Cameron s Story
"I began to experience anxiety and panic attacks towards the end of my freshman year in college. Of course, I didn't know to call them that at first. I suppose admitting to something that people consider 'all in your head' wasn't an option for me at the time, so I described them as dizzy spells.
The first one came on while I was driving and it was truly the most terrifying thing I had ever experienced in my 18 years. The next time I had one was several weeks later, once again, while I was driving. I could show you exactly where I was - sitting at a red light - when it came over me. I raced back to my dorm room as quickly as I could and went to bed. They both left me feeling completely depleted of energy, scared to death, and in desperate need of a place that was comfortable, quiet, and familiar.
That was nearly 16 years ago, and while there have been periods of time where I've felt almost completely 'normal', these attacks have never gone away. Even worse, the fear and dread that I could have one at any time is always with me. It's hard to explain to someone who's never had a panic attack, but it really feels like you could die... I get this tunnel vision, can't focus, have lots of nervous energy, and feel like I'm going to pass out. It is all-consuming, and all I can do is wait for it to be over. The only way I find relief when I'm in the throes of a panic attack is deep slow breathing and telling myself that this too shall pass, as it has so many times before.
Occasionally over the years I've had 'flare ups' where they occur with greater intensity and frequency. It should come as no surprise that I've experienced some pretty deep depression as a result. I've seen psychiatrists and therapists, I've had an MRI and I've seen an ENT to rule out inner ear/balance issues. I've tried acupuncture and neurofeedback. I've tried completely avoiding anything known to be a trigger - a very lonely and isolating path.
I've tried several different medications and I've made deals with God...you name it, I've tried it. Even though I hate taking medication, I've been on Zoloft for 11 years now. I've tried coming off it a few times, but even with tapering the dosage off as recommended my symptoms seem to worsen almost immediately. At this point my best defense for keeping anxiety at bay is a low dose of Zoloft, exercise, yoga, and a fairly healthy diet. I just recently started a meditation course, so I hope that helps as well. Although I've gotten a lot better, when things are really bad I still use the avoidance technique.
Probably the worst thing about this whole ordeal is knowing the experiences I've missed out on and the relationships that have suffered as a result of my illness. I spend way too much time thinking about how different my life would be if I'd never had to deal with any of this. I've cancelled so many plans, made so many excuses, dug myself such a deep hole and built such a high wall to avoid situations that would give me anxiety or to avoid someone seeing me having a panic attack. I constantly dwell on all the things I should have/could have done by now, but I know that I've done the best I can with the situation I've been given. There have been many days where making it to work, leaving the house, even getting out of bed have been monumental accomplishments.
I wish I could say that there is a happy ending to this story, but it is an ongoing battle that I will always have to fight. Like anyone diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, I will most likely be on medication and fighting to be able to do simple things that so many take for granted for the rest of my life. It gives me such comfort and hope for the future to see so many people being open about their mental illness. I can only hope sharing my story will do the same for others."