So around 18 months ago my doctor diagnosed me with panic disorder. Well that’s what my medical record states, at the time she advised me about meditation and relaxation techniques, and explained how helpful natural remedies like rescue remedy and chamomile tea could be to help aid stress. It wasn’t until I started seeing my new doctor around 4 months ago that he told me panic disorder was on my record.
So what is panic disorder?
I’d like to point out right now that this is my experience of PD, I am in no way qualified to diagnose symptoms. I am simply sharing my view.
The NHS defines Panic Disorder (PD) as having recurring and regular panic attacks, often for no apparent reason.
While I believe this is true, I also think there is a bit more to it. Regular panic attacks are part and parcel of a larger health problem in which you live your life in a constant, or near constant, state of anxiety or panic. We all know that everyone feels panic during stressful or dangerous situations, but what causes you to feel like you have no choice but to live your life in that manner constantly?
What causes Panic Disorder?
Like most mental health issues PD comes down to two things – traumatic experiences and genetics. Whether abuse, bereavement or witnessing something unsettling, traumatic events happen to us all at some point in our life. These feelings then trigger panic and anxiety which can transform in to a PD. Alternatively if you have a close family member that suffers from PD or have an imbalance in the neurotransmitters in your brain, you could be at increased risk of developing a mental health condition.
What is it like?
For me PD means living my life in a constant state of fear. The severity levels of said fear fluctuate but it hugely affects my daily life. When I wake up I worry about whether I will have enough time to get ready before I leave the house, even though I know that if I’m in a rush I can get up, showered and be out of the door in 20 minutes. I always arrive at least 10 minutes early to anything I have arranged, and often triple check plans with the people I have made them with to ensure they are still coming. I flinch when someone is to close to me when passing me on the street because I think they will physically attack me, even though I know it is irrational, and I scan the room for exits and toilets whenever I enter so I can plan my escape route.
On an emotional level my PD is crippling. Despite knowing that he loves me unconditionally I ask my husband everyday why he hates me. I avoid making jokes in case no one finds them funny or I offend people and often come across as shy because I am scared to speak up in case I say the wrong thing. I second guess every social interaction I experience everyday wondering if I did something that would cause people to dislike me, and regularly wonder if people actually like me or if they’re just being nice so they don’t hurt my feelings.
What help is available?
The help you receive will depend on you. Everyone is different and reacts in different ways. Because I already take medication for depression I was not offered further medication. CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy is the most common form of treatment. This is a talking therapy in which you are taught to recognise your negative thought processes and help manage this by changing the way you think and behave. It is by no means easy and requires a lot of work, but is very helpful for many people.
For me, while CBT has helped me recognise damaging behaviours and how to combat them (which allows me to recover from relapses very quickly) it has not diminished my symptoms in anyway. That said I will soon be embarking on further talking therapies in a bid to manage my PD.
I don’t look like I suffer with a PD. I am personable, I will look you in the eye when talking to you or initiate a conversation. I wear bright clothes, socialise and rarely fidget. But can you point out someone that does suffer from PD?