Panic Disorder | A personal story

Panic Attacks; unfortunetly, something I am way too familiar with. Worst moments of my life. I seriously thought I was dying every time, then the thought of dying would just increase the intensity of the attack. Out of nowhere, minding my own business and BAM. My body would start to feel really warm – hot, and I’d feel really lightheaded, like pre-syncope (pre-fainting). My heart would start to race (I could feel it pounding in my chest; I could hear the rhythm echoing in my ears). I would find it difficult to swallow, and sometimes it was like I would forget, for a moment, how to breathe. My chest would start to tighten. The world around me wouldn’t feel as “real” (very wierd sensation to explain; it’s like I’m stick inside my body, looking through these windows – my eyes). I really thought I was going nuts. I was certainly losing control, to the point where it felt like my life was being sucked out of me. Then… the impending doom. The ultimate panic. That moment of “I’m about to die, my life is now over”. Tears would start to roll down my face. What seemed like forever was probably only a few minutes, maybe 10 mins at most. They would happen at random, never triggered by anything in particular. They would keep me awake at night. For some reason, they were always so much worse at night. I would have to get up out of bed and start pacing my room. If I laid down, I’d hear my hear pounding, my body would shake with each pound. I’d often check my pulse, just to see how crazy it was going, or to see if I was dead. Worst mistake ever. Feeling my pulse, or envisioning my heart stop pumping in my chest, would freak me the (beep) out of me. Impending doom would hit me again. What is worse then dying, if you think you are always dying?

To be honest, me typing out that last part made me feel a bit uneasy, a bit on edge. My pulse started to quicken. I closed my eyes, and I took a deep breath in…

Now I am back!

This happened for almost 6 or more months, my entire last year of nursing school. I was living in hell, so too speak. They started off gradually, one every 2 weeks, but increased to almost daily. I was living in complete fear – fearing when the next one might rip through me. Eventually it started to affect all aspects of my life. The only places I felt comfortable was at home with my head in my books, or at my boyfriend’s (now ex’s) home. I never really wanted to do anything or go anywhere, because I was deathly afraid of making an ASS of myself out in public (even around my own friends). I am surprised I made it through that last year of nursing school without having to pause my studies or repeat any course(s). (I’m very proud of myself).

I reached out to my doctor, and did a series of blood work and diagnostic tests (chest xray, ECG, cardiac holter monitor). To no surprise, all came back normal.

I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder.

My doctor advised against treatment in the form of medication. I know what you are thinking (WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD SHE NOT WANT TO TREAT YOU), but I agree with her reasoning based on the information I provided to her.

She felt the medication that is used to treat panic disorders, could really attack my ability to study. Plus panic attacks come and go so quickly, the attack would be over by the time the medication would kick in, and they aren’t the type of medications you want to take around the clock. They are sedating, and make you ‘too mellow’, and very addictive. Benzodiazepines are used on an “as need” basis (unless directed otherwise by your doctor). I was also against taking anti-depressants (at the time). So really my only option was to just ‘deal with it’, and I did.

Reflecting on that entire situation, I also don’t think I ever really told her exactly how bad it got, or all the dreadful details. Probably because I was scatter brained, and too quiet and timid – I didn’t know how to ‘speak up’. This is probably when the Social Anxiety, and Generalized Anxiety started.

I isolated myself so much that social situations made me feel incredibly uneasy. I didn’t want to hang out with my friends, and I even stopped showing up to family holiday gatherings.

The sad truth, I lost some of the ‘greatest’ friends due to my illness. Well childhood friends. BUT if they were truly meant to be in my life, they wouldn’t have gave up, they would still be here.

Hundreds of people will enter your life, lots more will exit. It will sometimes be a blessing, other times it will hurt. But everything happens for a reason, a life lesson. I have learned that as you get older you meet new people and start to build relationships based on similar interests, values, beliefs, and even mental illnesses (or mental wellness). The people in my life now have a very unique understanding of mental health, and can relate either on a personal (either they suffer from a disorder, or know someone close to them that does), or professional level. I find these ‘new’ friends can truly and deeply relate, and don’t take offense to my flare ups (moments where I isolate myself, and become MIA (missing in action) or non-existent; whatever you want to call it). I am truly blessed to have such amazing friends in my life, and I am so grateful for the friends I have yet to meet.

The great news is, I rarely get Panic Attacks anymore. Maybe one or two a year if I am unlucky. They pretty much vanished once I graduated from nursing school. I was able to spend all my energy on learning how to overcome those awful attacks on my own through relaxation, diet, and excerise.

I’ll be speaking more about treatment, and specific, yet simple, things you can do to help in another blog

Disclaimer: None of my information, education or personal stories are for diagnoses or treatment purposes. Mental Health Disorders are serious, and most of the time require help from a trained medical professional. If you think you suffer from one, and find you are having a really hard time coping…. please go speak to your doctor. Do not be afraid. Truly, they are only there to help you. It is very helpful to make a mood and thought diary, and write down everything you experience. When it is time to see your doctor, make some bullet points and some questions to ask to discuss with him or her. This will shed some of the anxiety. You can do it.

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9 thoughts on “Panic Disorder | A personal story

  1. I did go on antidepressants. They were the worst choice for me. I did end up on the Benzo family because it was the only thing that stopped or at least diminished them in me (I took the ones that dissolved under the tongue for quick relief). More than anything, I invested in books on how to deep breathe and one in particular called “The Relaxation Response”. Finally, I opted for Cognitive Therapy which rendered itself quite readily to self-teaching as all that is really done, is done through classes (approx. 12 to 16 of them). That helped as well to learn where my thinking was coming from and why.

