My story is much like others’ who suffer with panic disorder. Look at a list of symptoms and you’ll see mine.
My first panic attack occurred when I was 14. Later I would have them while driving on the interstate – so I stopped driving on the interstate. I had them at movie theaters or concerts – so I stopped going to those places. I stopped going to the mall, to the grocery store, or flying. I stopped going anywhere alone with my children because I was afraid of what might happen to them if I fainted or died while we were out. Eventually, I stopped going anywhere alone.
I quit my job and sold my car and relied on my husband to take me and the children everywhere. I remember every day seeming gray and cloudy, and every day I cried. Then I decided that the only way I was going to live again was to face my fears head on.
I made a chart of short- and long-term goals. First was driving alone to the store. My hands were shaking on the steering wheel. But back at home I put a star next to my accomplishment. Each day I tried a new goal. Sometimes it took three or four tries to move forward, but I never went backward.
I took my cell phone everywhere. In the early 1990s cell phones were big and square, but mine felt like a “safety net” that would help me venture out alone.
My greatest motivation to regain my freedom may have been my husband. Instead of offering support, though, he never tried to understand me and he was angry. We had fights about him going to the grocery store or taking time off from work to take the children to the doctor. Now I’m glad he didn’t make it easy for me; he claims he was showing me “tough love.”
My progress has been slow over the years, but I’m finally starting to accomplish my long-term goals. I returned to work full time, started volunteering at my kids’ schools, and finished my first semester of college courses. My comfort zone has grown larger as I’ve learned not to fear my panic attacks. One Sunday I drove my daughter to the beach, about two hours away. That trip might has well have been to the moon, because there was a time I never thought I could do it.
I still get panic attacks, but I’m not afraid of them. Some days are harder than others, but I focus on how far I’ve come. Sometimes it helps to laugh at myself and my coping tools, which includes my new tiny cell phone.