Short Stories: Living with Panic Disorder

» Posted in Mental Health | 4 comments

 panic attack

 

As Gord hefted the knapsack over his shoulder while waiting for the subway, he felt a sudden pain in his chest.  Startled, he paused and waited for the pain to abate.  Instead, he could feel his heart start to pound erratically, followed by a sensation like he was being smothered.  He could hardly breath. What’s going on?  Am I having a heart attack?  Just as Gord had this thought, his head started to spin and he began to feel dizzy and lightheaded.  Pushing back from the crowd, he stumbled to the other side of the platform and fell down heavily on the bench.

“Sir, are you okay?” A concerned woman peered anxiously at Gord.

“I…think…I’m…having…a…heart…attack,” he gasped, trying to get some air into his lungs.  He was starting to feel hot and cold all at the same time.

Everything became a blur to Gord at this point, with different faces coming and going as he was taken by a stretcher to the waiting ambulance.

Several hours later, as Gord lay waiting on the emergency bed, he saw the doctor approach, holding some reports in his hand.  “Mr. Smith?  It looks like all of the tests have checked out and your heart is fine.”

Gord relaxed with relief.  “That’s great to hear.  But what happened then?  Could it have been a virus or something?  I feel okay now, just kind of drained and a bit shaky still, but I think I can go home.”

“I’d like you to meet with the psychiatrist before we let you go to verify my diagnosis, but I think you may have had a panic attack.  Have you ever had a panic attack or do you have any history of anxiety?”

“What?  Are you kidding me?” Gord said with shock.  “I’ve never had anything like this happen to me ever before.  And I’m known for being level-headed and calm.  Sure, I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I haven’t been sleeping as well, but I figured it would just pass.”

As Gord gave this some further thought, he admitted, “Now that I think about it, I’ve been ignoring some weird symptoms I’ve been having for a while.  I’ve been having nausea with pains in my stomach.  I just figured it was the fast food I was eating.  And yeah, my wife has been nagging me about how on edge I’ve been for a while, and my sleep has been pretty brutal for the last year or so.  But I’ve just been too busy to worry about all of it.”

After his visit with the psychiatrist, Gord left the hospital, armed with some medication and a referral to see a local psychologist specializing in the treatment of panic disorder.  Relieved that he was fine, Gord just wanted to forget the whole unpleasant experience.  And really, he was sure it was a freak thing that had happened to him, nothing to worry about.  So like most people who hated to think about their unpleasant experience with a panic attack, he soon forgot about the psychiatrist’s recommendation and got busy with his life once again.

Until the next panic attack.  And then the next.  Soon Gord’s panic attacks had escalated to the point where he was experiencing them weekly.  What made these attacks even more frightening was their unpredictable nature. He never knew what would set them off, and so he began to fear each onset when he would start to feel lightheaded and short of breath.

Oh, no, not again!  Gord was starting to feel consumed by his panic attacks, and unable to function.  Finally, at the end of his rope, he made an appointment with his family doctor to get some more medication.  Maybe a stronger dose would help this time.

——

Three years later, Gord sat in the psychologist’s office, a defeated man.  Overwhelmed and unable to cope, he had little by little, whittled down his life:  first, by avoiding the subway system where he had his first panic attack, then by changing jobs to avoid the triggers of working downtown, then by quitting his baseball team when he had a panic attack at one of his last games, and then finally, by taking a leave of absence from work when he couldn’t cope with work any longer.  Realizing that he desperately needed help, he had finally heeded the recommendation by his doctor.  It was finally time to face his fears and deal with his panic.  No more denying.  No more excuses.  And after speaking with the psychologist, Gord began to feel a tiny glimmer of hope.  Maybe, just maybe, he would be able to reclaim his life.

——

People who suffer from Panic Disorder can feel trapped because of their fear of another panic attack recurring, especially in a public place.  Because the experience is so frightening and they feel out of control, sufferers can begin to avoid situations than may trigger an attack.  Unfortunately, this only increases the stronghold that fear can have in their lives.  Eventually, some sufferers develop Agoraphobia – a fear of being in a place or situation from which escape may be difficult or embarrassing – and can end up feeling imprisoned in their own homes.

If this is you or someone you know, please know that there is treatment available.  This can include a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and psycho-education about panic and anxiety, and what is happening in the body.  Don’t let fear prevent you or a loved one from living your life with freedom.  Contact your doctor or pastor for a referral to a local psychiatrist and/or psychotherapist who can help you.  If you’re in the Durham area in Ontario, Canada, visit LifeCare Centres  for more information.

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4 Comments

  1. Thank you for this depiction of panic disorder.

    Having lived with this for many years I have been frustrated by people who have not understood…even by myself for, like Gord in the story, I spent many years denying that anything was wrong.

    I want to encourage everyone that there is help and successful treatment for this. I now live a full life with my panic attacks managed by therapy and medication. Don’t be afraid to seek treatment because life truly can be so much better!

    • Thanks for your encouragement, Julia! I hope and pray that many people will also choose to break free, like yourself. Keep on sharing the hope of a changed life :)!

  2. I spent quite a long time with this disorder and it was crippling. I couldn’t go outside alone, go shopping, visit friends, anything requiring me to be able to be responsive. I remember finding myself in the middle of crossing a busy road and I couldn’t get to the other side! I found help through counselling and the support of friends. I thank God for people who are willing to speak out honestly and for professionals who help us understand we’re okay and we’re not alone.

    • I’m so glad that you were able to get help for your panic disorder, Lynne! Thanks for your encouragement to other sufferers who will hopefully take the step to reach out for help as well.

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