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I Won the Fight Against My Bully, Panic Disorder

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I am more intimate with panic disorder than I care to be. Its onset is rapid and its process agonizing, but what I want people to understand more than anything else, is that it need not be forever. Panic disorder has sometimes isolated me with scary distortions of the larger world. Because the fear lives inside me, I m not able to outrun it when it strikes. In trickster fashion, panic disorder has far too often fooled me into believing I am only safe within the confines of my home and it never wants me to leave. It straps an arrest monitor around my brain to ensure I remain where it wants me to be.

Before I gained the upper hand in my fight, if I so much as contemplated escape, the bracelet activated and I had visions of recent attacks. Panic attacks seem to scar the minds of its victims. I remember how my lungs constricted and how my breath was stolen. I recalled how my heart thundered through my chest and vibrated in my ears. I anticipated torrential sweat regardless of winter frost or chills despite the summer sun. I remember how my limbs burned as if something rancid had been injected into my veins. I feared nausea so strong I might vomit on the pavement for the world to witness. Then I crumbled to my dark bedroom in response to imagined fingers pointed at me in judgment because I fear being labeled “crazy.” People seem to point and laugh at what they do not understand.

When I was last confined by panic, my friends demanded I “get over it” or “try harder” as if I chose to live with this thing. I absorbed every admonishment and my pain was compiled by guilt created by perceived social neglect. It is hard for some people to grasp mental illness as real illness.

I took medication to quell symptoms, but recognized I needed therapy to get to the root of my attacks. I explored meditation apps, deep breathing, mindfulness, grounding and every strategy offered by psychologists who examine panic. I explored those modalities because I could explore them from the seclusion of my bedroom.

I fought like mad to combat my cruel imagination with a bit of rationale because I knew hope lived in my first step out my front door. I practiced with walks around my block to prove to myself that people on the street posed no threat to me. It took two weeks after my last attack for me to get in my car and drive even a mile. Every destination reached I assigned a designation of safety and every subsequent day I attempted to drive a bit further. One of those markers was the office of my therapist who had been conducting phone sessions with me until I could leave home. She helped me dig deep enough to find the wounds and heal them, but recovery is a process and not all of my wounds have been healed.

Treatment worked enough to allow for a return to functionality. I am optimistic long term recovery is possible, but my optimism is cautious because I know the possibility of recurrence exists.

I have to believe in the possibility of recovery and its effectiveness because I am a therapist who treats people anxiety disorders. I hope my revelation informs people no one is immune to mental illness, not even the helpers. Sometimes I disclose my struggles to my clients to let them know mental illness is not weakness.

I also strive to instill hope through writing, because nothing is more far reaching than written word. I want people to know panic disorder need not stop us from utilizing our talents to reach those in need. I want it known this illness is beatable, but consistency of self-care is paramount in the fight. I know this because I remain dedicated to my own regiment.

There is a need for people to understand the severity of anxiety disorders, because the lack of understanding from family members and friends adds to distress and increases feelings of loneliness and isolation. The combination of isolation and despair can be fatal for people with mental illness.

Panic disorder is a bully, but it is a bully we can defeat when we rise up. I know this because I am three years panic attack-free and I fight daily to remain this way while I help others with their own battle.

I hope anyone who reads this understands while our disorder is real, the things we fear are not. Panic disorder can be overcome with hope and healing.

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Thinkstock photo via JetFoto.

Originally published: March 2, 2017
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