Panic Attacks

Panic Attacks
I had my first panic attack when I was about 13 and in the eighth grade. The teacher in our small rural school had asked me to read a poem to the class from our English textbook. I had been reading aloud to this same bunch of kids since Grade 2 so this should not have been a big deal. But that day an idle thought drifted through my mind that was to cause me consternation for more than four decades of my life. For some reason I thought, “What if I can’t do this? What if the words get stuck in my throat?” And that’s exactly what happened! My throat closed up tightly and I could barely breathe, let alone talk.
After that excruciating experience I avoided reading aloud to my classmates, or to anyone else. As a young mother I usually joined whatever organisation happened to be sponsoring my children’s’ particular endeavours. I enjoyed the interaction with other people although it seemed I was forever being nominated for the position of secretary. I would always decline. My heart would beat fast and I ‘d be trembling as I fumbled for an excuse. I knew I would have no problem with the business of keeping track of the minutes; it was the thought of reading them aloud at the next meeting that terrified me.
Panic attacks can occur at any time. You might be shopping, sleeping or in the middle of a meeting. An episode usually begins abruptly, peaks within 10 minutes, and lasts about half an hour. Signs and symptoms can include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling and shortness of breath, as well as other body alarm signals. The symptoms of panic are so intensely physical that it often doesn’t occur to people that the attack they are having is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. They may even think they are having a heart attack. The plight of victims suffering from a psychiatric illness known as obsessive compulsive disorder was the theme of a Jack Nickolson movie entitled “As Good As It Gets.” Jack did not experience hallucinations or delusions but he was overly concerned about things that made no sense to his friends. Common fears are: fear of contamination, concern with order and neatness, doubts of having injured someone, left something on (or unlocked) and inability to throw anything away. The person will be driven to perform specific ritualised behaviours calculated to temporarily reduce their discomfort such as: repeated hand washing and cleaning, excessive ordering and arranging, checking and rechecking, and collecting useless objects. A diagnosis of OCD is made when obsessions and compulsions become so marked they interfere with social and occupational activities, or cause intense subjective distress. Thankfully, there are now effective treatments available for those who suffer from persistent panic attacks or OCD.

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