What is it?

Panic disorder. It’s horrible. To have this means that one has to have more than about four panic attacks within a month. If that wasn’t bad enough, the physical discomfort from having one is secondary to the typical psychological effects of expectation; the thought of knowing one might have another attack is horrible. To be left in uncertainty and limbo like that is crippling and can affect everything one might try and do on a daily basis.

Everyone has things they don’t like to do. Casting my own mind back, I can remember that I hated having to drama at school. I absolutely hated it. Drama often meant being the centre of attention. Now, for most people the discomfort is short-lived. The heart may race, the palms might sweat. But it passes afterwards, to be forgotten about without so much as a second thought.

With panic attacks though, all of that is accentuated to beyond just the “simple” feelings of discomfort. It annoys me no end to think that most people will assume a panic attack is simple nervousness. I’ll go on record for anyone reading this who has never had one to note one important detail: such a statement is UTTER bollocks. I cannot stress that enough, nor can I really verbalise just what it is like, although later on I will try.

The Trigger

When an attack hits, several things may or may not happen. I cannot speak for others since they are their own person with their own experiences. But for me, the onset is sudden, or not. Yes, that’s right folks, a contradiction. I could be anywhere, doing anything, and I will have an attack. Here’s what happens:

I feel my heart race, and a loud ringing sets in my ears. The room starts to spin slowly at first as the noise gets louder. I no longer realise what my surroundings are like. If things are particularly bad I will lose feelings in my legs and collapse on the floor. I realise I am trying to breathe but there’s a weight on my chest, so tight, making it impossible to. As the horrid noise in my ears becomes too much, and with the fact that I cannot breathe, I have a tendency to pass out.

That’s extreme though – but has happened on more occasions than I would like. Thankfully, those sensations as listed above have happened in private where I have been able to “deal” with them myself. I have though, had numerous attacks of a similar nature in public: especially in places involving shopping centres, crowds, etc. In those situations, it’s embarrassing and altogether humiliating. Never underestimate the public’s inability to grasp concepts quickly. Not to mention the fact that most of the people walking by you are more ignorant and apathetic as to not even bother to help you, but I digress…

After an attack passes though, often the first question I ask myself is why. Often they might occur out of the blue – if I am to understand and to try and reduce these nasty beasties, then there has to be something which causes them, right? For many, the cause is clear – there’s a definite pattern and the means to then mitigate any further attack is relatively straight-forward. But for some, the cause is not so obvious. This is more common than you might think actually, but then like any irrational fear there doesn’t have to be hard logic applied to it for it to still exist.

My own circumstances are unique though. I thought at first they were related to the nasty condition of social anxiety but they can’t be, at least not entirely. I have no doubt they help play a part though since even now I find it bloody hard to be in the centre of town and have been known to literally run out of shops for fear of “causing” a scene. Again, I don’t know what caused that. Logically speaking, the correct cause of mitigation is to avoid shopping (heh), but that would only take me back to the depths of being agoraphobic once more — not leaving the house for fear of the unknown. I don’t want that. Not again. I have worked hard, so very hard to get to where I am now. The last thing I want to do is revert.

But it doesn’t really matter whether you know what the trigger is or not. Some might never know. It’s nice to be able to find out since it gives a definite direction as to the likely way forward. But don’t look too hard, often the cause if it is to be known, will come naturally.

Managing the beast

I am not an authority. I am not a doctor either, so do not take what I claim here to be medically sound. For that you really should consult a GP.

It’s important to remember one thing: panic is not life threatening. Yes, it’s going to feel bloody awful, but it will be OK. I have learnt that having something to focus on as “distraction” can help both before, during and after an attack. For myself, I take great comfort in having a teddy bear with me at all times. I get funny looks from people when I start cuddling him, but I don’t care. It’s what helps me. I encourage others to do this too (I don’t mean go out and buy teddy bears although I won’t stop you — they need just as much love as anyone does. :)) since even something as simple as this can help.

Of course, it can be extended. I know of someone who uses this idea to create a psychological barrier which means they associate nice things with a specific object and/or action to help them not suffer from an attack. A very interesting and effective idea.

You might find this site of interest, since it contains much more useful information than the things this one has.


I cannot express how grateful I am to David Bell. Thank you, dear friend. I’d never have written this, had it not been for you.

– Thomas Adam, 2008.