The Worst/Best Part Of Having a Panic Disorder Is You Can’t Hide It Forever


I had a blow out panic attack in my doctor’s office today. He knew I had anxiety, but I don’t think to the extent that it is there. Likely because I’ve done an extremely good job of concealing it for a long time.

Or maybe he did know and was just taking it one step at a time. I don’t know, I’m not the doctor but I think it’s probably that because he walked in the office after the nurse had made me lie down, and the first thing out of his mouth was “HEATHER…WHY are you worrying so much right now?”

The thing is that very few people in my life know about just how bad my panic disorder is. In fact, very few people even know that I have one. My husband does, but even he didn’t grasp the full effect it has on me until today, when in the doctor’s office I was made to lie down on my left side until my blood pressure and heart rate went down, because both were THROUGH. THE. ROOF. as I sat in there hyperventilating, completely unaware of what was going on.

The first panic attack I can remember ever having was when I was 11 years old, visiting my grandparents at their new home near Yosemite. We were in the grocery store and suddenly I just had a terrifying feeling like I was in a dream and my heart was pounding. I had no idea what an anxiety attack or a panic disorder was at the time. And I just dealt with those types of situations over and over again, as the years went on, until I finally researched what was happening to me just 6 years ago.

So it started when I was 11, and I am now 34 and have only known what has been going on for 6 years now. I mean that I knew what was going on (that I was having a multitude of symptoms I could not explain), but I didn’t know why it was going on (that I have a panic disorder).

And since knowing why, I have done literally nothing legitimate to take care of it.

Why? Because when I started trying to figure out what to do, I was told by closer family and society in general that this should be kept “private” or that I should be ashamed of it. That. I. Should. Be. Ashamed. Of. A. Mental. Health. Issue. Completely. Beyond. My. Control.

And that I should just calm down.

Also, in a situation with family that gossip about each other’s personal and health issues TO NO END – where you can’t sneeze without everyone hearing and speculating about it – the need to keep things utterly secret so as to avoid all that unnecessary speculation was paramount. I don’t like it when people speculate about my personal life.

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Incidentally, I started writing my blog roughly 6 years ago too. Coincidence? I mean come on now. 6 years ago was when I also developed the coping mechanism of making fun of everything and joking my way through my unrelenting anxiety, which was getting worse and worse by the day.

But the jokes can only go so far, and of course people that think you should be ashamed of your uncontrollable panic disorder also like to shame you for just being yourself to try and cope with it. Suddenly the speculation turned to being that about my blog and I started to wish I could *just* write for bloggers and strangers, because whenever close family or friends read it I would get text messages and emails in response, as well as “unfriended” by many online.

Then only recently, I realized that to cope with the social spectrum of my panic disorder, I had made it a habit to just drink wine. I don’t mean – like – alcoholic status drank wine, but anyone that has ever known someone with an addiction knows, it often starts as a way to cope. Which is exactly what I was doing.

And I’m not going to lie – I love my wine. But if I were to be completely honest, as delicious as wine tastes, it gives me a headache and makes me feel like crap. And yet I still drank it as a social lubricant. Often.

Until I realized what I was doing, that is.

Now, it has been months since I drank wine. I don’t tell as many jokes anymore, because I never know who is going to read them or how they are going to respond; so basically I’ve stopped being *myself* in as many venues as I needed to to feel comfortable.

And I worry endlessly about everything.

I worry about money, as I talked about in my blog post yesterday.

I worry about the health and safety of my kids, and how one little thing will set off a chain reaction of other problems, many of which amount to more money worries. This is mostly because of a couple things that have happened in the last few years that should have been as simple as a bruised knee or a minor cold, but that got blown into huge, costly, and long-term problems.

I worry about what people think of me as I write blogs/homeschool my kids/parent in front of others/basically just live my life.

And I worry about my own health.

This is a new one for me, and it’s gotten out of control. Of course it doesn’t help that everyone around me acts as though I’m suddenly some fucking invalid because I have some allergy problems and had an asthma attack a couple months ago. Regularly, I go to the doctor and come back with a clean bill of health, and yet even just this last weekend my mother, as well as several other of my and my husband’s family members, made comments like “well you aren’t in very good health you know.” Um, OK…I’m not sure where you got that one, but…I guess I’ll go ahead and let your negativity work me up (which is exactly what I do).

