Overcoming Panic Disorder

Reader’s Question

Can one fully overcome panic disorder? It seems to be a mixed answer, with different statistics and prognosis at every website or psychiatrist or psychologist or self help person I talk to.

Some statistics say 7/10 get cured, some say 1-4/10 get cured, some say all can be cured. It’s very hard for me, as someone 3 years into this hell of daily panic attacks to the point where I’ve become a prisoner in my own “home”. It started almost 3 years ago after smoking weed (as I normally did back then): one night I got panic for the first time in my life, and it didn’t stop, it just kept going. I’ve also been chronically depersonalized and derealized throughout this whole panic hell.

I want to know, CAN I RECOVER? Not just be “treated and learn to live without a life”, but actually, be CURED, be my old self again?

Psychologist’s Reply

In my opinion, your condition can be cured with proper treatment and with effort on your part. Here’s my treatment plan:

  • First, you must recognize that you have two conditions working here. Panic Disorder is the most obvious condition. However, in my opinion, you may also have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Your first panic attack started after smoking marijuana…and I’ve seen this situation before. You experienced a panic attack (maybe related to a pot additive?) that was amplified by the fact that you were “high” — creating an intense physical and emotional reaction. That experience created a strong “emotional memory”. Emotional memories (also called traumatic recollection) are the trademark of PTSD and in this situation, any form of anxiety triggers the memory of the panic attack of 3 years ago, immediately duplicating the emotions/panic felt at that time. Frequent triggers of our emotional memory eventually overwhelm us and we retreat into our homes and rarely venture out — fearing another panic attack.
  • To deal with the level of anxiety, I recommend psychiatric consultation. We have long-acting anxiety medications that are very helpful in dealing with the neurochemical aspects of panic and anxiety disorders.
  • For the PTSD, read my article on Emotional Memory on this website. In your panic attacks, you are struggling with the brain’s normal memory-recall system — in this case contaminated by your panic trauma three years ago. The article offers several techniques to control and manage your memory triggers as well as understanding how the system works…and doesn’t work to our advantage.
  • Three years of panic attacks will have emotionally exhausted you. Read the articles and take the screening tests for depression on this website. You are likely to be depressed as well. In the psychiatric consultation, be prepared to discuss any depressive symptoms you are facing. We have several medications (Lexapro, Effexor, etc.) that work with both anxiety and depression.
  • I’d also recommend professional therapy and/or counseling. We have a variety of anxiety treatment programs that can be helpful.
  • Develop your own treatment plan. Don’t plan on leaving your home and giving a speech in front of 500 people. Pick a realistic goal that was not a problem before your panic attacks, such as eating in a restaurant. Identify ten steps, ranking them from the lowest anxiety to max anxiety such as 1) being comfortable driving in the community and passing the restaurant to 10) eating alone in the restaurant. Use Emotional Memory techniques to decrease anxiety as you gradually master each level.
  • Focus your online research to address 1) anxiety reduction methods, 2) stress reduction, and 3) improving social skills (you’ve likely lost these due to 3 years of panic).
  • Ignore the statistics. No patient or client has ever been successfully treated with statistics. Your efforts and willingness to participate in your own treatment, with the help of professionals, will bring you out of your panic lifestyle.

Your “Old Self” is still in there. It’s a collection of memories just like the Emotional Memories that contain panic reactions. By controlling and eliminating those associated with panic and anxiety, the “old self” returns…as will your previous lifestyle.

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