Panic attacks, social anxiety and other perks of being me

At age 13, battling a panic attack just before a press conference for the movie Matinee, at Universal Studios

Recently, I did an interview and we discussed anxiety disorders. I realized that although I’ve written about that topic in other places, I’ve not addressed it much on this blog. (ETA: since I posted this, I wrote an entire book on the topic of mental health – Not Just Me: Anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

It can be challenging to talk about panic attacks and social anxiety. We’ve been taught that it’s either nerdy (think someone with high-waisted pants, sucking on an inhaler at a party) or it’s just regular stress that we should be able to handle.

It’s neither of those.

I’ve had anxiety and panic attacks since I was a kid. I’ve always been described as “sensitive” and “thoughtful” and “a worrier.” When I was about 11, my mother would push her thumb into the middle of my palm, calling it my Breathe Button. She’d remind me to take a deep breath as I gasped like a fish and anxiety drained the color from my face.

At a certain point, my inherent shyness and introversion turned into hyperventilating, blacking out, and not being able to leave the house. At its worst, I was having a couple of panic attacks a day. If you don’t know what a panic attack feels like, consider this:  it’s common for people to end up in the emergency room during their first one because it feels so much like a heart attack.

It feels like you are dying.

And I was doing that twice a day.

That anxiety was complicated in my early 20s by the fact that I was not happy in my life. I felt trapped and scared and not sure what could ever comfort me. I’ve been carried out of restaurants mid-panic attack, I’ve made bad choices in a fog of anxiety-ridden self-sabotage. The world had become a very dark place and there were many times that I was not sure how I could ever get out of it.

I’ve written before about what has helped me. Personally, it’s all about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, meditation and yoga. I wanted to avoid the drug route – I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking drugs that you need – I just wanted to try a different way. Although I have had prescription bottles at the ready, I’ve always found other ways to manage it.

Even though it’s greatly improved, my anxiety has not disappeared completely. Last weekend, I felt some significant panic just thinking about having to leave the house to go to the grocery store. My heartbeat was irregular. My hands went numb. Flickers of light clouded my vision and made me cling to the counter with vertigo. Those are all signals that I’m not breathing well.

The difference now is that have a whole arsenal of tools that I can use to stop that panic before the sobbing-on-the-floor point. I have breathing exercises. I remind myself that this feeling is temporary and will pass. My husband knows what he needs to do, and not do. My friends understand that sometimes I can’t come to large social gatherings (large means more than 2 people) and if I do, I always drive myself so I can leave if I start to feel panicy. There are preventive things I do every day to reduce my anxiety so that it no longer runs my life – like yoga and a daily meditation practice.

Whenever I talk about anxiety publicly, I get messages from people who deal with similar things and who are glad that we can talk about it. That sense of connection is the reason that I write words and put them out into the world. Because I hope that someone will find them, read them, and say, hey, I totally get that.

I wish there was one common answer we could all share — sadly, there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. But if you are dealing with this stuff, know that you are not alone. There is no need to feel ashamed. There are people and books and techniques that can help you. Anxiety tends to drive people into isolation, but suffering alone is never the answer. You can take control of your life and your own wellbeing. You can ask for help.

I used to think my panic attacks could be alleviated by some external image of “success.” Maybe if I got cast in bigger movies or dated a different boy, I would suddenly be fixed. When I finally realized that I was capable creating some peace for myself, right where I was  – that’s when it all started to get better.

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I created a bookshelf of some of my favorite books that helped me with my panic attacks. You can see it on Goodreads. (And while you are there – friend me so we can share books!)

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92 thoughts on “Panic attacks, social anxiety and other perks of being me

  1. I remember the first panic attack I had, I literally thought I was dying. I can laugh at it now but it was terrifying. I was meeting a friend to go shopping and had to pull my car over b/c I thought I was passing out. By the time I walked to meet her, I was pale as a ghost and had to lie down on the street curb – in the middle of the city of Chicago. I told her to call an ambulance and she said ‘No, Kel, you are just having a panic attack’. She took me to her house, wrapped me in some blankets and gave me juice/crackers – and for whatever reason, that did the trick. It kept happening so, I went to an Integrative doctor who checked my adrenals w/ a 24 hour saliva adrenal test and my cortisol levels were really low. We supplemented with Adrenal Cortex and I never had one again nor an anxiety attack.

  2. I’ve never had a panic attack but for some reason I often think about people who are plagued with them and wonder when I will have my first one. Of course, these worries will probably lead to insomnia which will, at least, take my mind of the panic attacks.

    • I’ve spent a lot of time worrying about panic attacks, too – which is not at all helpful. But they are not inevitable…so try not to worry!

  3. I just feel like I am reading into my own mind… I feel exactly like you felt, and feel. EXACTLY. Thank you for this article, seriously. I am trying to overcome this thing and feel better. It’s hard. But I’m trying.

    xx

    • You are so welcome. I’m really happy to hear that you are finding your way through this stuff. Make sure to check out the book recommendations – there are some really helpful things out there. And keep me posted.

