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February 1, 2007

BehindTheMedspeak: Panic Disorder


An excellent first-person account appeared on the front page of the January 9, 2007 Washington Post Health section.

Kara Baskin's article follows.

    Not Just Any Old Butterflies

    Successful People Like Me Can Become Victims of Panic Disorder. For the Millions Who Are Affected, Treatment Can Help.

    I'm 27 years old, newly married, happily employed — and, for two months this fall, I was petrified to leave my house. I have panic disorder.

    According to statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), panic disorder afflicts roughly 6 million Americans, and women are twice as likely to suffer from it as men are. The attacks usually begin in one's 20s. Trembling, sweating, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest tightness and nausea are a few of the symptoms that come on like a lightning storm, out of the blue.

    I know. I'm a textbook case: My first attack happened a week before my graduation from college. I was in bed, painting my nails bright red, when my heart began racing. I had the sensation that I was watching myself from above -- not alive but not quite dead. (I'd later learn that a sense of dreamlike unreality — depersonalization — is a hallmark of panic.)

    I wondered at first if I were being punished for drinking too much at a party the night before. Perhaps someone had spiked my drink. (Nobody had.) What if I were actually dying? (I wasn't.) This is panic's flailing logic. Other sufferers I know count coins to ground themselves; some clean out their closets. Back then, when the attacks were new to me, I used to match celebrities with their home towns. (I recall murmuring, "Rosie O'Donnell, Merrick, Long Island," repeatedly.)

    Ten minutes after they began, the feelings would vanish as inexplicably as they had descended upon me. That's the upside, I've since learned: A panic attack usually lasts just a few minutes; however, the memory of the fear haunts sufferers long after the symptoms disappear.

    Without missing a beat, I'd return to my smug Type A existence. Yes, smug. Ever since I reached adulthood, I've flaunted hyperactivity like a new BlackBerry, the ultimate on-the-go Washingtonian, always complaining about how much I "had" to do while what I was really doing was refusing to sit still with my emotions.

    Occasionally, the wrongheadedness of my lifestyle would tug at me — leaving me crying for my beloved grandparents, who were aging; for my gentle, brilliant father, who was trying to help me and couldn't; for my mom, whom I wanted to protect from my problems; and for my fiance, Brian, who lived at the mercy of my emotions. But for the most part, it remained a nasty little itch that kept me running from flashy job to fancy dinner until I'd crash at 3 a.m.

    For the ultimate control freak like me, finding myself quite literally paralyzed by fear was demoralizing. Determined to beat this thing into submission, I went to the ER (twice). Once I called an ambulance. (The EMT, upon finding nothing remarkable about my condition, looked at me as though I'd called him for a morning tryst.) I also saw an allergist, a gastroenterologist and an internist (because I was embarrassed to return to the gastroenterologist) and then a cardiologist. Each one confirmed the humiliating truth: I was physically healthy.

    A generation ago, sufferers like me were generally told they had "nerves" or, more clinically, "anxiety neurosis," Jerilyn Ross, a psychotherapist and director of the Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Washington, told me. Some were treated with electric shock therapy; others were locked in psychiatric wards. We are inheritors of the mysterious nervous conditions that have long plagued humankind, and more commonly womankind — like the Victorians' broad diagnosis of "hysteria."

    It wasn't until the 1980s, when the American Psychiatric Association began to make differential diagnoses, that the term "panic disorder" came to be accepted. Still, it remains woefully misunderstood by even the most well-meaning physicians. The symptoms that panic sufferers describe (such as shortness of breath) mimic serious physical illnesses. But the doctor often finds nothing wrong. So, Ross tells me, the typical panic patient sees 10 doctors before receiving an accurate diagnosis. And in doing so, we begin to feel like hypochondriacs, running from one specialist to the next, not realizing that our enemy is our mind, not our body.

    According to the NIMH, panic disorder appears to be inherited and is often accompanied by other serious problems such as depression, drug abuse or alcoholism; once diagnosed, it is also one of the most treatable of all anxiety disorders.

    That's the message I heard from Ross, who is president and chief executive of the Anxiety Disorder Association of America and whom I consulted when I began to research the disorder.

