiety is among Americans, and among my friends. I also would not have learned that you don’t need to be in a stressful situation to have anxiety.
I want to hear more stories and allow for others to connect in any way they want with others who also have had instances of anxiety. So please, share yours. You can mention me on social media I am @iamJeffPerry, DM me on Twitter (they are always turned on), or you can email me at me[at]jeffperry[dot]blog.
The more we confront this hidden beast lurking in the shadows, the less scary it becomes. So please, shine a light if you want.