  4. Oh, I still do that thing too where I need to drive everywhere – so can relate to what you wrote! Thanks for sharing your experience – helps so many realize we are all a lot alike in life.

    • Thanks for reading! It’s funny, I try to be so environmentally conscious, but when someone suggests car-pooling, my blood pressure sky-rockets. Sorry, planet. (But I leave my house so infrequently, I hope it evens out!!!)

  5. Thank you so much for posting this, Lisa! I have OCD and other anxiety issues that I’ve recently started blogging about. Like you said, it’s great being able to meet other people who understand what you’re going through. I honestly think that it has been a major factor in my progress over the last few months. I’m truly sorry to learn that you also battle panic attacks (I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to have them twice a day!). But at least we’re not alone. 😉

    Also, you’re a wonderful writer. I always look forward to reading your posts!

    • Thank you so much! I’m happy to hear that you are making progress by reaching out…I really think that makes all the difference. Keep writing!!

  6. I truly loved to read your article. I think it’s the first time I’m really aware that they are other people than me who are facing the same difficulties. Many people don’t understand that, they just think “she’s just a bit unsociable” but they are wrong, it’s way more complicated. So anyway, thank you so much for every single word you have written 🙂 !
    (ps: Sorry about my English because I’m French and I tend to do some mistakes)

    • Your english is wonderful! And yes, I totally understand about seeming unsociable. You are not alone! Thank you so much for reading.

      • Thanks a lot for everything 🙂 ♥
        And you’re welcome, it was a wonderful article, I’m surely going to be a regular reader of your website !

  7. I had my first panic attack about a month ago. Response to work related stress. It was the strangest feeling. Literally my logical brain was battling it out with my limbic brain. Ultimately my logical brain won the battle then had a “what the hell was that?” moment. I am looking at options for exploring why it happened and I will check out your bookshelf for resources. Thanks.

  8. Gosh, I identify with so much of this. I was always a very shy child, but I think it was in my early teens that I really developed social anxiety and still affects me today. I was bridesmaid at my best friends wedding at the weekend and by the end I was totally exhausted from the effort of talking to people I don’t know. I don’t think people realise how tiring it is! I’ve had CBT for a long time which has helped some. It always makes me happy when people talk openly about social anxiety because hopefully it will help others realise that it is a real condition and not something that’s made up or an excuse for being unsociable. So, thank you

    • I really identify with that exhausted feeling. I get so drained by social interaction and always have to schedule in recovery time. Glad you are finding things that work for you! And thanks for reading.

  9. I’ll be honest: I don’t understand panic attacks. I’ve never had one and don’t think I ever will. I have no intention of marginalizing them or trying to solve the problem (it’s clearly bigger than I can conceive) but I do wish I could understand why they happen. Is it because we have so little stress in our lives that our primal brains are trying to keep us prepped and ready to run from a lion? Are they a kind of waking nightmare (if you’re a kid) or stress dream (if you’re not) keeping us on our toes? Are they just crossed wires in our programming? Or am I the broken one because I can climb five stories on a ladder sans harness without so much as a heart flutter?

    I dunno. But best of luck to you and anyone else who has to deal with something like that. They don’t sound fun.

    • For me, I believe it’s a combination of chemical makeup, inherent shyness and having many overwhelming social experiences as a kid. (Being mobbed, grabbed, screamed at in shopping malls at age 15 – post Doubtfire – had a pretty profound impact.) I could climb a five story ladder just fine, too…but a dinner party is a whole other thing. At a certain point, the “why” doesn’t matter much. It’s all about the day to day management. But thanks for the kind wishes. 🙂

  10. My daughter recommends the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. Having recently read this at age 26, she is finally able to relate to me the difficulties she has experienced all her life. I knew from her birth, having had colic and sreaming for 10 months, and her aversion to loud noises, over stimulation, and crowds as she was growing up, that something was amiss. This book has justified her experiences and brought us closer as mother and daughter.

    • Thank you so much for the recommendation! I’m off right now to add it to my Goodreads list. I’m thrilled that it’s been so helpful for her. I can totally relate to all those traits, so I’ll have to check it out.

  11. My panic attacks manifest themselves in a restless feeling…like I’m crawling out of my skin. I’m also working hard to go without medicine and want to try meditation – but know that I’m definitely going to need a guided meditation app. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Apps can be really great. I like The Mindfulness App which has a nice timer with bells. Also check out guided mediations by Sharon Salzberg – I love her voice. (Her book Real Happiness comes with a CD of guided meditations, too.) Best of luck to you and keep me posted!