    "Panic is real, it's serious and it's treatable," she says, and she speaks from experience, having overcome a phobia herself. I could have used her mantra on my honeymoon three months ago. This is when panic began to dominate my life. After the wedding, separated from my hectic Washington life, there we were: me, my new husband and my neuroses, marooned on a tropical island. I refused to leave our suite on Maui, taking comfort in the familiar cadence and tinny laugh of "Roseanne" reruns on TV, which soothed me to sleep. When awake, I mapped routes to the nearest hospital. Just in case.

    Many panic sufferers become agoraphobics, first fleeing and then staying away from panic-inducing situations. That's what I did when I came back to Washington. I was so paralyzed by fear that I couldn't bear to ride the Metro or drive a car. I locked myself away -- and so exacerbated my problem. "By staying in the situation, and allowing yourself to be with the feelings, rather than leave, you'll desensitize yourself," Ross explains. "Every time you leave a situation, you think, 'Phew, thank God.' The fear builds. To break it, keep yourself in the situation."

    Easier said than done when your mind and body are getting the message that they are in danger, and the flight-or-fight response kicks into gear.

    The treatment for panic is typically some combination of the antidepressants known as SSRIs, which blunt the symptoms; anti-anxiety medications such as Valium for quick relief; and, over the long term, cognitive behavioral therapy. I'm now in treatment, taking medication and learning in therapy to recognize my destructive patterns of thinking and reacting, with the goal of replacing those patterns with more productive ones.

    And I feel better than I have felt in years. I've also begun researching my illness, confident enough now to share my experience in the hope that it helps others. Many fellow sufferers are high-achieving and intelligent, it turns out. (Maybe it takes ingenuity to create such ghastly what-if-I'm-dying scenarios.) Put-together on the outside, hearts pounding within. And, while millions of us suffer from panic disorder, Ross estimates that less than a third of us know it and thus seek the treatment we need.

    In therapy, I've learned that panic symptoms are scary, but they're also manageable. "If you have butterflies in your stomach, just give them a color," Ross says. I've always liked red.


Here's a link to a helpful sidebar to the Post article.

For a panic disorder self-test, go here.

For additional resources, visit www.nimh.nih.gov/healthinformation/anxietymenu.cfm and www.adaa.org.

February 1, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Clip-On Accelerometer


Pedometers are so 20th century.

Besides, you just never know when a launch will break out.

From the website:


    More than a pedometer which only measures steps taken, this accelerometer uses a precision motion sensor (similar to the technology that NASA uses to monitor the movements of astronauts in space) to calculate total physical activity and calories burned from physical movements including those that do not require walking, such as gardening, housekeeping or office work.

    After you enter your weight, the device measures the frequency, duration and intensity of your movements and converts this information into calories burned, while the nine-day memory feature allows you to track your progress.

    About the size of a pocket watch, the accelerometer clips to a belt and the hinged face allows you to read the LCD without removing it from your waist.

    Includes one CR2032 button-cell battery.

    2-1/2" sq. x 1-1/4" H.

    Weighs 1/2 oz.


February 1, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How to detect counterfeit currency with a refrigerator magnet


Great hack from Cy Tymony's piece in Make magazine, Volume 7.

Here's what he wrote:

"Legitimate [U.S.] currency has iron particles in the ink. Fold a bill so half of it stands up vertically — if the top edge moves toward your magnet, it's the real deal. If not, phone the Secret Service!"

I sent my crack research team out back to our skunk works to check this out.

You know how skeptical we are around here.

But I digress.

Sure enough, Tymony's tip is spot-on.

But in order to shorten your learning curve (I realize how busy you are), let me note that the fridge magnet will demonstrate its attractive effect only within approximately 1/8" (2-3mm) of the bill.

So just holding up a magnet and expecting a bill in someone's bag or wallet across the room to explode out is asking a bit much.

Also — the effect is not demonstrable if there is an appreciable air current in the vicinity.

Do not attempt this maneuver on a windy hilltop and then say I'm so wrong.

Attempt it in a nice quiet room, then say it.

February 1, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Edge Brownie Pan — 'Because chewy edges are premium brownie real estate'


No dispute here.

Bonnie S. Benwick, in yesterday's Washington Post Food section, wrote about the revolutionary Edge Brownie Pan (above), as follows:

    Edge Brownie Pan

    You might say the Edge Brownie Pan is about to turn a corner.

