Don’t Panic – It’s Just Panic Disorder

When I was in high school, I experienced my first panic attack ever.  I had just returned home from baby-sitting, and as I was brushing my teeth before bed, a wave of absolute fear washed over me.  Paralyzed with fear, I stared at myself in the mirror with toothbrush half-raised and wondered what was happening to me.

Why did I feel like I was dying?

Why was my heart racing?

Why did I think I was going to have a heart attack?

Where did these feelings come from?

 

After suffering quietly with this for several years (including sleeping during the day and staying awake at night during college—to make sure I wouldn’t die in my sleep), I finally broke down to my mom in a sleep-deprived state and told her what was happening to me.

I went to a doctor who immediately told me I had textbook Panic Disorder and Anxiety.

For several years I tried different medications.  It took care of the panic attacks, but the side effects became too much for me, and I decided to tackle this on my own.

After knowing a certain handsome guy in college for awhile (who I would later marry!), I explained to him how I suffered with panic attacks and anxiety.

“Imagine you’re standing on railroad tracks, perfectly happy, when suddenly there is a train bearing down on you, and you’re not able to move—that’s what a panic attack feels like,” I tried explaining to him.

Since he’s a pretty great guy, he didn’t write me off as crazy and take off running.

He stuck around, we got married, and then he was REALLY introduced into my anxiety-ridden world.

I mean, what other guy gets to walk into his house 15 minutes late due to traffic and have his wife in tears because she just KNOWS he was killed in a car accident and has been frantically flipping through the channels trying to find the wreck footage?

My husband has also called me before and said, “Just wanted to say, ‘I love you,’” which would make ANY wife beam with happiness, right?  My lucky husband has no idea that his wife hangs up the phone and immediately starts thinking, “What if an armed gunman just walked into his office, and he wanted to call and just tell me he loved me before hanging up?!”  while she frantically flips through the channels trying to find the armed gunman footage on the news.

When we had children, it just intensified.

A 3 month-old baby cries for a few minutes when I put him down in his crib for the night.  When he suddenly stops crying, I’m the mom who immediately thinks, “What if he has gotten caught between the crib and mattress and is now fighting to breathe?!”  I quietly bust down his door to check on him, waking him up, and I return to a less-than-pleased husband.  (By the way—video baby monitors have been LIFE-CHANGING this time around!)

Anxiety through the roof. Panic attacks out of control.

I’ve dealt with these panic attacks and anxiety for almost 14 years now, and here are a few things I’ve realized:

1.)     Caffeine can intensify the panic attacks.  Whenever I’ve had a lot of mocha frappucinos or chocolate, I can guarantee I’m going to deal with some major panic attacks.  (Does that keep me from drinking homemade mocha frappucinos?  Uh, no—I like them too much.)

2.)    You’re not crazy.  Panic Disorder and Anxiety are the result of a chemical inbalance in your brain, and it can be hereditary.  It does not mean you’re crazy—even if you ARE up at 3:00 in the morning, pacing the floors, worrying about that family vacation you decided to go on…a year from now.

3.)    Our Lady and St. Dymphna are two of the best allies you can have.  The Blessed Virgin is the absolute best example of someone staying cool, calm, and collected.   When the Archangel Gabriel appears to her and announces she’s going to have a Son, she doesn’t lose her cool, start pacing, and wondering what horrible things this will bring.   Confused?  Yes.  But she calmly replies with her Fiat.  St. Dymphna is the patron saint for people afflicted with mental issues.  She has come through for me time after time again with her prayers when I’m in the middle of an attack.

4.)    Communication.  There are plenty of times I’m having an attack, and my husband has no idea because outwardly, I look pretty normal.  I have to stop and tell him what’s happening, and he does an amazing job of talking to me about something random and silly that gets me laughing through the panic attack.  I know he doesn’t know what it feels like to have an attack, but he knows me well enough to know it IS serious, and I certainly am in mental anguish.

5.)    It does not mean I’m a bad Catholic.  When I’m having a panic attack, I’m always afraid I’m going to die.  Whether it be that my lungs just quit working suddenly (irrational, I know) or that I’m going to have a heart attack in my sleep, I’m always afraid death is certain.  As a Catholic, we know death is a fact of life—we’re even reminded of it every Ash Wednesday!  Being afraid of something so–you know–deadly does not make me a bad Catholic.  It just means I’ve been given this cross for a reason.

6.)     Don’t be afraid to talk about it.  I’ve randomly said something about having panic attacks in MANY a conversation and learned that the person I’m talking to suffers from the exact same thing–and they’re generally suffering in silence because they’re too ashamed to talk about it.

St. Dymphna, ora pro nobis.

St. Dymphna, ora pro nobis.

Delena blogs about life as a Catholic stay-at-home mom at http://itsonmyto-dolist.blogspot.com.


Comments

  1. Thank you! I’m not alone. And I never knew of St. Dymphna.

  2. So glad I found you on Catholic Moms! :-) Thanks for posting about this!
    I experienced my first panic attack when I was pregnant with my 6th child, and I was certain I was having a pulmonary embolism. Once I discovered that it was “just anxiety”, in addition to praying a rosary and reading Psalms, I found some helpful natural cures.
    For the acute phase, I brewed a cup of chamomile/lemon balm tea (let it steep for 20 minutes), and added a dropperful of valerian root tincture. I was also drinking a daily infusion of nettles and red raspberry leaf to help with anemia, and I added oatstraw to this infusion. After about a week of adding the oatstraw, the attacks stopped.
    There are many other herbs out there that are reported to help with anxiety, but these are the ones I had on hand, and they did the trick for me.

    • Michelle–you are most definitely not alone. St. Dymphna is one of your best allies–she’s awesome! :-)

      Paula– I will have to look into the natural side. I DO like using natural remedies for things, but I was told “adrenal support” items would help. I’ll have to look into the herbs/remedies you talked about! THANK YOU!

  3. Oh heavens, you are me. Thanks for sharing. I tried medication once and only once (though I have been told it was probably just the kind I tried and the fact that it was a high dose that my OB had no idea what he was doing when he prescribed it to me) — but I thought I had panic attacks before I had the medication. Day 2 on it, I had a total nervous breakdown very suddenly as I lay in bed, and I literally expected inanimate things to start talking to me. Then an hour or so after it started, it ended and I was super relaxed and sleepy and happy. BIZARRE > It is totally chemical. After that, 1) I don’t play with brain meds and 2) I compare everything to that experience which makes me realize, hey I can handle this.
    Oh and I noticed the caffeine connection too — very very true!

    Totally normal people with great faith and beautiful families definitely are afflicted with this type of thing. Thank you for bringing it up.

  4. Delena,
    What a brave post! I admire you for sharing your story.

    I suffer from anxiety and depression, and throughout the years, I’ve learned how vitally important exercise is to my mental well being. If I’m exercising on a regular basis, my moods are much more stable. I’m not saying it’s a panacea, but it’s certainly helped me tremendously.

  5. Delena,
    Thank you ever soo much for posting this. I am soon to be 25 and have dealth with anxiety since I was 19. I had thought for the longest time I too was a “Bad Catholic”, and all the other things you posted. I too am currently dating my best friend and he does not know the extent of it, he just prays for me (incredible) and reminds me it will be ok.
    Thank you for sharing your story, its a beautiful gift to know I am not alone in this!

  6. So glad you enjoyed the post, Melissa! Sounds like you’ve got a good man beside you who is patient and loving!