  12. Thank you for this. I have low grade anxiety much of the time and have only had one panic attack which I hope never to repeat. And I know people with whom I will share your piece. Thank you. xo

  13. I love that you cite yoga as one of your anti-anxiety tools. I am a yoga teacher, and also first came to yoga as a way to help manage my own issues with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. I still have my moments, but it has been hugely instrumental in helping me focus more on the calm and less on the freaking out 🙂 Thanks for sharing so honestly and transparently. I’m sure you have helped many with your words.

    • I’m so happy it’s worked well for you, too. Amazing, isn’t it? And I totally agree – yoga just has this way of helping me prioritize what really matters. Thanks for reading and namaste!

  14. I’ve struggled with panic attacks and social anxiety pretty much my entire life long. As a child, I actually started having panic attacks about walking down the stairs at our house after my mom and I fell down the stairs, and my mom had to do some exposure therapy with me to help me learn how to walk down the stairs again. (Even now, I sometimes still get nervous about walking down stairs.)

    My mom also tried to help me overcome my social anxiety as a young child by making me interview people we knew (she even made up sheets with the interview questions on them). Needless to say, my childhood was anything but normal and I credit my parents for helping me through my anxiety and frequent panic attacks. (They took me to so many different social skills groups, which I feel like really kept me from completely shutting down socially, and taught me how to spend time with others without panicking. I just wish that there were social skills groups for adults!)

    These days, I still have quite a ways to go in terms of overcoming my emotional issues, but I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and use mindfulness as much as I can.

    • I’m so glad that you had parents who were willing to help you find coping techniques that worked! And I’m right there with you – mindfulness has been a major factor for me, too. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  15. I’ve never had a panic attack, but I’ve suffered from social anxiety all of my adult life – Avoidant Personality Disorder (AvPD) to be exact. It’s gotten to the point where I pretty much only leave the house if I absolutely have to, and if I see someone I know at the store, I turn around and go in another direction hoping they don’t see me, because just the thought of talking to someone face-to-face causes a lot of anxiety, even if it’s a friend or relative. I even dread walking past the greeter at Walmart and hope they don’t actually try to greet me.

    One of the most frustrating things about it is that people who don’t suffer from it themselves don’t understand, and they tend to just equate it with being shy. No matter how I try to explain to friends that it’s not the same thing, everyone tells me, “Oh, I used to be shy too. You just need to get out more and talk to people, and you’ll get over it like I did.” It kinda feels like they’re blaming me for not trying hard enough, but for years I honestly thought the same way myself.

    I even took an acting class in college, not just because it was an interest of mine, but I figured something like that might be just the thing to break me out of my shell. And I actually felt fairly comfortable on stage. So I thought maybe I was finally getting over my “shyness”, because even my extroverted friends would never in a million years get on stage and perform in front of a group like I was doing. But then when I’d try again to strike up conversations and make new friends, I still struggled without success, and I felt like I must just be a failure. I mean, I was putting myself out there, trying to talk more, doing what everyone kept telling me I needed to do, and not only did I fail at it, my anxiety actually got worse instead of better.

    So anyway, I just wanted to say, thanks for posting your story. Not only does it help for anxiety sufferers like me to know that there are others out there going through the same or similar things, but also I think anxiety and panic disorders aren’t discussed enough among non-sufferers. Even though they may have heard of them, most people don’t really know what it is and how it truly affects people, and in my experience that leads a lot of them to say things like, “You’re just shy,” and, “Buck up, and get over it.” And that attitude can not only lead to more feelings of isolation and failure in the sufferer, but the non-sufferer will sometimes get frustrated and give up on a person because they truly think the solution is simple, and that the sufferer is just not even trying.

    Plus, there are a lot of people who may not even realize they have an anxiety disorder. Like me, I thought for years, like everyone else, that I was just shy, and I believed I was pathetic because I couldn’t get over it like everyone else claimed they did. It sounds weird to say that I was relieved to find out I have an actual mental disorder, but when I finally stumbled across information on AvPD I realized for the first time that it wasn’t me, I wasn’t doing something wrong, and it’s not my fault that I can’t just “get over it.”

    So I definitely think there needs to be a lot more public awareness about these types of conditions.

    • Oh my god, I could have written that first paragraph – and most of the rest of your comment, too. (Though I don’t have a AvPD diagnosis.) I live in a small town, so I’m trying to get used to running into people unexpectedly – but I still really struggle with that. And YES – the whole “buck up and get over it” thing is incredibly hard and so common. I’m thrilled that we can have this conversation, so that both those of us with anxiety disorders, and those without, can understand it all a little better. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  16. This might sound strange but I’m more prone to anxiety when I’m at home writing than when I’m out in public. Part of it might be related to how reaching my dream careers will depend on the work’s quality. I want my writing to be enjoyed so badly that I’m constantly rethinking and revising every sentence because it never seems good enough. (It took over forty minutes to write this reply.) Some call it writer’s block but it feels worse.

