Panic Disorder 411
Recovery From Panic Disorder & Alcoholism
Panic Disorder... What is it?
Picture this. A typical day in your life. Everything is seemly
fine. Nothing is out of the ordinary. Then someone makes a
comment or a facial expression or anything that might trigger
you, and in the blink of an eye, you can't breathe . It feels
like you assume a heart attack feels like. You're gasping for
air. You're sweating profusely. Your heart is pounding hard
enough to climb out of your chest. You feel like you're going to
scream, and sob, and die all at once. And sometimes you don't
even know why it's happening . If you're sitting on a train or in
a classroom or behind your desk in the office, and it happens,
you have to try to suppress it so no one gets alarmed, or you
have to dart out of the room as fast as possible to a quite space
so you can let it come full force so your insides don't explode
from holding it back. When you're alone and triggered, it's just
as terrible. There's no one stopping you from screaming or
sobbing or doing something horrible to yourself in a desperate
attempt to make the pain go away.
I've learned through the years of these incidents that letting the panic attack take its course is probably the worst way to handle it. You think in the moment that by crying and screaming for a few minutes, you'll feel better. It will alleviate the pain in your body and mind, and get it all out. In fact, it does the opposite. By submitting yourself to the panic attack, it gives it the power to grow and become stronger and more intense. It's a bad situation to be in and an absolutely horrible one to experience especially if you're like me and have them on a daily basis.
Anxiety is one of the most common sensations that humans experience, yet it can be detrimental in severe doses. Anxiety has helped us as a species survive thousands of years through keeping us hyperaware of our surroundings, to avoid danger, and be on our toes during an emergency. This means that now there are those individuals that experience anxiety at every little aspect of life. I am grudgingly happy to admit that I am one of those individuals who experiences way too much anxiety, and therefore, have what psychologists like to term a panic disorder .
One of hallmark signs of some of the highest levels of anxiety is a panic attack. Panic attacks are, at least for me, one of the most horrible things that a person can experience. If you've had a panic attack before, you'll probably agree. Panic attacks are terrifying. The best way I can describe my panic attacks is one of those heart attack scenes from every single medical drama there is.
It's much worse than sweaty palms. Your entire body starts sweating. Sometimes things become cold. Whenever I am at my worse, my breathing becomes so rapid that my throat hurts. Noises come out of your throat without your permission, and you don't even recognize them. I get the urge to draw in the panic and submit myself to the pain and terror that comes with it, which is the worse way to handle it. You're fighting with your mind and body to calm down when you don't even know why you're panicing in the first place. Like I said, one of the worse experiences ever.
I've gone to various psychiatrists and, therapists, and psychologists, who had all come to the conclusion that I have generalized anxiety disorder. They threw me on an antidepresent to help. As my panic attacks became more consistent and stronger, despite the antidepressant, my doctor reexamined my condition and changed his mind. Panic Disorder. The first time I heard those words, I felt like a freak.
GAD is something a lot of people experience so it wasn't that scary for me to deal with. Panic disorder, it sounds like something a crazy person would have, and I felt immediately ashamed by the label. At first, my doctor upped the dose of antidressant as high as it could go, but it didn't help. It only made me want to sleep 24/7.
So, reluctantly, I was given that small, peach colored pill called Xanax. It was a hard decision on both ends because Xanax is a known narcotic. (Note: It isn't, but is a benzodiazepine, also addictive) and my family has a history of drug abuse and alcoholism. I was terrified about becoming addicted. We agreed to give it a shot because it was a great solution for most people in my position. Keyword: Most.
I took it a handful of times when I felt a panic attack coming on, but it just made things worse. I felt like I was drugged. I went from being super high strung and panicy to super relaxed physically and very slow mentally. There was one time that I was panicing because i had a big presentation that afternoon, and I needed to both finish it and rehearse it that morning . So, I took a Xanax, and immediately, my body went into stoner mode.
