A is for Anxiety
March 05, 2003
When I first started having panic attacks, I naturally thought that something was physically wrong with me. I would have periodic moments where it felt like I could not catch my breath in a way that was hard to describe.

The first attack was completely out of the blue. It happened when I was walking to class. I got this sense that something was wrong. I halfway panicked when I realized that I was having trouble breathing. I tried coughing to catch my breath. That didn’t seem to work. Then, I decided I was going to go back home. I began to walk back to my car.

No, I said to myself, I have a test today. I don’t want to miss that. So I started to walk back to class. I wavered a minute at the door thinking that, maybe, I should go talk to somebody about what was happening. Nah, I thought, and went to class, very late by now.

At first, the episodes were spread out. I would have one every couple of weeks. Eventually, I began to have problems more frequently.

Medical advice sought

A month after the first attack, with recurring problems, I decided to consult my doctor. Since she couldn’t explain what was wrong, I began to seek help from other sources. First, I tried sending a web message to Dr. Phil. Hey, he seemed like a credible source for whatever might plague me. I was distressed to find that when you ask a question, the website automatically sends you a letter saying, Dr. Phil is one popular guy, try looking at the F.A.Q. No help there. So, Dr. Phil was out.

I struggled for a couple more months, afraid to admit that maybe I was dealing with a form of anxiety, or rather not dealing with it very well. During this time, I stopped putting myself in any situation where I felt like I might have problems breathing. That meant that I stopped driving alone and, well, stopped going to school, and I had to quit my job. (They were going to fire me if I hadn’t.)

I went from being somewhat self-sufficient and independent to needy and helpless. I quit doing everything that I had once loved to do. Instead, I let myself stay confined to my house, hardly leaving, because that was where I felt comfortable.

For every day that I missed school, or something exciting that I would have loved to do (like going to the movies or hanging out with my friends), I felt more and more depressed. I wanted to cry over everything that I felt was wrong with my life. But, also, I knew if I did, I would feel a greater sense of suffocation. It seemed like a no win situation--I wanted to die.

I went to two more doctors, but they also were unable to find anything physically wrong with me. I began to think, Oh my gosh, this is probably anxiety, how embarrassing.

Need for take-charge attitude

Then I began to wonder, yet again, how was I going to deal with it. After realizing that I needed a take-charge attitude, I bought a self-help book.

At the time I was halfway embarrassed to be looking in that section of the bookstore. Some of the book titles made me laugh. I scanned all the books on anxiety until I came across one that seemed perfect for me. The first day that I started reading it, I began to feel better. I was reading an almost exact description of what I had been feeling. Knowing more about what was wrong with me, even though this meant accepting the fact that I had an anxiety disorder, gave me a sense of comfort. I felt like, maybe, I wouldn’t be ostracized for admitting to having this problem. I was not alone anymore.

I also decided that I would research anxiety on the Net. According to the website of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America, with over 19.1 million adult (ages 18-54) sufferers – That’s 13.3 percent of the population! Women are actually two times more likely to be affected than men are, adaa reports.

Biological and environmental factors are thought to cause anxiety disorders, similar to physical disorders like diabetes. But, don’t fret. You can do something about them.

The first step in treating a disorder, based upon my experience, would be for the sufferer to recognize and admit the fact that he or she has one. Although there are many types of anxiety disorders, panic disorder is the most common.

What I found out

A panic disorder, from what I read, generally is the diagnosis after an individual has at least two unexpected attacks that are followed by at least one month of worry that another attack will occur. A person suffering from a panic disorder will worry about the physical and emotional consequences of each attack. Many sufferers are convinced that something is physically wrong with them even though they have been to the doctor and given a clean bill of health.

Agoraphobia, according to researchers, sometimes occurs with a panic disorder, but not always. This is a fear of having an attack in a place where escape is difficult. Sufferers tend not to want to leave home. (This, of course, has been my problem.)

So, you think that you or someone you might know has an panic disorder. Your next question should be: What can I do about it?

Well, an obvious answer is to seek a therapist. You might also want to find a support group. Talking to other people who are going through the same thing as you seems to be very helpful. They might offer insight and, maybe, tell you how they deal with the “day to day” activities of life.

There are also several books and resources on the Internet dealing with anxiety. You might also try a self-help book. There are an overwhelming number of choices on the subject. You might want to check out the reviews and find out which book is right for you.

Please also share your thoughts in the forum.

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