    And since spoken words can fade away from memory, written words seem more likely to be what others judge by since they are often stored permanently in view. That’s why I find college term papers so terrifying. The future hangs in the balance of written words.

    The writing process has hit me with several panic/anxiety attacks this year that…, although not quite as severe as how you’ve described, …were powerful enough to force me into acknowledging that they weren’t normal. But I also can’t imagine living without the things that trigger those responses. Life is confusing.

    • Hey Ian,

      I occasionally feel like this, too. It’s scary how permanent words can feel. When I’m writing, I try not to edit myself until I’m taking a pass at the final draft. I write like no one is going to ever read it. That helps take the pressure off so the creativity can flow. Have you read Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott? The notion of the “Shitty First Draft” has totally changed the way I work.

      I completely understand the self-imposed pressure to want to do great work that resonates. But I’ve recently learned that what readers most respond to is the work that I do when I don’t care if they like it or not. That’s the work that has passion and life and true originality in it. When I write for me and assume that no one will ever read it – that’s what people seem to connect to, because it’s honest and not slick or trying too hard.

      Just some thoughts – because I wouldn’t want you to live without writing. Anyone who cares about it that much needs to be writing.

      Keep me posted.

      • Thanks so much for the thoughtful response and advice. I will keep it all in mind as I press forward.

      • You are awesome for letting people into your heart. You are stronger than you know. A weak person couldn’t do what you do. Respect.

  17. Wow. I can relate to what you, Lisa, are saying in your post and with many of the comments in response to your writing. Most of my panic attacks took place between the ages of 10 and 25. They have usually been related to my fear of being sick in public. (I know…it’s weird.) Anyway, I’m 35 now, and I know it’s been a few years since I had a full blown attack. I actually learned to identify and manage stress while learning childbirth techniques in my second pregnancy. I used the Bradley Method books, and I still use those techniques in my everyday life.

    I also think it is interesting that you mention inherent shyness, yet you were an actor. I teach college, and I love it! (Currently teaching online while raising my family.) People who know me find this to be an odd contradiction since I am definitely shy. They can’t imagine how I enjoy public speaking and meeting one-on-one with students. All I can say is that those experiences are so different from chatting at a party or running into someone at the grocery store. I feel like I’m using a different part of myself when I have my “teacher hat” on. I wonder if you feel the same about acting.

    • It’s not weird – not any weirder than my panic attack at making a grocery list! I don’t know the Bradley Method, I’ll have to check that out.

      And yes, I often get questions about acting and shyness. I feel much the same way that you do. I always felt like I was playing a role, so I was not nervous about being judged or disliked. They were looking at the character, not me. Many actors are shy (Robin Williams being a perfect example) and our jobs are well-suited for that. We get to hide ourselves in plain sight! That being said, I was always a film actor, never theater because I suffered from stage fright. But even some theater actors are shy – I think they see it as wearing a different “hat” as well.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your experience!

  18. I really do love that you talk about your panic attacks so openly and share your survival techniques for them. I suffered from panic attacks for about 18 months whilst doing my MA and though they have mostly disappeared I still suffer from panicky thoughts from time to time as well as feeling like the whole world is going really fast, which leads to me thinking about getting older, then my parents getting older, then them dying….it can really just spiral out of control so quickly. Anyway, back to the panic attacks, mine were linked to my emetophobia. So everytime I’d get stressed it would make me feel like I was going to be sick, then I’d panic and so it would go on until it eventually stopped or until I got so exhausted I had to stop. This went on for months and I lost so much weight. Not a recommended way to loose weight. On the upside of this, when I did talk to people about it they were incredibly supportive and i actually found that more people suffered from it than I had thought. Which is why I think talking or writing about our personal experiences can help as it makes us feel less alone. So thank you Lisa for doing that.

    • Thank you for reading! So glad you are talking about your experiences. You’re right – it’s something that always helps.

  19. I’m lucky enough (in a way) to have only had occasional anxiety attacks when I get extremely stressed. My first one was when I was 19. I thought I was having a heart attack. I’m 28 now and I still have anxiety attacks from time to time. When I get them, I feel like I AM having a heart attack, which makes the anxiety worse. I’m on a happy pill which reduces the intensity of the attacks and make them more manageable. I can understand not wanting to go the medication route. I try ASMR and meditation as much as I can too. It also helps to know I’m not alone in having anxiety and panic attacks

  20. Lisa, thank you so much for sharing this! I’ve always been a shy, introverted, worry wort. My social anxiety and panic has fluctuated throughout the years. Sometimes, it can be tolerable. Other times, it is unbearable. Glad to know I’m not alone. I’m always looking for new techniques and anti-drug ways to cope with it. All the best to you and I look forward to reading more. So glad I found your blog today!

