This is not easy for me to write. And I want to first say that I am not writing it in order to receive any kind of sympathy or pity. That is not the reason I’m doing this and I do not expect it from anyone. The reason I forced myself to write this after starting and stopping about 100 times is because I think it is very important for people with mental illness to discuss it. To bring it out in the open. Talking about it helps prevent the illness from festering and morphing into something even scarier in your mind, and it also lets people know that they are not alone. It is so easy to feel alone when struggling with this. I have struggled with anxiety and panic attacks for as long as I can remember, but I have only really begun to face it in the last year and a half. Before that, I never, ever spoke of it. In my mind, if I didn’t talk about it, it wasn’t a real thing. It was just nerves. It was just something that I had to deal with. Bringing it outside of my own mind would make it real. It would make it an illness. But, right before my senior year of college, it got to a point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My attacks were worse than ever and I knew it was time to face this thing that I had been pushing away for my entire life. It was by far the scariest time of my life, but it was necessary and inevitable. So, in order to help you understand what this sort of illness is like, I wanted to break down for you just a few things I feel people should know about anxiety and panic:
1. People with anxiety are excellent at hiding it. I had been having major panic attacks for 15 years without attracting the attention of a single person. Not because my friends and family are negligent, but because we have to become experts at concealing it. It just becomes a part of life. Daily mantras include: “How am I going to get through this event/meal/class?” “Ok, here’s what I have to do.” These are just a few of the things that constantly run through the mind of a person with anxiety.
2. It is difficult for people with panic attacks to return to places where they have had an attack. My senior year of college, I was having panic attacks every single day, almost all day long. This made life extremely difficult and daunting, because I was forced to return to the same buildings and classrooms every day. Once a person has had an attack in a certain location, it is highly likely that they will have another one when they go back. It’s a vicious cycle that can make everyday tasks nearly impossible.
3. Panic attacks feel like you are dying. I have had a lot of people ask what exactly a panic attack feels like, and this is the best description I can give you. Plain and simple: it feels like dying. The physical signs of panic can manifest themselves differently in each person, but that underlying characteristic is always the same. It is as terrifying as it sounds.
4. Mental illness is fluid. It is ever-changing. There is no definite solution. It is different for everyone. No one is ever “cured” of it. It will always be there. You could be having a really great few months, but you never know when it is going to come back at full force. For me, my anxiety is not triggered by particularly stressful events in my life. It is totally random. Which makes is entirely impossible to predict, and life entirely scary.
5. Anxiety often effects eating habits. It is for this reason (and many others) why I give the following instruction: Never, ever, ever, ever, ever comment on a person’s eating habits. You have NO idea what this person is struggling with, may it be an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, etc. Pointing it out to them will make them feel 1000% worse and probably even ashamed of their situation. Just don’t do it. Ever. Your friend’s bizarre and erratic eating habits are not a reason for you to put them on the spot; it may actually be a sign of real distress. Talk to them privately if you are concerned or alarmed.
6. Mental illness is traumatic. Memories of panic attacks or particularly anxious times can be traumatizing. They stick with you. Especially because you are the only one that experienced it. It is a battle that only you remember. Even if you got through it and are doing well, those memories don’t just fade.
This is extremely difficult and scary for me to publish. But, like I said, I feel it is necessary. I want to spread awareness about an illness that is so incredibly isolating. I want people to feel less alone. And I want those who don’t struggle with mental illness to better understand what their friends or family are going through. Because I guarantee you, you know someone who struggles with this. I also want to send a sincere thank you to my friends and family who have helped me through some of the lowest times. I don’t know what I would have done without you all, really. Thank you for trying to understand, for being there, and for loving me.
