WHAT IS A PANIC DISORDER?

In the past year, while I’ve been traveling and talking about my memoir LITTLE PANIC and my life long panic disorder, I’ve noticed something interesting: a lot of people claim to have something they don’t actually have.

Do you have a panic disorder?

Probably not.

Do you have an anxiety disorder?

Perhaps.

A panic disorder is the chronic suffering from repeated and frequent, unprovoked panic attacks. There are no triggers. It’s not anxiety a person feels in those periods of time, it’s pure, unadulterated panic. Life-threatening panic. I lived for 25 + years with a panic disorder. My life was interrupted by frequent seizures of unprovoked terror. The distinguishing feature of a true panic disorder is a person’s fear of having a panic attack. This fear becomes so intense that the sufferer will go to great extremes to avoid suffering from a panic attack. Their lives get very small, and often people become agoraphobic.

It becomes an untenable way to live, and often, depending on the type of person you are, the will to be freed from fear’s dictatorship, forces a person to make a choice: succumb or fight back. I fought back, only after succumbing.

It’s not a badge of honor to claim something that you don’t suffer from, but for some reason, many people claim to have a panic disorder when they don’t. This makes it harder for people who truly suffer to be seen and heard, and taken seriously.

So…you might have occasional panic attacks, and you might have a ton of anxiety, but unless your life has been altered daily by frequent bouts of panic, you, my friend, are in the clear.

And you know who else is in the clear? Me. I still have panic attacks, but only about two a year. I am in remission. I’d like to get clear about who suffers and in what way so that we don’t muddy the waters for those who truly need care. So, the next time you have a panic attack, you don’t need to worry that you have a panic disorder. You probably don’t.

BUT…if you do have frequent and chronic panic attacks that interfere with your everyday life, please go see a psychiatrist and a therapist. No offense to primary care physicians, but I find they don’t take mental illness as seriously as those in the mental health business.

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2 Replies to “WHAT IS A PANIC DISORDER?”

  1. Hi Amanda!

    I read and enjoyed and related so much to your book. My childhood was an off-and-on nightmare of anxiety and depression, with some years better than others for what seemed like no particular reason at all. In my twenties, I developed full-fledged panic disorder, with my worst fear being having a panic attack in public. At every moment I had to have a plan of how I would escape and where I would go if I started to panic so no one would know what was wrong with me. Like you, I wished for an outward ailment that would match my insides, but at the same time I worried all the time that I was dying of something dreadful. I knew, more or less, that what I had was an anxiety issue, but I’m a bit older than you and the medications I tried weren’t helpful at all. Once prozac came on the market, everything got better. I’ve improved drastically over the years, to the point where the kind of anxiety I used to have seems like a horrid memory. I’m still a bit anxious now and then, but hardly to an unusual degree. Anyway, I really enjoyed your book and reading through your posts. I think it does a service both for people who have experienced anxiety, to know they’re not alone, and that there is hope, and for people who haven’t, because you describe it so well, so they can understand people in their lives who suffer from it. I wish you all the best on your life journey, and I am glad you are in remission (as I am–I still consider myself in remission!). Just as anxiety begats more anxiety (and the fear of being anxious), I have found that success in treating anxiety begats more success (and feelings of peace and security). Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. Maggie! I’m not sure how I missed seeing this comment! I’m so sorry for not responding until now. I’m so sorry to hear you’ve suffered so much, but thrilled that you’ve been helped by Prozac. It’s really difficult to realize how much pain we lived in, isn’t it? Thanks for reading my book and for coming here to let me know about it! Amanda

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