  21. Hi Lisa, wow, I’ve just spent the whole time reading this post crying my eyes out because It 100% resonates with me and reflects what I have been going through. I’m currently in my last year of university and my anxiety and panic attacks have progressively gotten worse since I was a child. I too have always been a worrier and I’ve had experiences where I’ve had to call the ambulance thinking I was having a heart attack when it was just a panic attack. There is such strength in knowing that you and many others have had exactly the same encounters and problems as I have, as I often feel very isolated now and am trying very hard to turn things around before it become too out of my control. I am actually working towards becoming an actress, and I really want to strive to seek out helpful strategies to combat my anxiety so that I can take control of my life once again and continue pursuing my career without fear. Thank you so much for sharing your story, it means a lot. 🙂

  22. Wow I feel like I was reading about my own life. I have been dealing with panic attacks since age 11. I had a very hard time leaving the house and going to school. I ended up being home schooled for my high school years. The weird thing is that I went through times of the year where I wouldn’t get them but then it came back out of nowhere. Now I’m in my mid 30’s and I’m starting to get them again. I’m in a relationship and it’s hard for my boyfriend to understand. Like you I like to take my own car alone in case I need to leave a situation. My boyfriend feels I need to face the fear and doesn’t give in to letting me run away. He gets upset that my mom “baby’s me” and doesn’t make me face things. I’m to the point that I feel maybe I should end the relationship cause he deserves to have a normal girlfriend that is outgoing like him. I love him but it isn’t fair to him. My last boyfriend before home broke up with me cause of this very same thing. I’m beginning to feel that I’m doomed to be alone. I can’t even have a job cause I panic just to go to the interview. I almost feel it could be a chemical imbalance or something. It’s so frustrating. I’m so glad you shared your story.

    • Thanks for sharing. It’s really hard to manage relationships through this stuff. If you’re worried about a chemical imbalance, I encourage you to go to a doctor or therapist. There is NO shame in that. They can help. Wishing you all the best.

  23. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I landed on this page, but I’m forever grateful I did. You know how it can be – Google this, click that, oh, that looks good, click that, next page, click… but here I am. I’ve been dealing with anxiety all my life and only recently decided I was done with dealing with the prescription side effects of controlling it. It’s tough not having the prescriptions. They were kind of like a hand to hold, or at least something I could fall back on. Now they’re gone, and it’s very hard to deal with every day things. I mean, things as simple as leaving the house for five minutes. What if I didn’t lock the door? What if my neighbors play with fireworks and catch my house on fire? What if my dogs decide to stop breathing and I’m not there? I know… it sounds neurotic, and I have no idea why I’m even opening up about it here. Only one person really knows how bad my anxiety is – my husband – and he is struggling to learn how to react to it. His patience isn’t made for panic attacks, of which I have many… and often, but he’s learning. You said your husband knows what to do, and what not to do, during your darker hours, so I’m hoping mine will be able to learn the same. I’m going to check out those books and hope to find gems that will translate well to him. I know it’s hard to deal with me when I’m having an on-the-floor-need-my-inhaler-but-can’t-breathe-to-tell-you panic attack. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s so reassuring to hear there are others going through what I’m going through and that it doesn’t mean I’m some kind of reject.

    – Heather

    • I’m so glad you opened up – I really think it helps all of us. (And yes – the boys do learn, it just takes them a while to really understand sometimes.) And no, you are not any kind of reject. 🙂

  24. I totally understand the world of anxiety / panic attack existence. I was afflicted my whole life until I got help. I’m almost 50 so it was not something people knew about back in the day. For years I thought I was crazy!!! I thank God I have a normal life now. ( for the past 15 years) I tried not taking meds but it really helps me. I feel like it’s a gift from god. I’m glad I came upon your blog. You are inspiring and I can see you are and will be helpful to so many out there. Bless you and your life.

    • That is so kind of you. I’m so happy that you found what works for you. I’m so grateful for all of us that it’s something that people are starting to be aware of now. How frustrating to not feel understood! All the best to you.

  25. I found this post via the amazing piece that you wrote about Robin Williams, thanking him for his support and once again showing the World what an amazing and influential human being he was 🙂

    I had my first panic attack in Business Class on a flight to the US (I’m a Brit) for work! The plane was just about to take off and they literally turned it around back to the gate to take me off. I am not scared of flying – I travel a lot for work – and was actually looking forward to the trip. It was also my first time in Business (I had just got my first glass of Champagne and was looking at the menu!). I passed out and honestly thought that I was dying, at the time having no idea what it was. It came out of the blue. Since then I have been on medication (6 years) and it has been around 4 years since my last attack. Each time I try to come off the tablets my fear of having them again causes such anxiety that I end up going back to them so that I can continue to manage my busy life as a working mum with a very demanding career. I honestly wish that I had never taken them and had been directed to other non-medical routes at the time. I have only now discovered yoga, but finding the time to do it is hard. The fear of having another panic attack used to bring them on. Kinda like ‘don’t think of an elephant’! It was like my body use to just assume that was the route to go as soon as the thought or worry even entered my head. I developed a fear of flying by association, which could have resulted in my losing my job had I not quickly sought the help of NLP in order to get me over it quickly (and thankfully without my employer ever finding out!). I am 41, have been through childbirth twice, and have since had cancer which resulted in my kidney being removed, and would still say that panic attacks and anxiety is the worst kind of pain I have ever been through. It doesn’t help that there is so much stigma surrounding it, so thank you for writing such a thoughtful piece and helping to break down some of that negativity.

