True Story: I Have Panic Attacks

Do you have panic attacks? Over 6 million Americans struggle with a panic disorder. One woman shares her story and how she's learned to overcome her anxiety >>
This is the story of Brittany and her struggle to overcome panic attacks and anxiety issues.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a Southern Girl from Alabama , but I am currently living in the Los Angeles area. Two years ago I moved here to be with my then fiance and now husband. I work as a children’s tutor, run my own small blog design business, and am currently getting my master’s degree in counseling.
I was raised by a fabulous single mother, who is my best friend, but spent my childhood summers/holidays with my abusive father. I believe a lot of my insecurities and anxiety issues stem from my relationship with him. You could never be pretty enough, smart enough, or good enough for my father. I’ve worked to forgive my father, but have learned it is impossible for us to have a healthy relationship, even as adults.
What are the biggest misconceptions surrounding panic attacks and anxiety issues?
People often consider people with anxiety disorders to be weak. While I sometimes struggle with everyday issues, I am a strong woman. I have survived much in my short life: a broken home, an abusive childhood, and a drug addicted brother.The mere fact that I was able to graduate high school and college is a huge achievement because just attending class was often a task akin to pushing a 100 lb boulder uphill.

Another misconception is that anxiety just isn’t that big of a deal. But anxiety/panic attacks are a big hindrance to your everyday life. When I try and explain anxiety to others, I tell them to think of their biggest fear and how they feel when confronted with that fear. Now imagine feeling that way everyday when faced with mundane, daily tasks that shouldn’t be terrifying.

Do you remember feeling that you were more anxious than other people? How old were you when you had your first panic attack?
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t nervous. I always had an understanding that I was different than other kids. My family labeled me a drama queen or overly sensitive and my best friend would call me a “scaredy cat.” I would throw temper tantrums everyday before going to school because I was so overwhelmed by thoughts of answering a teacher’s question wrong.

As a child, when my mother was a minute late coming home from work, I couldn’t breath. I knew she was dead. I was scared to answer the phone because I was so socially anxious. I also never voiced my fears because I just had a feeling that I was “different” and that it wasn’t okay to be that way.

I had my first panic attack at the age of 14. I just remember sitting in my bedroom and doing my homework, and all of a sudden feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My heart was racing, my hands were tingling, and I was convinced I was going to die.

I’ve never had a heart attack, but I think that is what it would feel like. I was home alone at the time, and I never told anyone what happened. I didn’t want to worry anyone, but I mostly kept it secret because I just didn’t want to deal with the problem.

What triggers your panic attacks?
Since I entered treatment, my panic attacks are now very rare. When I had panic attacks in the past, they usually came after I had what I call a “nervous day.” A nervous day is just when I have a lot of free floating anxiety. This means I feel really anxious all day for no reason that I can explain. On these days, I just can’t relax and have trouble sitting still for any length of time. I also pace the floors like a caged animal.

Sometimes on these days, I will have a panic attack. I’ve also had panic attacks that aren’t triggered by anything at all. I can be calm one minute and feel like I am losing my mind the next. This is something I have never understood and has never been fully explained to me. But I’ve learned this is very common.

How do people react when you tell them about your anxiety issues?
When I was younger, I used to be really ashamed of my anxiety. I would work really hard to hide it from everyone except close family and friends. While I don’t walk into a room waving the anxiety flag, I’m much more open about it now. Most people are very supportive when I tell them about my anxiousness. They usually ask me questions about what it is like, or tell me about people they know who have anxiety.

However, a few people have launched into a negative diatribe over the use of medication to treat mental disorders. I usually just tune those people out because it is obvious to me that they don’t understand what it is like to have anxiety. Plus, I don’t need people that are that judgmental as part of my life.

Have you sought treatment for your anxiety issues?
I started attending therapy when I was about 16 years old. I was going through a particularly rough time. I had started skipping school more days than I attended because I was so overwhelmed. I found out that I was going to fail the year because of my absences. I remember thinking I couldn’t tell my mom I was failing and believing that my life was pointless.

Because of all this, I tried to commit suicide by overdosing on Tylenol P.M. Luckily, I changed my mind at the last moment and called 911. I was so ashamed and I just knew something had to change. My mom found me a therapist, and I was in therapy weekly for three years.

