My name is Marian. I am a 42-year-old ‘domestic engineer’, a profession that used to be called ‘housewife’. I have two grown children and three young grandchildren. I have spent numerous years working in the mortgage and investment brokerage businesses. Currently, I am enjoying being a wife and spoiling my grandchildren.
How It Began
When my panic attacks started, it seemed they came ‘out of the blue.’ My first one happened in a restaurant; I thought I might have eaten something that was bad. The second attack occurred a short time later, triggered by someone making fun of a new hairstyle I’d gotten.
All was going so well in my life. I was moving along in my career, as was my husband in his. We had two beautiful children. It made no sense that these things should be happening to me!
Within three months of my first panic attack, I got my diagnosis. First, I had a complete physical to ascertain it wasn’t something physical – actually, I had hoped it was something I could just take a pill for and make it go away!
My correct diagnosis was that I was suffering from a severe panic disorder and agoraphobia. In addition to that, although I do not have OCD, I tend to be a compulsive person.
I was glad to get my diagnosis and to know that many others suffered as I did, but just knowing wasn’t worth a whole lot to me without good treatment.
Getting my diagnosis was very simple. It was getting good treatment that came hard.
My first psychiatrist put me on a tricyclic antidepressant, which did not do very much for me. He wasn’t interested in trying anything else.
I saw a number of therapists. One tried biofeedback with me. I got tense just being hooked up to the machine. Definitely not for me! One psychiatrist I saw only prescribed medication, and we hardly spoke at all – that was really not for me.
It was 14 years before I received good help and considered myself recovering.
What It Was Like
The pain I suffered was immense. Mere words can scarcely describe it. I felt alone much of the time and feared I was going crazy. I became very reliant on alcohol. I drank so I could go out and do things, but drinking just added another problem. Over time, the alcohol made the panic worse. And as the panic got worse, I drank even more. It was a vicious cycle. I angered family members and friends with my behavior.
I discovered that I was not the only one in my family that had an anxiety disorder. Funny, it seems to run on both sides of my family. I know of at least four members of my family who have panic disorders: my mother, a sibling, an uncle and a first cousin. My mother tells me there are even more. This does lead me to believe that I was genetically set up for this!
Over the years that I suffered, I kept praying for God to take away my panic and to solve my alcohol problem.
I had numerous AA books at my disposal (it seems alcoholism also runs in my family). But with my phobias – which included speaking in public, being in a confined space and talking about myself – there was no way I could attend an AA meeting.
Finally, I simply said: “God, please help me.” He listened! I quit drinking. I know He carried me through this and through the ensuing times when I strove to overcome panic and agoraphobia.
In 1997, I finally found a therapist who really understood panic disorder and agoraphobia. We did a form of talk therapy called “cognitive therapy.” This was what helped me the most in my recovery from panic disorder.
Medication was also very helpful for me. My therapist referred me to a psychiatrist who gave me a prescription for Paxil. Slowly, we found the right dosage for me. After a time, since I was still having panic attacks, we added a small dose of Klonopin.
The three most important things in my healing were:
1) My faith that God was with me.
2) My desire to be a ‘normal’ person. I wanted to live my life again.
3) Cognitive therapy plus medication. These helped me to face my fears: to go to the places that I had become afraid to go, to speak in public, to drive my car, to go where I wanted, when I wanted, and do what I wanted to do. It was like exorcising my phobias.
I love my life today! My goals of being able to go anywhere at anytime and do anything have been met.
My most freeing feeling was flying to Alaska in August, 1998, and then boarding a very small float plane that took us to land on a remote river. With me were my husband, my Dad, and my Mom. Neither my Mom nor I would have been able to do this a year earlier, as both of us were dealing with panic. It was the most rewarding trip, and you can bet I was thanking God the entire time.
Our catch for the day
Boarding 4-seater float plane in Anchorage!
Petting sled dog in Denali Park
I’m not saying that I don’t have twinges of anxiety from time to time – but then I’m told that ‘normal’ people have this also! I guess I would say I’m ‘in recovery’.
My therapy and recovery process from alcohol and panic started a new life for me. I am forever changing and growing. I am a new person. Although I suffered along the way, I can almost say that I am glad I have gone through what I’ve gone through. It has dramatically changed my outlook toward other people. I have become a mental illness resource person at my church as well as leader of a small panic support group.
To anyone working on his or her recovery, I say…go for it! Advocate for yourself; if you can’t do it yourself, find someone who can do it with you. There’s oodles of help out there, all you have to do is ask. Do not try self-medicating – with alcohol, herbs or any other drugs. You may create a whole new set of problems for yourself, as I did. Also, if you’re seeing a doctor or therapist that isn’t helping you, it’s OK to fire him/her. I did this and it led me to good treatment and recovery!