  26. Another post I’m grateful you shared. I have the exact same struggles. Yoga and meditation has become a daily routine for me too!

  27. Hi. How you’ve grown. 😊 I loved mrs. Doubt fire. I feel so bad about Robin williams. May he rip always.
    I suffer from panic attacks and depression. I have been having anxiety since a child but had the full blown panic attack on a Christmas Eve 2008. And have been having them ever since. People can’t understand unless they have had them. People are so quick to judge and automatically assume we can stop this like its a quick fix. But you and I know that it’s not. Thank you for writing about your story. I take meds that still don’t help and I try to relax and exercise and yoga. I hyperventilate a lot. I’m always feeling dizzy. It’s difficulty living like this especially when you have kids and you can’t live a full life. Everywhere I go I have to cut it short bebause I know that if I stay long ill get a panic attack soon. So that’s how I live my life. Sometimes we want to hear that all will be ok or just get a hug. Life can be pretty lonely.

    • Sorry that you are struggling. I get dizzy, too. Check out pranayama breathing exercises. That’s what makes all the difference for me, because the dizziness comes from not getting enough oxygen. Hope you check out some of the books I recommended – it can get better. Wishing you all the best.

  28. Thank you SO much for this article!!! I am 15 years old, and I have been having panic attacks since I was about 10. For a little over a year, I had a panic attack at least once a day, usually in the afternoon when I got home from school, or at night when I went to bed. I kept myself busy all day, never giving myself time to think. However, when I would go to bed, there just weren’t enough distractions. When they first started, they were mild. They still scared me to death, however. When one would begin I would usually go to my parents, and they would tell me to suck it up and go to bed. Not in those words, typically, but that was the idea. We live in the country. My dad was taught by his parents you had to hold your own, get back up when you fell down, and don’t let ANYONE walk all over you. This being said, he typically just thought I was being a whiny little girl, that I just couldn’t buck up and take care of things myself. I don’t think he really ever understood what was going on with my panic attacks, so I quickly learned to keep them to myself, even when the attacks got worse. I would do anything I could think of to avoid going to sleep, because I knew then I would lose it. Some nights I would stay up, reading, and never sleep at all. Other nights, I would have a panic attack and suffer silently until I could bring myself out of it, and exhausted, fall asleep, or just black out. This went on for a while. I didn’t tell anyone, I was embarrassed for being, as my Dad would say, such a “worry-wart”. No one else was like that, so I did not want them to know I was. About a year and a half ago, my best friend confided in me that she had been having anxiety attacks. She has extreme Social Anxiety, and told me about her attacks and eventually how she overcame each one. You would think this would be the point I finally opened up, but I felt I didn’t have a right to talk about my panic attacks, because her anxiety is so much worse. I have since learned that all pain needs to be acknowledged because it’s real. Just because you haven’t had as much pain as another doesn’t mean you haven’t struggled. Thankfully, my panic attacks have decreased, I only have a few a month now. I still don’t like being around people much, and school still gets me going a lot. I am always getting a little anxious, because I will never be able to be what my parents want, its just not in my heart. I know now I have God on my side, and He will always be bigger than my anxiety. ❤

    • “I have since learned that all pain needs to be acknowledged because it’s real. Just because you haven’t had as much pain as another doesn’t mean you haven’t struggled.”

      THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! I started getting panic attacks at the same time you did – and it was worst for me at your age. Sounds like you’re a super smart woman, though, and I think you’ll figure the tools you need. Just know you can always ask for help. You are not alone. You’re not weird.

  29. I just found out I’ve been dealing with SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder) I’m only 13, my mum wants to send me to cognitive behaviour therapy but I’m scared and worried. Any advice? Its making me feel really worried.

    • I’m sorry I missed this comment earlier. I’ve found cbt to be hugely helpful. Of course something new is going to be scary, but it is just meant to help you get some tools that will be useful. I think it’s a great thing. And I totally think you can handle it. Keep me posted, if you want.

      • Thank you for replying! My mum has decided to hold out on the CBT for now. I’m trying to push myself to do things, like make phone calls and ask shopping assistants and hold out for a little bit longer in a social gathering, so I think I’m doing okay. I’ve just come out of Seasonal Affective Disorder spell which spiralled me into depression but I feel much better now and I’m working my way back up. Thanks for your advice and I really do hope you’ll keep replying. It’s nice to know that someone else suffers from the things I have. X

      • Making phone calls and asking people for help in stores are some of the hardest things for me! Good for you for being brave. I’m glad you are finding what works for you.