    It has been about a year since former urban planner Matthew Griffin started selling his mazelike invention, which delivers more crust per square inch to baked brownies, bar cookies, breads and cakes than does a standard 9-by-13-inch pan. A few specialty retailers and plenty of online buzz have prompted positive reviews from America's Test Kitchen, Fine Cooking magazine and newspapers.

    The smooth, rounded channels of the 9-by-12-inch pan reduce the baking expanses that can lead to soggy centers. Testers report faster, more even baking. The pan's offset handles are a thoughtful nod.

    Indianapolis residents Griffin, 32, and his pastry chef wife, Emily, began developing their product almost a decade ago with the premise that chewy edges are premium brownie real estate. (Read their success story at www.gildedfork.com/artisancorner/bakers-edge-306.html) They've sold about 5,000 of the nonstick cast-aluminum pans, which are manufactured by NordicWare. In the works: tweaking the design to build a better lasagna pan and getting the Edge Brownie Pan into more stores. Griffin hopes to meet with representatives from Sur La Table and Cooking.com at the 2007 International Home & Housewares Show in March.

    The pan costs about $35, with spatula. For recipes and to order online, go to www.bakersedge.com or www.bakerscatalogue.com.




February 1, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thomas Pynchon on gravity and time


Gravity "pulls along the third dimension, up to down," just as "time pulls along the fourth, birth to death."

From Alexander Theroux's masterful November 24, 2006 Wall Street Journal review of Pynchon's latest book, "Against The Day."

Full disclosure: I started (but failed to finish) "Gravity's Rainbow."

However — I did succeed in making it all the way through "The Crying of Lot 49."

February 1, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Video Game/DVD/CD/MP3 Player


A lot going on this compact device — and no dearth of included accessories.

From websites:

    12-Video Game and DVD System

    This portable handheld device allows you to watch DVDs, listen to CDs and MP3s and play 12 built-in video games without having to carry multiple objects.

    Classic Sega video games including Golden Axe, Sonic Blast, and Super Columns are built-in, and the unit has a 3-1/2" TFT LCD screen that can redraw images faster than typical LCD monitors, resulting in sharp, clear and detailed resolution.

    Integrated anti-skip circuitry maintains uninterrupted viewing during turbulent flights or bumpy car rides.

    Compatible with all CDs and DVDs, this unit has two built-in stereo speakers and comes with:

    • Lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack that lasts up to three hours on a full charge

    • AV cable to connect to TV

    • Stereo headphones

    • Remote control

    • DC car adapter

    • Carrying case

    • AC adapter

    Measures 6-1/4"H x 5-1/2"W.



February 1, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

goowy.com — 'Your personal webtop'


Tell us more.

    From the website:

    Q. What is goowy?

    A. goowy is a service that offers you simple, intuitive tools for communicating and sharing on the web.

    Q. Why should I use gooey?

    A. Because it gives you everything you need in a fresh, simple package, including an instant messenger that lets you chat with your buddies from any network, powerful e-mail, contacts & calendar, customized news, rss, minis, file storage, sharing & finally some fun games when you just want to relax.



What's not to like?

Bonus: "We just launched a new service called yourminis. It is a personalized dashboard of minis (widgets). Please give it a try and let us know what you think!"

February 1, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tranquileyes — 'See the world with fresh eyes'


Say what?

From websites:


    Tranquileyes Eye Hydrating Therapy is a proven, revolutionary system for naturally creating therapeutic environments for the cornea and the sensitive surrounding skin.

    Our warm water therapy soothes and relieves eyes of dryness and fatigue resulting from normal aging, lifestyle and environmental conditions such as contact lens wear, computer use, air travel, allergies, LASIK and medical conditions such as Sjogren's syndrome.

    Use our proven system to:

    • Rejuvenate dry, tired eyes

    • Moisturize skin surrounding eyes

    • Relieve migraine and sinus headaches

    • Improve quality of rest and sleep

    • Offset symptoms of jet-lag

    • Reduce eye puffiness


Includes one pair of Tranquileyes in your choice of colors (Black, Pearl, Sky Blue, Lavender, Rose or Sage); Black Comfort Wrap; User Manual; Foam Replacement Set; and Convenient White Mesh Travel Size Bag.


February 1, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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