Imagine sitting in the gymnasium at your child’s school while you’re having a full-blown panic attack. There are people all around you and if you get up to leave the gym everyone will be staring at you. Your heart is racing a million miles a minute. Your face and body are drenched in sweat from heat to toe like you’ve just run a marathon. What a nightmare!
Unfortunately, I don’t have to imagine this because I lived it. This happened to me in the spring of 2005 and was the worst panic attack I’d ever experienced. I felt utterly humiliated as other parents that I knew sat beside me and wondered what the heck was wrong with me.
To me the only thing I could do at that moment was lie, so I told other parents that I was having trouble with hormones and hot flashes. I felt sure I couldn’t admit that I was having a panic attack because these people would think I was crazy. My child went to school with their children, who would sometimes come over to my home. There was no way I could admit the truth.
The only two people to whom I ever confessed my panic attack problem were my sister and my best friend. That holds true to this day, even eight months after I found a cure for my panic attacks and no longer struggle with this issue. However, the stigma is still there.
What is it about anxiety disorders or panic attacks that make people afraid to speak out about them? Anxiety sufferers are afraid that they’ll be seen as weak or that people will look at them differently. It’s ironic that when people have a physical illness such as kidney problems that they have no problem discussing it with others. But when you bring a problem that can be viewed as a “mental illness” into the picture, people shut up like clams.
I?m not personally convinced that anxiety disorders can be classified as a mental illness as the problem has less to do with brain activity and more to do with the nervous system. The fight or flight mechanism is usually out of whack in anxiety patients and needs to be re-set so that the body can produce normal physical reactions to trigger events.
So are you in denial about your panic attacks? How many people are you going to lie to before you finally get help for this problem?
I don’t recommend confiding to your inner circle of friends unless you’re absolutely positive that you?ll get the support you deserve. I can?t imagine anything worse than not being taken seriously about this issue.
However, you might be surprised at the response you get if you share your secret. You may discover a new ally in your panic attack problem.
For example I was surprised to learn that my best friend struggled with panic attacks as well after I finally confided in her about mine. It was very comforting to me to be able to discuss this problem with someone without feeling like I would be viewed as unstable.
Panic attacks are just that: a problem. It’s not a disease and you don?t have a mental illness. Panic attacks affect millions of people from all walks of life. You are not alone. Do some research online and you’ll find user groups and online information waiting to be discovered. If you don’t want to open up to someone in person you may find an online friend that is struggling with the same condition.
So don’t give up. There is a cure for you. Take the first step so you can find it.