      • Yes, it must be common! Thanks, does your book cover anything on this, I’d love to read it. I could review it for you if you want especially since you’ve been so helpful and nice?

  30. I’m so grateful to have found your blog and this article. I can’t wait to check out the books you recommended and some others people mentioned in the comments. I’ve struggled with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression for the past 10 years, but didn’t start openly talking about it with my close friends until about 2 years ago. I was always afraid of what they might think or how they would react since some people don’t easily understand how some things cause high levels of anxiety. But my friends have been so supportive and understanding, which I’m very thankful for. You’re right though in that if we try to find ways to create peace for ourselves, things get better. Looking forward to your memoir next fall! 🙂

  31. Thanks so much for sharing this enlightening post, Lisa. I’ve been lucky in that I (think I) don’t have mental conditions but I am an anxious person in general, with the odd insomnia, so I can relate on a minor level and have never spoken to friends about it. You’ve also opened my eyes to what is a very common but rarely spoken about condition and I wish it wasn’t so socially unacceptable to voice them.

  32. Hi Lisa, Thank you for sharing this post. I’ve just looked through your bookshelf and am happy to see a couple of books that have already been very helpful to me and a few new ones to check out, too.

  33. Hey guys – I had a concussion a few years ago, which was a contributing factor to some pretty awful panic attacks. Since panic attacks can make you think that reality is slipping away, and that you’re on the verge of losing consciousness/dying, it’s really helpful to know all the scientific facts about why you’re NOT dying. Here’s a great site that I used to read all the time when I had bad panic attacks, and reminding myself that my nerves were overstimulated helped me ease out of them:

    http://www.nomorepanic.co.uk/articles/symptoms

    Hope that helps!

  34. There’s nothing better than a good success story over anxiety and panic attacks. We truly are the types of people who can do the most in helping others who are currently suffering, because we know what it’s truly like to have an anxious mind. Thanks for sharing.

    • It’s definitely still a struggle for me – and something I have to work to manage. But it’s always great to hear stories from others. Thanks for reading!

  35. Yeah, I completely get that. I was always a shy, sensitive kid (add an alienating, screwed up childhood..from family, social, and medical issues.) Leaves a kid wondering ‘What’s so special about my life for things to be this way for me?’
    And leaves the resulting adult ill-equipped to cope in a world used to kids who were busy enjoying being kids and adjusted to being part of the big, scary world. I’m still working it out, personally.

      • Maybe not all, but most 🙂 People like yourself, willing to share their experiences works to benefit everyone, whether that’s intentional or not, I believe.

  36. Hi Lisa, I’m so glad I found your blog. It’s so fascinating and I can totally relate. I had went through the exact same issues with panic attacks as you. In fact I called up an ambulance three times in the early days when I could not control it or understand what it was. And yes, you’re right, for my first one, I actually rode an ambulance to the emergency room. It truly is the most terrifying experience. You cannot breath on a second to second basis, you cannot function, you fear getting on a bus or a train, you fear going to sleep in case your heart stops in your sleep etc etc. I also tried CBT, like you, and it has totally cured me of the attacks. I also had pills from the doctor carried in my bag just in case! But I’m glad I never took them. I never knew being a working actor gave people so much self-insecurity and lack of control kind of feeling. I think you did the right thing coming out of it, it sounds like an awful industry to be in. One that is unfair, degrading and esteem destroying. It seems like a very superficial business.

  37. I have an anxiety disorder. It’s due to my body’s inability to properly manage serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical. I used to live with a constant feeling of impending doom. It didn’t matter if it was a beautiful sunny day, I just got paid, and my favorite sports team had just won. I felt like something terrible was about to happen. I merely thought I needed to keep a positive attitude and tried to keep moving forward.

    Eventually I started having panic attacks. Those who have never experienced them have no idea what they are like. Lisa said she thought she was dying. I explain it like this:

    Scientists have been able to pinpoint what gives a hot pepper its heat. It’s called capsaicin oil. By extracting this oil from the pepper and concentrating it, scientists have been able to come up with a liquid that makes foods much, much hotter than the hottest pepper naturally grown. It is pure heat.

    Imagine that scientists could isolate fear the same way they isolated the heat from hot peppers. Imagine they could concentrate it to make it even stronger. Having a panic attack is like taking that pure, concentrated fear, and injecting it into your veins.

    I can honestly say I know how people can get to the point where they are willing to put a gun to their head. If it wasn’t for my faith in God, that could have been me.

    I am successfully managing my anxiety disorder through medicine. Some people think the drugs are designed to numb you. Well, there are drugs like Xanax or Valium that do exactly that, but the daily meds are designed to help the body manage serotonin. Today I no longer have that impending sense of doom. I still get anxiety, but I get it when I am supposed to, like when I see a letter from the IRS in the mailbox! Looking back I cannot believe that I thought that constant feeling of anxiety was normal. I can’t believe I lived that way.

