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How My Panic Disorder Diagnosis Brought Me Relief

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I’ll never forget the feeling of relief I had when I was able to accurately give a name to what I’d been experiencing my entire life: Panic disorder.

All through my life, I walked around feeling like something bad was going to happen.

These feelings did not become apparent to me until I was in middle school. My anxiety spiraled out of control and I began to experience depression and some suicidal ideation because I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

Of course, I spent a lot of time on the internet as a kid, Googling how I was feeling, and that was when I could actually pinpoint a name to what I felt – generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). From then onward, I always knew I had anxiety. It wasn’t until I had actually entered therapy at age 18 that I actually begin to piece my panic and anxiety all the way back to when I was a child, and was able to see how my anxiety was classified as panic disorder.

My dad passed away when I was only 3 years old. To say death frightened me was an understatement. I had thought my panic attacks had begun when I was 18 years old. I had just made some major life changes that I could attribute them to. What I didn’t know was that my panic attacks started much younger than that. After a few therapy sessions talking about my dad, I remembered, when I was younger, I’d wake up in the middle of the night hysterically crying. I remember my chest being tight, and not being able to breathe. I’d wake my mom up, and she’d have to talk me through these episodes. I remember crying and asking her over and over again if I was going to die. I became afraid to fall asleep because I thought if I fell asleep, I would die. I would also be afraid to get into a car because my dad died in a car accident. My mother would always repeat the same things, like a mantra:

“You’re OK…”

“You aren’t going to die…”

“You’re going to live a long and happy life, and get married and go to college…”

These went on for a while, and eventually, I was able to talk myself through these episodes.

I found out later that these were panic attacks.

Sitting in therapy that day, I had an epiphany. I’ve had panic attacks my entire life. I learned later that I didn’t have to hyperventilate and cry to have a panic attack.

In school, if I bumped into someone in the hall by accident, I’d go to my class and just sit at my desk and think about the incident:

“What if they hate me now?”

“What if they go tell their friends how much of a loser I am?”

“What if they think I’m rude?”

“Did I apologize?”

I would literally sit at my desk and obsess over these things. My heart would race, my stomach would ache and I’d have a debilitating feeling of panic. I would often go home and live in these situations over and over again as I sat in my room.

Another thing that would send me into a complete panic was when I fought with friends or family. If someone was mad at me, I couldn’t stand it. To this day, it still sends me into a panic, but I’m better at managing it. I despise conflict. I would go out of my way to overcompensate for things I felt like I failed at in the relationship. If a friend confronted me with a problem, I would literally cry and apologize over and over again. Once again, my heart would race, my palms would get sweaty, my stomach would ache, I wouldn’t be able to eat, and I would feel tears fill my eyes.

All my friends and family know I’ve begun panicking when I ask the all too familiar question: “Are you mad at me?”

Most of them know reassurance is something I need.

When I began to panic about one aspect of my life, the other aspects were affected. When I was a child and I thought a friend was angry with me, I would sit in my room and just ruminate in my feelings of panic. It would cause me to become angry with my family. They’d ask me something and I would just go off. I would become irritable. Many family members mistook this for being a spoiled, disrespectful child, but most never knew what I was battling in my mind.

I recall, one time, my phone was acting up and my family was talking about getting me a new one. I was dealing with overwhelming feelings of panic that day. They had agreed to wait to get me a new phone and I just exploded. I was screaming and throwing things. They all perceived this as me being a spoiled brat who didn’t get their way, but I was really exploding about what I was obsessing over in my head that day.

When my therapist gave me my diagnosis, I just remember sitting there feeling so much relief. I think I actually cried. I had a name for what I was experiencing: generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder with traits of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I felt so much relief. But then I felt anger. I was angry that I didn’t find out about panic disorder until that moment. I beat myself up about not doing better research. I wished so badly I could go back in time and give my support system my diagnosis so they understood how and why I was acting the way I was. I wished so badly I could go back in time and relive high school again with this knowledge. Maybe I would react differently in moments of panic.

Later though, I realized that these situations made me grow. I am now able to recognize my panic disorder. I know what sets me off, and I know how to handle them. It also gave me perspective. In a society that is so quick to point a finger at children who are irritable or disrespectful, we fail to realize that much more could be going on inside the kids’ minds. I want nothing more than to help those who felt how I felt so they know they aren’t alone.

If you’re experiencing what I was experiencing, know you aren’t alone. Your panic disorder doesn’t have to look like mine for it to be valid. Anxiety and panic have many different faces. No two people experience it the same way. You are strong, and you will get through this.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Getty Images photo via Povozniuk

Originally published: February 15, 2018
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