I’ve never been chased by a lion. I have, however, been pursued most of my life by a different beast, one that causes my heart to pound, palms to sweat, lungs to strain for air in my aching chest. This relentless hound has consumed me with fear and filled me with the certainty that death is imminent. It has pushed me over a cliff and left me shaking uncontrollably, terrified as my adrenaline-filled body slowly calms, knowing that this pursuer will return. It has followed me into classrooms as a child, movie theaters (where I have sat close to an exit in order to make a quick escape) as a teenager, into my marriage as a young adult, and even dared to approach and attack as I sat praying in church on Sunday mornings. It’s a beast called Panic Disorder and I am not its only prey.
Panic Disorder, could in my opinion, also be called Adrenaline Malfunction Disorder. I have learned a lot about this terrifying hunter. I know from experience that lack of sleep, too many caffeinated drinks, and stress can give this beast advantage over me; but, I’ve also learned that even a rested, non-caffeinated, stress-free me is vulnerable, sometimes attacks are unprovoked, so to speak. Thankfully, experience, education and, when needed, medication have helped to tame this beast in my life. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how not to provoke my long-time enemy. I try to stay rested and calm, I know how to use breathing techniques to regulate my oxygen when my adrenaline malfunctions, and I have learned to keep my thoughts in line when I feel the terror rising.
Experts say one in seven people suffer from panic disorder. It can appear suddenly and with no warning and it is terrifying to say the least. The good news is the beast CAN be tamed. I am grateful for medications that have helped when needed over the years and for experts who have spent countless hours researching and exploring the roots and solutions for this disorder. I am grateful for friends and family who have prayed for me, held me when I was shaking uncontrollably, been the voice of reason when the terror was so great it threatened to consume me, and sat with me nights when I woke in the throes of panic, overcome even in sleep.
I inherited many wonderful things from my father. Like him I am a naturally curious person, like him I ask a lot of questions, like him I am genuinely interested in people, what they do, how they do it, and like him I have panic disorder, it often runs in families. I too have passed the “panic gene” onto the next generation, one of my daughters is now learning how to outrun and overcome this terrible pursuer. I’m praying for her and for all of the others who suffer from panic disorder.
I have many friends who suffer from various mental illnesses and disorders. They are true heroes. They are some of the most intelligent, brave, strong, and amazing people I know. They run businesses, are historical scholars, are lawyers, teachers, pastors, and doctors, they are people, just people, living life one day at a time. Most of all, they are learning to slay the beasts in their lives, and that gives me hope when I feel the adrenalin rising and panic breathing down my neck. I’m grateful that it’s been many years since this disorder has had the upper hand in my life and I’m here if anyone needs some encouragement in their own battle with panic disorder . . . there is safety in numbers.