    When I was having these anxiety attacks I didn’t know what they were. I didn’t know to whom to turn for help. I speak out every opportunity I get because I want to help people. My hope is that they see themselves in my experience, and realize there is help available. I went to a doctor for sleeping pills. I was having extremely vivid and disturbing nightmares. She recognized my true disorder, and put me on the right meds. Even if you feel meds are not right for you, understand there are other methods of help available.

    The other reason I speak out is to remove the sigma of mental health treatment. In the 1970’s TV shows got us to regard psychiatrists as “quacks” and anyone who admitted to seeking mental health help was “nuts”. It’s time this attitude is put behind us. For most of us anxiety and depressive disorders are a physical condition. Again, it’s due to the body’s inability to properly manage a natural chemical. You wouldn’t be embarrassed to admit you were born with high cholesteral and had to take a pill to manage it. Why should you be embarrassed to admit you have depression and need meds to manage it?

    If we can accept and support mental health care as a society then perhaps we can make advancements in care and treatment that can make for a better world. Someday we may be able to detect and diagnose a condition and prevent tragedies like mass shootings

  38. Thank you for writing this. It’s always nice…..comforting, when you read about someone else who gets it. Someone like you, and someone who found a way to cope and manage. Thank you.

  39. My first panic attack, true panic attack, came when I was 16 years old. I had had Generalized Anxiety I think all my life but it only started coming to a head when I was about 14 or so. At 11 I refused to go to school due to my anxiety. It built up and got worse around 14, then hovered there until after my dad died suddenly when I was 16. That’s when the poo hit the fan. I put myself in the hospital for 2 months when I was 17 because I wasn’t sleeping, I had severe agoraphobia, and panic all through the day. Over the years I got a lot of help and things come and go. I have to be aware because it never gets cured but I can have good days/weeks/months and then truly terrible ones. I’ve had relapses and I’ve crawled out of each one, licking my wounds.

    It sure does suck when you’re just minding your own business and all of a sudden you are smothering and dizzy and holding onto the closest shelf, certain you will fall over and die.

    I’m also an introvert (melancholic), think “too much” (according to everyone), a worrier, and my anxiety has held me back from doing many things I wanted to do.

    Anxiety can be mild some days and truly disabling other days. 😦

  40. Also, I got no understanding from my husband’s family (long story) and felt truly decimated after having them intrusively dictating my life for almost 3 years. I’m trying to find myself again. I’m going to read your entry on a violet being a violet now…

    • Thank you for being so open about the subject. All of that sounds so familiar, it was hard to read without tearing up. I have agoraphobia and acute panic disorder, and I have been trying to raise awareness of it and be more open about myself, because so many of us are ashamed or embarrassed to let people know about it. The only thing I would add to what you’ve written here is something that I’m actually dealing with right now with my own doctor…the fact that “panic disorder” and “social anxiety disorder” are different conditions that require different treatment. They are so commonly lumped together that my new doctor is attempting to treat me for social anxiety, and has done so much damage that it is undoing ten years of work. If more people felt comfortable speaking openly about these conditions, mistakes like that would be far less common, and more people would seek and receive the help that they need. I worked in entertainment myself before my condition finally became too severe. You’re an inspiration.

  41. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve had them since about eighth grade with a nasty dose in my twenties. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about needing to drive separately before but it’s a huge thing for me. I always think what if I need to leave and they aren’t ready to….I might ruin their good time. I also usually know where the closest exit and bathrooms are in case I need to flee to either. Thank you again for being open about this.

  42. When I read this story I was reminded of my long struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

    The first time it happened, I was a young teacher having a friendly meeting with the principal when all of a sudden I felt a strange flutter of nervous energy that went all through my body and became so intense that I could hardly breathe.

    I thought I was having a heart attack. a co-worker rushed me to the doctor, who gave me a prescription and told me to go get some rest.

    For many years after that, I suffered through more and more panic attacks. It got to the point where I never felt secure or at ease anymore. In fact, I felt that any day I would end up in a mental hospital.

    When I sought help from doctors, they gave me the same knee-jerk reaction many of you with anxiety or panic attacks may be familiar with: a hasty prescription for a botle of pills. Unfortunately, those drugs did nothing about the root cause of my anxiety and actually made my condition worse much of the time.

    I knew that there had to be another way. I searched long and hard and finally came across some simple natural remedies that finally made my horrifying panic attacks disappear for good…to the amazement of my doctor.

    In fact, you might want to check out this article, it really helped me a lot:

    http://www.journalofnaturalhealth.com/panicattacks

    Hope it helps anyone reading this!

    Name: Don Lewis
    Email: donlewis1a@mail.com
    URL: http://www.journalofnaturalhealth.com/panicattacks

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