Panic Disorder: My Journey to "Un-sick"
When it began, I have to be honest, I thought I was dying. My heart began to race, my throat knotted, I felt as though I needed to vomit; but if I did I would surely choke on it and die. How embarrassing, to die in a pool of your own vomit. I would go into the bathroom, sit down on the cold floor, and just wait. My vision would become speckled, as if I was going to pass out at any moment. And why wouldn’t I? After all, I was dying. I would wait and wait, sometimes it took forever for the moment to pass, sometimes it took only ten minutes or so, you never could tell, and there never seemed to be a reason.
I think it started at school, I would be in a classroom and with a teacher standing over my shoulder, addressing the class, I would get itchy and uncomfortable and begin shifting in my seat. My face would feel flushed, and then I would have to leave the room, go into the hallway, or sometimes the bathroom until I calmed down. It was awkward to always be the person walking out of the room. I had one teacher who made it perfectly clear that it was not acceptable to leave the classroom while he was talking, that was why we had “breaks”. Unfortunately, this same teacher was the one who always seemed to be hovering over me. I would fight the feeling to jump up and sprint towards the door. Why was this happening to me?
It began spreading to all aspects of my life. Crowded stores had always made me feel a little anxious, but all of a sudden, if I were surrounded by people I would feel as though I was suffocating. I would put my purchases down, and leave the store with nothing. I could barely sit in a movie theater, and if I did, I was so plagued with the idea that someone would bust in and start murdering everyone, that I couldn’t even enjoy the movie. I couldn’t watch the news; if 20,000 miles away a woman was murdered by her husband, or 5 miles away two kids committed a heinous murder, it would cause me to feel that I could have easily been the victim, that something that bad could happen to me, or the people I love. Possibly the most disappointing to me was that I could no longer watch horror movies, my favorite genre. It seemed as though I could not separate truth from fiction.
And it followed me home. Lying on the couch with my boyfriend, I would spring to life, my heart beating out of my chest, my vision becoming spotty, that familiar lump in my throat, followed by sweaty hands. My body would become extremely tense, automatically, with no warning, no indication of what is going on. The only thing that made the situation more difficult was having to explain it to another person, because I didn’t even know what was going on. I followed my normal routine, going to the bathroom to wait. He would ask, “Do you need anything, a glass of water, anything?” I would decline every time, even when I wanted something, because if he went to get me water, he would probably poison it.
The paranoia continued, and it was too much for me to handle. I decided to see a therapist, which made me feel good, although it did not cause any feelings to dissipate. However, it was nice to talk to someone. In my spare time I did all the research, I possibly could on anxiety and panic disorders. I read about peoples home remedies, herbs to take, what to avoid, and how to talk myself out of the feeling, after all, it wasn’t real. Although I did not know where the feelings were coming from, I began to understand that it was possible to control them. At home, I took to relaxing tasks, like gardening, or raking the yard. When at school I used deep breathing relaxation techniques to curb my desire to run from my problems.
After seeing my therapist for six months or so, we broached the subject of seeing a psychiatrist, so I could get a prescription. This was never my intention; I have no issue with people taking medication for their psychological issues, except if I am one of those people, I didn’t want to live a life of pill popping. I wanted genuine happiness, not happiness in a bottle; I wanted to be as I was before. I declined, and he told me that there wasn’t much else he could do for me, which is something I knew all along, but I liked having the support. After the offer was extended that I could come back if necessary, we said our goodbyes, and my weekly routine of therapy ended.
I began to feel as though this would never end, things were not getting better, and I needed to make some changes. So, I cut things out of my life, caffeine, chocolate, stress (for the most part). And I brought things into my life, such as herbs in the form of caffeine free tea- St. John’s Wort has been wonderful. When situations began to arise, where the feelings would come back, I would change my routine, it took some time, and I had to get my own tea, but the panic began to lessen, though it did not go away.
How could I completely remove these feelings from my life? Could I please be normal again? I began to look into myself, and look at the way I was living, what were the pros and cons, what made me happy, and what upset me? I began to look at my anxiety as an alarm, telling me something in my life wasn’t right, wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. I began to note when and why I would have feelings of anxiety, and I removed those things from my life, or in some cases, added things to my life. I knew that I wanted to live on my own, in my own apartment, and quickly discovered that I was no longer happy in my relationship.
After jumping these hurdles I noticed that things were better, but not perfect. I should have mentioned that for some time I was embarrassed about having anxiety/panic disorder. I would tell people that I was allergic to certain things that I avoided, such as chocolate or caffeine (I still do this from time to time). But the people close to me always knew what was going on. I knew that certain people in my family had problems similar to mine, but one night during a conversation with my brother and cousin, I found out that it was still very prevalent. And I began to think that I was doomed, perhaps it was a family curse, and I had to live with these feelings forever.
Although it seems as if I was up against a million obstacles, if there is anything I have learned about anxiety it would have to be that I have the ability to control it, to not let the negative feeling take over my life. I have been battling anxiety and panic for 3 years, my last attack was over 6 months ago. I have come to realize that this is an on-going process that cannot be cured simply, or in one day. I don’t let the family history, or the cruelness of the world get me down anymore. I have begun to watch horror movies and the news again, and if it ever gets too much for me, I will just turn it off. I no longer have to live with the weight of worry on my shoulders; I will regain control of my own mind and life. Next step chocolate!