Panic and Anxiety Disorder - My Story
My Experience with Panic and Anxiety Disorder
I think everyone has experienced anxiety at one time or another, and perhaps even mild feelings of panic. It seems to be a given in the human experience. What sets the "average" person apart from the person who suffers from Panic and Anxiety Disorder (PAD) is the severity and length of the feelings. When experienced in the extreme, Panic and Anxiety Disorder can hold a person prisoner in both a mental and physical sense.
I have suffered from General Anxiety Disorder all my life, and was diagnosed with Panic Disorder more than 10 years ago. I hope that sharing my story will help others!
(Photo Credit: Public Domain/Wikimedia)
Did You Know?
Approximately 5% of Americans will experience General Anxiety Disorder at least once in their lifetime.
Feelings of Constant Anxiety
Doesn't Everyone Feel This Way?
My friends and family always considered me a "glass half empty" kind of a gal because I was always worried about something. My anxiety was kind of like a cloud that billowed around my head, sometimes heavy and sometimes light, but always present. No matter how good a situation was, my mind was always full of "what ifs." What if it rains? What if it doesn't rain? What if I'm late? What if I'm too early? What if I can't do the job? What if that ringing phone is going to bring me bad news? What if, what if, what if...
I always thought that everybody had these same thoughts and feelings! I thought this was the normal state of being. And then... the panic attacks began. And got worse. And worse. Finally, I was forced to seek the care of a doctor for what I thought was a developing heart problem. It was only then that I discovered that such a thing as Panic and Anxiety Disorder existed and that I had it. That was bad news. The good news, though, was that it was treatable. Steps could be taken to improve my life. I didn't have to suffer alone. I hope that by sharing my experience with PAD that I may help others out there recognize and understand this illness, whether it has affected you or your friends or loved ones.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The Most Common Anxiety Disorder
I was diagnosed with "General Anxiety Disorder", or GAD. This is the most common anxiety disorder. Approximately 5% of Americans will experience this disorder at least once in their lifetime.
The most common symptoms of GAD include:
- A more-or-less constant state of worry and anxiety.
- Anxiety which is out of proportion to the level of actual stress or threat in one's life.
- A state of anxiety that occurs on most days for more than 6 months despite the lack of an obvious or specific stressor
- A state of anxiety that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to control worry.
- A state of anxiety different from that caused by other anxiety disorders - such as a fear of speaking, a fear of heights, etc.
- Often physical symptoms (such as gastrointestinal problems) will also be be present
A diagnosis of GAD is generally confirmed for adults if three or more of the following symptoms are present on most days for at least six months:
- Being on edge or very restless
- A constant feeling of exhaustion
- Having difficulty with concentration
- Having muscle tension
- Experiencing sleep disturbances
It should be noted that General Anxiety Disorder rarely occurs by itself. It generally occurs with another type of anxiety disorder, depression, or substance abuse.
In my case, I have also been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Panic Disorder. This is pretty much considered to be the "Trifecta" of psychological disorders!
Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Recurring and Relentless
A panic attack can hit hard and hit fast. The sufferer will experience sudden and intense feelings of terror, fear and/or apprehension, even though there is no actual danger present. A panic attack will generally peak within about 10 minutes and then subside, but these will likely be ten of the longest minutes you will ever spend. Sometimes, though, the attacks may be longer than ten minutes, or several panic attacks will occur one right after another making it seem as if one long, long attack is occurring.
According to the DSM-IV-TR, a panic attack is characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:
- palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- trembling or shaking
- sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- feeling of choking
- chest pain or discomfort
- nausea or abdominal distress
- feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
- feelings of unreality (derealization) or being detached from oneself (depersonalization)
- fear of losing control or going crazy
- fear of dying
- numbness or tingling sensations (paresthesias)
- chills or hot flushes
I have experienced every one of these symptoms during a panic attack. When I had my first attack I thought that I was having a heart attack. This turns out to be quite common, and it is that fear that generally drives someone to seek medical assistance. My first panic attacks, however, were diagnosed as asthma (which I had never had before!) and I was given an inhaler and instructions on its use. Of course, it didn't help, and on a subsequent trip to the ER my symptoms were correctly diagnosed as a panic attack.
Do You Suffer from Panic and/or Anxiety Disorder?
The Importance of Getting Treatment
Panic and Anxiety Can Be Successfully Treated!
Once I was seen by a Psychiatrist and my Panic and Anxiety Disorder was diagnosed, I was surprised at how "textbook" my symptoms were. A large part of getting better was just in being able to recognize the problem for what it was. This, along with some behavioral techniques and some medication soon put me on the road to recovery.
Recovery, though, is never complete with this illness. I will always be Bipolar. I will always have GAD and Panic Disorder. The difference is that I don't have to suffer as I once did. My symptoms are under control.