Have you ever gone to a crowded mall, sat on the board of the PTO at the school, sat in a classroom full of strangers? All of these things are part of my day to day routine. However, I began having severe panic attacks when I stepped into these places and other situations.
I woke up from sleeping and could not get out of my bedroom because I was terrified. What was so scary? I could not tell you, because I do not know. I was sweating, my heart was pounding, and I was having chest pains. I thought I was having a heart attack. I called my husband and he had to come home to help me. How embarrassing. I am a thirty three year old woman, and I cannot walk out of the door of my own bedroom? This is called a panic attack and if left untreated it can lead to a severe change in the way you live your daily life, and even change your personality in a very short period. I am not talking about feeling anxious about certain situations; I am talking about changing your daily routines and avoiding situations and people because you are afraid another attack will happen.
Panic attacks can occur at any time. Because they are unpredictable people worry between episodes intensely and dread the next attack. An attack usually peaks within 10 minutes, but some symptoms may last much longer. People who have full-blown repeated panic attacks can become very disabled by their condition and should seek treatment before they start to avoid places or situations.
When having a panic attack your body is defending itself against something. You can sweat, have shortness of breath, rapid heart beat, chest pain, feel unsteady, feel like you are choking, feel numb or tingly, experience chills or hot flashes, trembling, nausea, abdominal pain, feel disconnected, and fear “going crazy.”
The discomfort and a sense of danger the attack brings is so intense that people with panic disorder often believe they are having a heart attack or other life threatening illness.
If you do not seek treatment for panic attacks, three things can happen. The first is anticipatory anxiety, which is waiting for the next attack to occur. Most sufferers choose to do so alone at this stage. The second is avoidance, which is discontinuing activities that seem to trigger the attacks. Going to the park, driving and riding in elevators are just some that are avoided commonly. The third is agoraphobia, which is the fear of being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult. This is a severe form of phobic avoidance and can cause those with panic disorder to avoid public places, crowds, and traveling by bus or plane. This pattern can get to the point where the person will not leave home.
Some people’s lives become so restricted that they avoid normal activities, such as grocery shopping or driving. About one third become housebound or are able to confront a feared situation only when accompanied by a spouse or other trusted person. Approximately twice as many women as men experience panic disorder; however, there is no difference in frequency in panic disorder among people of different ethnic, economic and geographic backgrounds.
For me, there is not a trigger. They come unexpectedly and are very uncontrollable. This is common in people who have experienced abuse as I did throughout my life. Sexual, emotional or verbal abuse can lead to anxiety. Some people think they are strong and can handle it. However, it can years for a panic disorder to fully develop.
When panic disorders are left untreated, the person may not be able to trust anyone, including God, which can interfere with their ability to become saved. They may also suffer from low self esteem. They fear new situations and unfamiliar people. They may believe they are unacceptable to God and going to hell no matter what they do. They may develop an inability to make decisions. They don’t trust their own opinions. They look to others to encourage them in their decisions or let others decide for them. They may suffer from depression and even eating disorders. They may have feelings of impending doom or suicidal ideation or behaviors.
They can shut down emotionally, block their memories, and some even experience the splitting of personalities. Some turn to cutting, alcohol and drugs to feel in control of something in their life. They seek an abusive partner, and learn passivity and avoidance of confrontation. Some seek a partner with a substance abuse problem. Unintended pregnancy, promiscuity, sexual dysfunction, flashbacks, preference for rough sex, bondage, and or same sex partner can also be prominent. Chronic head face or pelvic pain, stomach problems, and asthma may exist. They may also have poor or no parenting skills, leading to child abuse. Anger management can be difficult and lead to aggressive behavior.
Those who have an anxiety condition often feel out of control. Their health and life are falling apart because of the stress. They struggle with feeling bad about themselves, feel sick in social situations and cannot manage pressure. They get sick more often leading to more doctors. They are quick to get angry, regularly feel unsettled and overwhelmed. Some feel disconnected or detached from reality and life, and often feel they are on the edge of losing control. They are not reliable because their symptoms may prevent them from following through. They begin to dwell on their health condition and personal problems. They may live a restricted lifestyle, feel like life is passing them by, question their faith and God’s presence in their lives, and feel at a distance from God.
The good news? There is treatment for panic attacks. It includes medications and a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapy teaches people how to view panic attacks differently and demonstrates ways to reduce anxiety.
However, finding help is not always easy. In my particular case, my family does not have medical insurance. Even people who may have coverage run into barriers because doctors don’t always recognize the symptoms, the symptoms sometimes interfere with the person suffering getting help, and the help needed may not be available in their area. Long waiting lists and the stigma attached to mental illness sometimes make the person wish to avoid any association with it.
Treatment of abuse brings relief, peace and healing. The survivors of abuse can live healthier and learn to cope with life’s challenges with dignity and success. They can break the generational cycle of abuse and experience the joy of healthy relationships.
I am not sure why I began suffering with panic attacks. After treatment I am able to grocery shop by myself. I haven’t missed a single class. I sleep better at night. I feel more like me. A new me, without the baggage that brings on these attacks. This is what all sufferers of panic attacks want.
If you are suffering from panic attacks don’t leave them untreated. So worst things can start happening and the longer you are in denial, you will feel bad. I became different person in the same body. My brain had to be reframmed and it took time, but I am value it. Now I am recovering and going back to my life.