A reader named Dave left a comment on the post, “I’m Dying: What a Panic Attack Feels Like” that told the story of how he overcame his panic attacks.
It tells how he had panic attacks for many years, but has not had them now for 11 years! He conquered them with therapy — and without medication. I thought that Dave’s story should not remain buried in the comments, so I asked Dave to expand his comment into a post.
Anxiety Disorders cause us to turn inward, to focus on our woes. We tend to believe that no one else has the same problems, and that there is no hope for ever becoming fully functional again.
So it’s doubly reassuring to hear Dave’s story: it lets us hear that we are not alone, and that there are effective treatments that can help us learn to control and manage our symptoms for a lifetime!
Rachael, Louis, Angela, Itsme, Kenny, Sara, Samantha and the rest of you that are suffering. While all of our panic attacks are different, they are also all the same, so with that I say “I know how you feel.” I suffered with panic attacks for 12 years.
So many nights, days, mornings – hit out of the blue with an attack that put me on the edge of sure death. But… my last attack was more than 11 years ago! Yes, there is hope! So with that as my purpose for writing, I thought that I’d share my experiences with panic attacks and my freedom from them.
My first comment, as Mike says, is that this truly can be beat! You do not have to continue to live in fear of yet another horrible, fear-filled episode.
In 1987, I had my first panic attack
I am now 48, hold a senior position in the software industry, have an awesome wife, a marriage of 23 years, and two great kids (and one big 18 pound cat). In 1987, I had my first panic attack. I had no idea what was happening. Like many of us, I ended up in the ER, certain I was having a heart attack, followed by trips to my doctor to see what was wrong. When they ruled out all things cardio, the diagnosis was “panic attacks,” of which I knew nothing. Well, nothing really happened for several months until 2 years later when I had my next attack: More tests, etc.
Yes, the diagnosis is still “panic attacks”. And it was at that point where they began to increase in severity, frequency, and symptoms.
I had all the symptoms on the list
This went on for 12 years. If I look at the list of symptoms for a panic attack Mike has listed on this site now, I’d say “Yep, I had all of these” — many in one attack! For sure, they were some of the most fearful events I have ever had to deal with. I’m not sure how many times I was seconds away from calling 911. But I kept it all to myself and didn’t do anything to try to solve the issue for a very long time — and things got worse.
Didn’t want to try drugs. Didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. Too humiliating, too proud, too scared.
A web of panic attack sites, no place or activity was safe
My wife and two kids didn’t know for several years. I think my wife didn’t know for probably 10 years. As my life began to become the “web” of panic attack “sites,” no place or activity was safe. When I’d say “No” to doing something with my wife, she thought that I just didn’t want to be with her, as there was no other explanation.
I couldn’t do it by myself
Finally after a few of my worst attacks, I decided that I couldn’t do it by myself and I’d have to tell someone. I told my wife. One of the first things that she did was find a book and got it for me (Overcoming Panic, Anxiety & Phobias by Shirley Babior). When it arrived, I opened the cover to find that Shirley had signed it herself — wow, that alone made such a huge difference knowing that I wasn’t alone in this and that some other person actually knew what I was experiencing!
And since you’re reading this blog, you already know that to be true. That’s a good thing.
Well, that was 11 years ago.
Re-training the brain
I went to my doctor, who referred me to a psychiatrist. He wanted to start me on a set of meds, one being Paxil. I tried it for 2 days and it wasn’t for me. My reaction to that medication (which can be different for each individual) was like I was on 12 cups of coffee. So I stopped the meds and just went through the steps of cognitive therapy. This type of therapy basically re-trained my brain to not “react” to the various triggers that set off my attacks, as well as learning how to control my body stress/tension to prevent a panic attack from getting out of control or even starting to begin with. This was done using bio-feedback and other relaxations exercises/techniques.
I had no idea what “normal” was
I learned where I held the tension/stress in my body, how to recognize when it was building up, and how to release it. In addition, a key thing was to getting back to knowing what my body was supposed to feel like when it was in a “normal” state (i.e. healthy). With all of the chemicals that are pumped into our body during an attack (basically a fight-or-flight reaction when there’s nothing to react to), I always felt like my body felt totally “out of balance”. For me, these feelings could last hours to a couple of days. I really got to the point where I had no idea what “normal” was. So, getting off of all caffeine, alcohol, etc. (stimulants, depressants) as well as eating healthy and exercising helped in returning my body to normal.
I also learned that we are also most at risk of attacks when we are depressed. This seems counter-intuitive since anxiety appears to be akin to a “hyper” state, but when our body is depressed, its unable to suppress the physiological reactions which initiate an attack (similar to how our immune system is unable to suppress disease when it is compromised and weak).
The “recovery” process took probably 2 years to get through, but I did make it! And I can truly say that I have not had any panic attacks since.
The mind strikes out at the body
I’ve spoken with several people about it since then who have suffered from them, normally at a very early stage luckily. The way I picture the underlying cause for myself is like this: all of us have an “emotional bucket” that we fill up with “stuff” over time – good stuff, bad stuff, various things that we don’t want to deal with at the time. Everyone’s bucket is a different size, but at some point it can’t contain any more. What happens when it is full and begins to overflow? That depends on the person. Some begin to strike out at other people angrily. Some people act out in other “dysfunctional” ways. Others like us have physiological reactions; our mind strikes out at our body — we have panic attacks.
So obviously, emptying out the bucket and keeping it from filling back up is key to living free from panic.
Mike – thank you for having this site and helping to educate those in need about it. It is truly a blessing.
This thing is not going to kill you
And remember – all of you who are currently struggling with panic disorder – when you’re having an attack, this thing is not going to kill you. I understand how this is so, so very hard to believe at the time. At times, I had to count to 10 or 20 or 30 or walk 10 feet at a time, and then prove to myself that nothing really happened!
And See – we are all still here :-).
Seek help, understanding, and guidance
So, I encourage all of you who are struggling through this to seek help, understanding, and guidance. Talk with people that are trained to deal with this as well as others that understand what you are going through. Don’t be ashamed or humiliated; take action before it does more damage to your life and to those around you. Rid your life of this beast and return to living as it should be. There is a path forward!
What do you think?
Dave’s story is truly heartening. After suffering in silence and isolation, he reached out for help and found it. He found that he was not alone, and that there is effective help available. I wish that every person suffering from panic attacks could read it and take its message to heart!
- Do you find Dave’s story as inspiring as I do?
- What have been your experiences with panic attack treatment?
- Do you have any words of encouragement to add for those suffering from panic attacks?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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