I can honestly say she saved my life. I finally had someone to tell me I wasn’t crazy and this wasn’t my fault. She also gave me the tools to manage my life and anxiety. Because of the positive experience I had with her, I decided I wanted to be a therapist.

During this time period, I started taking anti-anxiety medication. The medication didn’t/doesn’t take away my anxiety, but it brings it down to a level where I can cope. I also have very few panic attacks anymore.

I’ve gone through phases in my life, when I have taken myself off the medication. But when I’m off the medication it doesn’t take long for me to start feeling like my life is too much for me to handle. I have accepted that I will be on medication for the rest of my life.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with anxiety issues? Or to someone whose loved one has anxiety issues?
My advice to someone who has anxiety is to not be afraid to ask for help. There is no reason to suffer in silence. This only makes it harder. Help could mean therapy, medication, or confiding in a loved one. Find something that works for you.

Also, don’t stop living your life. There have been many times I didn’t do something because I was scared, and I have regretted it. But the times I have soldiered on, have been the best and most rewarding experiences.

If you are dating, friends with, or related to someone with anxiety, the absolute very best thing you can do is try to be understanding. Remember to listen without trying to problem solve. Attend therapy with the person if you can, you may get a new perspective on the disorder. I know the thing I love the most about my husband is that he doesn’t always understand me but he tries.

Do you know anyone who struggles with anxiety issues? Any questions for Brittany?

P.S. True Story: I overcame an eating disorder

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  1. poet

    I am deeply impressed. It is very brave that you speak up about this, and it is very noble that you want to – sort of – pass on what you learned while dealing with your anxiety by becoming a counselor / therapist yourself. Good luck and much success! I'm sure you'll be great.


  2. Miss P.

    I think the recommendation for friends and family to just be there and not try to problem solve is really important. Telling someone to just get over it because it isn't that bad is really unhelpful.

  3. Anonymous

    This post could not have come at a better time. I had my first in public panic attack yesterday at my job and it was terrifying and horrible. I've been having them for a few years now, but I've only ever had them at home or en route somewhere. My job was the one place I felt I had to handle them, I had to talk to people, I had to answer the phone, and when it happened at a place I couldn't hide in, I felt helpless.

    Did you take someone with you to your first doctors appointment? Did your doctor ask you details? I had to write down exactly what I was going to say when I finally took the plunge and called my doctor, now I just have to be able to make myself walk into the office, but I'm afraid he'll ask me what makes me anxious, what sets them off, and I simply don't know.

    Thanks for being so brave and doing this interview, it's really helped me a lot.

  4. Anonymous

    the way i found out i suffered from panic attacks was a few days before my final ever uni exam. i had been feeling odd and sick for days then my breathing went all weird and i was crying and yelling in the doctors office.

    never had one that bad before or since. i now know how to best breathe them away. but i realise i actually had a few minor ones when i was growing up in situations such as staying over at a friend's house.

    it's funny the different the way they manifest. from making it impossible for me to eat while being really hungry, to nausea and migraines. i'm not at all someone you would consider nervous. at my workplace i'm considered especially cool during deadlines. so they can really happen to all kinds of personalities

    thanks for bringing up the issue

  5. Chelle Lynn

    Thank you for sharing your life, this post made me cry.

    I am in my mid-20's and just now defining and dealing with anxiety issues that have hindered me my entire life. It is such a relief to know that I am not the only person who has gone through this.

    How were you able to explain to your husband that you need him to listen, not problem solve? The only time I have tried to talk about my anxiety was to my husband, who basically told me (in the most loving, trying-to-help way) that I needed to just "face my fears" and "try to stop" being so anxious. He doesn't want to see me suffer and feels the need to fix things. I have tried explaining that I need to be able to talk about it, but he has a hard time understanding that his offering solutions just produces more anxiety.

    Thank you again. You have really inspired me to be more honest and open about this issue.

  6. Miss P.

    Chelle, tell him when you are feeling ok what you want him to do and what not. Often a partner will only accept that anxiety is a real illness when doctors and therapists take it seriously. But that isn't really important. Important is that you accept that this isn't something that you have to ignore or tolerate. Go get help if you can afford it. Life will be better without the burden will be so much better.