    I still get anxiety attacks (lesser versions of panic attacks) but, I’m more quickly able to decipher what is causing them as they happen and tone them down now.

    I’m so sorry that you went through these. I think stresses in Life are the biggest causes and we may not even be aware of that fact. Like you in nursing school, mine began with a dysfunctional home life that resembled WWII and little sleep or to eat because of it. Once I got away from the situation (I left home and got married), they began to abate.

    I still have troubles from time to time but, they are usually situational where I imagine the “worst case scenario” type of thinking. I can cut it off within a few minutes now but, not before I have come to the point of knowing what’s really scaring me. It’s usually a stressful situation.

    Thank you for sharing this. I hope to read your entry where you share what you do about it. I’m sure it’s helping many people as we’re all prone to them at some point or another…even a doctor’s office visit can be a trigger.

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    1. Benzos are great and knowing what I know now, I probably would have pushed my doctor to prescribe some – just to have them for peace of mind, and in those moments where I thought that they would never go away or seem to come back in multiple waves. I will write a post about what I did to help overcome the panic attacks. Well I don’t think I ever really overcame them, I more so discovered ways to manage them. I could always feel when they were about to start and would just use various methods to calm myself down (as you mentioned, breathing techniques or imagery or distraction). Oddly enough another thing that really used to help me was chewing gum.

      I feel like everybody experiences Mental Health disorders differently, nobody will ever really experience the same symptoms exactly the same. Either the intensity will feel different or the bodily Sensations or the auditory sound will be different. I think that’s mainly because everybody be used the reality differently. When it comes to management it really has to take an individual approach. What might work for one person may not work for another. It’s really about trial and error. And lots of research. I do lots of reading even to this day.

      Thanks for reading my blog and thank you for your support. I truly appreciate it. if you ever need anyone to talk to I’m always here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Rachel. I am going to watch your blog for tips on how you handled them. As you’ve said, everyone is different as to what works for them and what doesn’t. I am like you though, not over them and I still have them but, as you’ve also so wisely said, I’ve become used to feelings of when they are coming on and to “short circuit” them so to speak so that they don’t get to the intensity or duration that they once did. 🙂

        I had a very wise therapist who once told me…

        “EVERYBODY is mentally ill”.

        I stopped, (I think my jaw hit my knees at that point) and asked him what he meant by that, asking him if he was ‘mentally ill’.

        He nodded “yes”.

        I just about leapt out of my chair in front of him and left the office.

        “Wait!” he said, “I wanted you to soak that one in before I explained.”

        He then went on to explain that everybody has anxiety, depression, narcissistic personality issues and can be bi-polar or OCD….the list was endless.

        I shook my head in both disbelief and shock. How could everyone have mental health issues?

        It was then that he explained that we all carry the same types of issues, emotions, problems etc.. Everyone gets anxious, depressed and careless. Everyone has times when they’re thinking only of themselves.

        The ONLY difference between someone like me (and you for that matter) is the degree to which it affects our lives.

        Once we start avoiding things or fearing another attack etc., it becomes a mental health issue which needs help so that we can function better in Life.

        He also wisely said that everyone is afraid of something even if they don’t admit or know it and therefore, we all have “phobias”. Again, it’s only to the degree in which it affects our lives.

        Well, Rachel, I swear that my husband must have a “disconnect switch” wired into his brain somewhere. Not much gets him down or anxious. I’ve even asked him if something was bothering him that was driving me nearly to distraction. His answer,

        “Nope…doesn’t bother me.”

        Uh-huh….Mr. Placid there, had anxiety attacks before presentations or learning newer technology. He just never admitted it to me or worse…HIMSELF! I think he just has this switch that he flips to the “off” position and disconnects from reality to anything else he chooses to think about rather than his feelings/emotions. LOL

        Mr. “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” has high blood pressure, is diabetic, has a stent in a heart artery and can fall asleep standing up in the middle of WWII! LOL

        We all feel the same emotions, I believe. The only difference between you and I and everyone who doesn’t know that they do, is that we tend to pay attention to it whereas others don’t. It stops our lives and we develop avoidance tactics but, other people don’t. They don’t even acknowledge them most of the time. We’ve just become more aware of these emotions and feelings because ours feel heightened, I think. But, who am I to say what’s what with anyone else? I know that I feel more deeply than most. I can cry at a commercial if it’s sentimental enough. LOL

        Thanks Rachel. I will be watching your blog!

        HUGS XO XO XO

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Very similar to yourself. I’m also a nurse and my panic attacks were debilitating during my training. I still have about one a day and diazepam only when I know I’m going to have one that day. I can tend to sense if I’m going to get worked up or not not (it has been ten years). I’ve also always been on beta-blockers which do cause the physical symptoms to calm down quite quickly without sedating me. The best thing I’ve always found is distraction techniques and CBT. But CBT is easier said than done when you’re mid panic attack. Glad you’ve pushed through them

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  3. Being on the autism spectrum, and with everyone I know having one form of “mental illness” or another, it looks like you are doing the very best you can, to handle your health challenges. I use essential oils- peppermint, eucalyptus and melaleuca-to handle my issues. Deep breathing and meditation also help, of course, as well as limiting processed foods.

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