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What Panic Disorder Feels Like, According to My 10-Year-Old

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From the Outside: A Mother’s View

When my 10-year-old is in the grip of a panic attack, I feel helpless and frightened. If we’re lucky, we catch the early warning signs — shallow breathing, flushed cheeks, restless hands and feet — and are able to help him get to a safe and quiet place until the wave of panic passes. Sometimes we’re not that lucky. Sometimes we don’t catch the warning signs, and he has a full blown panic attack — hyperventilating, collapsing to the ground, shaking and sobbing — and all we can do is watch to make sure he is physically safe and pray the panic passes quickly.

Then there are the times in between attacks. In those moments, we pray the next attack isn’t imminent, we hold our breath and attempt to keep life as “normal” as possible. On a bad day, the time between attacks might only be minutes or hours. Sometimes the time between attacks is days. Eventually we hope that time between will stretch to weeks and then months. To get there, we are trying everything we can: medication, essential oils, cognitive behavioral therapy and accommodations at school. We also talk openly with our son about what he is experiencing and how, even though this may be something he will struggle with to some degree for his entire life, his anxiety and panic disorders do not have to limit him or define him. We encourage him to talk, ask questions and share as much as he is comfortable sharing.

This is my brave, compassionate, articulate son sharing with the world what anxiety and panic feels like to him…

From the Inside: A Son’s View 

I walk into Disneyland, and suddenly panic grips me. Until about a month ago, I didn’t know what was happening. Then I found out I had a mental illness called panic disorder. It’s a horrible thing to have. I can’t enjoy public places anymore.

Even school is a struggle for me. If not for my wonderful teacher, I would have no choice but to leave school. Panic disorder can be different for other people, but in me, I have panic attacks daily. Panic disorder is real, and it’s scary. I’m lucky my parents help me by doing every last thing they can. For some kids, anxiety is a phase, but when a doctor says, “you have panic disorder,” it’s part of you forever.

The Mighty is asking the following: Coin a term to describe a symptom, characteristic, aspect, etc., of your diagnosis. Then, explain what that experience feels like for you. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: June 9, 2016
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