I wanted to sit around and do nothing, but my mind was still racing through the drugged out mind set I was in because I needed to get this done. And I wound up drinking three cups of coffee in span of half an hour. The combo of the pill and the coffee helped me get through that day. But, after that I went to my doctor and told him how Xanax made me feel stoned and how it made my attacks worse, but in a different way.
He tried lowering the dosage, but I had the same problem. Finally, he took me off Xanax and put me on its sister drug, Klonopin. The best way to describe Klonopin is that it's a slower reacting Xanax. It does the same thing, calm your mind, relax your body, help panic attacks from occuring. But instead of the onset time being around five to fifteen minutes, like Xanax is, it takes about a half an hour.
Klonopin was a lifesaver for me. Because the onset time was longer, it meant I had to learn how to deal with the start of the panic attack on my own, but it slowly helped it go away a lot faster. Since the drug (initiates) over a half an hour rather than all at once, it helped me learn how to calm down and breathe through it.
Breathing, Meditation, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation - see other videos on this page.
Through the help of Klonopin and therapy, I have also learned the art of meditation. I found that when I feel a panic attack coming on, I take a Klonopin and stop what I'm doing, and focus on my breath. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale is the mantra that repeats constantly in my head. If my mind starts to wander or I start to worry, I notice it, and without judgement, bring my attention back to my mantra. I make it a point to notice my body, see what parts are tense, and purposely relax them with each exhale. I'll go up and down my body, starting with my forhead and ending at my toes, relaxing each and every muscle with every exhale. This helps panic attacks go away much quicker, and over time, I've become so good at meditating that most of the time, I don't even need to take Klonopin anymore.
If I feel an attack coming on, I'll stop what I'm doing and meditate. If I feel like it's a big attack, and meditating isn't helping, then I'll take one, but as I'm afraid of addiction, I'll try to calm myself down.
Without the initial use of Klonopin, I would have never gotten to the point where I can now stop my panic attacks on my own. It's been a long journey, and even though panic disorder doesn't have a cure, it's easy to forget if it's under control. When you have a panic attack, there's an obligatory feeling of doom. Everyone who has a panic attack has probably felt it, but despite that feeling, the world isn't going to end after or during a panic attack. Life goes on, and because of it, I've been able to make some form of peace with my mental illness.
Do not let the stigma against antidepressants or benzodiazepenes, like Xanax or Klonopin, or the stigma of your mental illness label stop you from getting help. Although going on medication for mental illness is scary, it does not have to be forever, and it definitely will not change who you are as a person. Mental illness changes who you are and medication is the way to bring yourself back to normal, to bring your brain the neurotransmitters it needs to function correctly. And it will help you to potentially cure yourself, like I have through meditation. Finding ways to harness the anxiety like some people can to focus during a speech is essential for someone with panic disorder to heal.
It's a rocky road, and things don't always work on their first try, but one thing I've learned about people who suffer from panic attacks is that they're the most resilient people in the world. Even though hope seems lost sometimes, the people who suffer from the worst always find a way to grab hope by the horns and make a better future for themselves. For all of you who suffer from panic disorder or other similar mental illnesses, or just those of you who experience panic attack, know that you're not alone and that you can get help. Thank you for watching Psych To Go. Subscribe and comment below if this story helped you or inspired you to find your own path to healing. (Audio transcribed to text for educational and accessiblilty purposes.) Video created by "Psych2Go."
THE ROAD TO FORT WORTH by Michael Jackson Smith: Very little was known about panic disorder when I had my first panic attack. There was no help available to teach me how to assuage the attacks, but I discovered that alcohol would dissolve my fear instantly. My website contains the kind of information that would have been a tremendous help to me in the early days of my illness as I searched for solutions for the panic disorder, agoraphobia, and alcoholism that incapacitated me. My book is the story of my journey into recovery. Read Chapter 8 | Top of Page↑