A few months back, I lost a childhood friend who had long been struggling with similar issues. In an attempt to reach out after some concerning Facebook posts of hers, I told her that I could relate to what she was going through. I told her that my mantra had become “Just keep going.” Because with this type of illness, it is too easy to focus on the mountain of possible struggles in front of you. What I have learned is that you HAVE to keep going. You can’t focus on the negative. You just can’t. You won’t survive. You have to get up, get dressed, and focus on the task ahead of you. You have to believe that you can handle whatever life may throw at you. You just have to.
My friend unfortunately lost her battle. My hope in writing this is that others will be inspired to find their strength, and know that they are never, ever alone. You are a warrior and your illness is just another thing to be conquered. You have to believe that.
*The featured image for this post is from a collection of photos entitled “Romanticization of Mental Illness” by Kelsey Weaver. Check out the rest of the set here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kelseyweaverphotography/sets/72157641294062935/
**In August 2014, this piece was featured on HelloGiggles. See the article here:
***In May 2015, this piece was featured on The Mighty. See the article here:
17 thoughts on “I Have Panic Disorder And I’m Ready To Talk About It (I Think)”
Catherine, this is a wonderfully written article and an extremely important one. While it is never a positive experience to see that someone is struggling, it is always, always helpful to know that we are not alone in our illness. Thank you for posting this and for reminding me that I’m not alone.
I am so, so glad you were able to find some comfort in my post. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and for your lovely comment.
Thank you Catherine for having the courage to post this. I now feel warm hearted that there are people like you in this world
Thank you so much!
Catherine, this was empowering and raw. From one mental health crusader to another, keep fighting the good fight! I see you out there and you’re making absolute waves, even through all of the shockwaves of panic. I’m right there with you: http://ancp3.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/hopeful-anxiety/. Reach out if you ever need anything or want to share stories. Keep on writing!
Thank you so, so much for both the kind words and the support. And for your bravery in sharing your story as well!
Beautifully written. I also suffer from panic attacks and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. When i finally sought help and then told my family and friends they were shocked. I, like so many others, am a master at hiding it. It’s a terrible thing to go through and it is something I tend to be vocal about as well. Thank you for sharing something so personal.
Thank you so much. I’m so glad to hear you were able to talk openly about your anxiety- it’s such a hard but important thing to do.
Hi Catherine: My name is Vicki and I’m the senior editor of The Mighty, a site that seeks to de-stigmatize disability and illness by sharing people’s real life stories and experiences. I’d love to chat with you about featuring your work on our site. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to hear from you soon!
Well said, brave words. 👌🏻 Mental illness continues to be stigmatised. The more people who speak about it and confront prejudices and explain it to those who do not understand the better.
thank you so much!
Catherine, what happenedto your friend. I apologize for asking but I suffer from panic attacks and I want to know if something happened related to it. Although people say that a panic attack won’t kill, I’m afraid it can.
Hi Yika, I understand your fears 100%. But luckily, it’s not medically possible to die from a panic attack, and that’s not what happened to my friend. I don’t really want to divulge exactly what happened, but please don’t worry.
Great Post ❤ True Words!!! I can relate to all of the issues you posted related to Panic attacks. For me is the ones that hit you unexpectedly and you have no idea what caused the attack that are the worst. I want to ((Hugs) you for your bravery and pure honesty. It is not easy to put yourself out there and be vulnerable like this. A few months back I did the same and told my inner small group of friends about my anxiety and panic attacks. They have since not said a word to me. I wouldn't wish Mental illness on anyone but I wish more people would be more accepting and supportive of those of us who do struggle every single day. I hid it for so many years for fear of judgement. When I did spill it, I got left to struggle alone. 😦 That is why we hid and that is why we wear our masks. It is exhausting, scary and lonely. 😦
Thank you so much! I’m so sorry your friends couldn’t accept you – but you are incredibly brave for putting yourself out there and being honest. You are strong and amazing and should keep being honest regardless of people’s reactions. My guess is, they likely don’t know how to react or handle the situation. It’s understandable, but painful nonetheless and not the proper way to respond. Stay strong!!