I could go on…in a nutshell, I spend all my waking hours worrying.

So today, as I was lying in the doctor’s office, my heart pounding, trying to catch my breath, my blood pressure up to dangerous levels (I actually have low blood pressure, normally), a few very shocking things were presented to me. They shouldn’t have been shocking, but for someone who has been coping with a debilitating panic disorder for 23 years by basically pretending nothing is wrong, they were.

  1. I have a panic disorder and that is nothing to be ashamed of;
  2. I cannot hide my panic disorder forever;
  3. Ignoring, rationalizing, telling jokes, and drinking wine may be short-term solutions, but when those are gone the panic is still there. In fact, it’s worse;
  4. If people want to be negative and toxic to me about who I am – in whatever way they want to, be it giving me a hard time about a blog I wrote or a joke I told or the way I homeschool my kids; or speculating on my general health and happiness with others – I have every right, regardless of who those people are, to cut them out of my life permanently;
  5. It’s OK to say “NO” to people if it’s a situation I don’t feel safe in; and,
  6. If the doctor says to take the fucking Xanax, just take the fucking Xanax.

Yesterday I wrote a blog about people swimming in debt but being OK as long as they just pretend everything is fine. I think this is a lot like that, in fact maybe that’s really what I was trying to write about. I am literally swimming in this mire, or more like drowning but you guys get the point.

Now I can go on and pretend that everything is fine. Or I can deal with it head-on.

The only question, though, is how? That is where I am like a fish out of water – I have no idea truly where to begin. I do know that I want to feel like myself again. To start, I think it has to be found in my #2 realization today: I cannot hide my panic disorder forever. Perhaps the best way to start dealing with it is to stop concealing it.

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5 Comments on “The Worst/Best Part Of Having a Panic Disorder Is You Can’t Hide It Forever

  1. NEVER BE ASHAMED OF IT! Those, who told you this should be ashamed of themselves. Be proud of how strong you are for being able to live with it, fight it. I had panic disorder for years, but now I am done with it. It was a dark period of my life, but made me strong, made me who I am today and even though took away many things, also gave me so much.
    Sending you love from London 🙂

  2. I “luckily” don’t get panic attacks (I’m not trying to brag just so you know) but do have anxiety disorder and that, alone, sucks. People say to just think something else, breathe, calm down, drink some lavender tea or something, as if it just a flippant thought like “ooh I like dark plums better than red ones, well, onto another though, tee her”. No. its pervasive and it is just…..stuck to your brain because it is your brain. But that doesn’t make us “weird” because so many people have loose wiring in their brains and so few don’t – those few like to belittle the rest of us and make us hide in fear, worsening our anxiety…. so let’s not let them win.

  3. *hugs* Dealing with any illness sucks. I understand mental illness, and it’s stigma. I read the hell out of “Let’s Pretend this Never Happened ” and “Furiously Happy ” ,by Jenny Lawson, not because they helped, but because it helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. I offer myself as part of your “tribe”, even though we have never met.

  4. my ex had panic attacks. for example, she was driving and suddenly thought, “what happens if i get nervous while driving and have to pull over in a parking lot – and then everyone sees me – and then they start thinking “what’s wrong with her that she can’t drive and had to pull over in a parking lot? wow, she must be really messed up to have a problem like that.” and then that would cause her to actually get nervous and pull over in a parking lot and then be unable to drive because she was certain everyone was watching and waiting to see how long it would take before she was calm enough to drive.

    maybe that’s not a panic attack. maybe she’s just nuts. well, she is nuts, but that could be a separate issue.

  5. this was so honest and well-written, and i’m glad things are becoming clearer for you and you’re finding that it’s okay not to ignore it or hold it in. i think this can only lead to you being able to cope in healthier ways. hugs – nothing to be ashamed of, we all have things, all a matter of trying our best to keep those things in balance, through practices, meds, distance or all of the above. just like any other disease, mental health needs to be addressed. hugs )

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