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My Panic Disorder
You can't see it. If you saw me you may not notice there is anything wrong with me. You might assume I'm a pretty normal woman, as normal as they come anyway. But what you don't know is that I suffer from Panic Disorder, an anxiety disorder. My diagnosis is Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. You wouldn't have seen me 5 years ago because I was trapped in my home due to Agoraphobia.How does a panic disorder affect your daily life? I allowed my panic attacks to get increasingly worse. They began to happen more frequently. I was working outside the home in data entry. I worked 40 hours a week, but often called in sick due to my anxiety. One day I found out that my nephew was killed in Iraq and I began losing control. I started avoiding work. I started avoiding the grocery store, the elevator, the local convenience store, and the bank. My world began to get smaller and smaller. Within a few weeks I was struggling to go to the mailbox, and within days after that I struggled to even think about going outside my apartment.
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The experts say panic attacks only last up to 10 minutes, but mine would last an hour or longer. When I told my phyciatrist this he mentioned that in severe cases they can last longer. During a panic attack I experience excessive sweating, tingling in my hands and feet, trembling over my entire body, dizziness, lightheadedness, trouble concentrating on anything but what I am feeling, my breath becomes short, and I feel like I am going to die. My panic attacks can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more. Afterwards I am exhausted and need to lie down. I usually sleep after a panic attack. It's emotionally and physically exhausting to suffer from panic attacks. Just writing about having panic attacks is bringing on some of the symptoms.
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A Typical Day
These days I work from home as a writer. I strive to get up at 6:30 in the morning with my daughters and help them get ready for school. It is very difficult to get up in the mornings for me. I awake trembling from a night full of frightening nightmares that are always the same: either someone is trying to kill me or I am trying to kill someone. If it weren't for the medication I take to help me sleep at night I would not be able to fall asleep by about 10:00 every night and I would be waking up every 30-60 minutes. Sometimes I am able to get out of bed. Once in a while I help direct my older daughter with reminders to brush her teeth, brush her hair, not wear that shirt, etc. while I am trying to get my bearings. Lately, I have been waking up with a tremendous migraine, which only makes things worse. By the time I get my younger daughter off to school about an hour or two has passed, depending on the day, and I am exhausted all over again. I usually go back to sleep for a couple of hours, but I am trying to break that habit. I then have another cup of coffee (a max of two cups a day) and walk to my office to get to work. I worry all day about having a panic attack. I cannot seem to help but to worry about it. I think the most horrific part of having panic disorder is never knowing when or where a panic attack will strike. I recently watched a documentary titled "Panic: A Film About Coping" with my husband that explained what it feels like. One of the experts explains panic disorder as going to work and knowing that lightening will strike you several times during the day, and it will be the scariest thing you have ever experienced but it will not kill you. I'm paraphrasing, but that is so accurate. Imagine living with that. This is how a panic disorder can affect your daily life.
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Image: m_bartosch / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
National Institute of Mental Health. (2010). Panic Disorder. Retrieved from, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/panic-disorder/index.shtml.
Medicine Net. (2010). Panic Attacks. Retrieved from, http://www.medicinenet.com/panic_disorder/article.htm.