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Panic Stricken

As told to Rhona Lewis

At a puppet show with my children, I suddenly felt the familiar wave of absolute panic rolling in. I froze, held my breath, sweating, trembling, and dizzy. Just like it always did, the merciless wave smashed into me — I was drowning, dying of a heart attack, going insane. Could people see I was losing it? Then, just as suddenly, the wave passed. The chest pain, the heart palpitations, the terror — it was all over. My kids, mesmerized by the show, hadn’t even noticed. I’d survived yet another panic att

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

panic strickenDecades earlier, when I was a child of just ten, I had my first panic attack. It was triggered by a specific incident — my father’s remarriage. Even though my parents divorced when I was very young and my mother lived far away, my mother used to visit regularly. Then my father remarried and overnight my mother was locked out of my life. I was expected to call another woman Mommy.

I called out for attention by acting up in school. I once painted my face with lipstick and claimed that I was suffering from sunstroke. But no one noticed my pain. Instead of listening to the voice inside telling me something was indeed wrong, I stuffed all the aching sorrow and confusion into a dark corner of my mind. Soon after, panic attacks became my regular companions. They were my way of responding to the injustice in my young life.

I was just a kid, and yet I would wake up in the morning anxious, worried, and scared. Then, within moments, I’d find myself drowning in a wave of absolute terror. The attacks never lasted for more that a few minutes, but it always felt like eternity stretched out.

At some point in life, many people experience a panic attack. But when a person experiences multiple panic attacks, he has developed a panic disorder. My panic disorder became more complicated when, at around age 12 or 13, I began to suffer from phobias, too. These came just before, or together with, a full-blown panic attack.

The irrational fears would haunt me to the point that I couldn’t even read or look at anything related to the phobia. Sometimes, I was certain that I was about to die. At other times, I thought G-d was going to give me some dreadful punishment. I remember once finding an empty wallet. I was convinced there was a tiny sum of money in it. For months, I begged my father to report it to the police because I was sure that if I didn’t “confess,” I would suffer a dreadful punishment.

Another time, I was sure that I was suffering from cancer. It wasn’t just a passing thought — this phobia lasted for two years. My father took me to a psychiatrist who didn’t discuss my family situation or my inner feelings. He simply told me that I didn’t have cancer.Missionaccomplished, we went home and I continued to live with my fears.


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