  7. Vanessa

    Thanks so much for opening up about this, Brittany! I deal with OCD and general anxiety. I don't have panic attacks often but I can relate to having "nervous days," which happen to me a lot. Anxiety seems to be something a lot of people have a hard time grasping. As much as I try to explain it to others, I don't think it really gets through to them how anxious certain mundane things make me feel, or why I compulsively self-harm to cope. It's really brave of you to talk about this!

  8. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this Brittany. I have been recently diagnosed with extremely severe anxiety and have been put on a great mental health (medication and seeing a psychologist) The symptoms you are describing are so much like what I have you may as well have been describing me! I still struggle with the free floating anxiety and the panic attacks aren't as bad as they used to be but I know, like yourself, I will be on this medication for the rest of my life. The expressive way you described what you feel will help make it easier for me to describe how I feel when talking about my anxiety.
    Good luck for the future & thank you again.

  9. Diary of B

    Hi Guys,
    Thanks for all your kind comments they mean a lot to me. And I always enjoy hearing form people who have the same issues because there are so few people in my real life with these issues. It makes me feel like less of an anomaly.

    I wanted to answer a few questions:

    I did take my mother with me to my first doctor's appt. Initially, my mom took me to the doctor because I was so depressed (the depression I experienced was directly related to my anxiety). My mother is not shy at all, so I felt supported as I talked to the doctor. Also, I had looked up a list of symptoms, so I knew what I wanted to bring up. It really helps to have someone there. But if you can't bring anyone, just know I've always found doctors super supportive.

    Also the questions about talking to my husband about my anxiety and not problem solving? You know I think it’s natural for men to want to fix things, and this comes from a place of love. But usually when you are venting to someone, you already know what you are going to do, but you just need some support (or a big fat cry). I explained to my husband that his problem solving was exhausting and anxiety provoking because I had to spend so much time explaining why something wouldn't work. And now if he starts problem solving I just remind him. People without anxiety are hard press to truly get it but they can still be supportive.

  10. Anonymous

    What a great story. Well done for getting help and working your way through it 🙂

    I started having panic attacks when I was 15. I kept it a secret because I didn't know what it was and thought I was just being silly. Every year for a few months I would have a sore chest and trouble breathing over silly things like running out of credit on my phone or being a little bit late.
    It all came to a head last year when I was unhappy at my job – i started at 7am, by 9 I had trouble breathing and by lunch I was dizzy, shaking and could barely stand. After $300 worth if doc visits and different meds, they decided I had been having panic attacks.
    I refused to take medication, I stopped drinking coffee, coke and anything with caffeine and use rescue remedy if I start getting anxious. I found some friends that had panic attacks too which helped. I quit my crappy job and got a new one I love. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!! 🙂

  11. Heather

    B, you are an inspiration to me, daily. Never change!

  12. meliasaurus

    Thank you for sharing. I also have anxiety. I lost my last job and its been hurting me in school all along. My family and friends always told me I was dramatic and Iost a huge chunk of friends to a huge fight htat could have possibly been avoided.

    I am finally getting treatment, I've been on medication and going to weekly therapy for the last 6 months. I still have a lot of pain but it's lifting. I am happy to feel functional and anxiety and panic attacks aren't keeping me from doing normal activities. I got a new job which so far I love with a really supportive management and nice coworkers. I have been making new friends who are more understanding and i feel safe with them.

    Did you ever have a point in your therapy where you feel very emotional? For the last month I don't have as much anxiety but have been crying at the drop of a hat. I told my counselor this but she didn't give me any advice yet. It's creates some stress when I need to walk away from someone so I don't cry or tear up in public (poetry reading).

  13. penn

    thanks so much for this. You explain anxiety much better than I ever have. Therapy definitely helped me a lot, and I can't wait to have decent insurance so I can go again. Mostly, my anxiety results in me having poor self-esteem; I imagine that everyone hates me, or I think I can't do anything. The reality is mostly the opposite 🙂

    I have found that when I can push through and do something despite being scared, it's pretty awesome. Last weekend, I went downhill skiing for the second time in my life. I get super anxious about speed and hills, and it really helped to have my boyfriend there — he's the quiet type that is good at listening and hugging a lot. I did have a total meltdown half way down the bunny slope on my second go at things. By the end of the day, though, I could do the bunny slope fine and had even mustered up courage to do one blue slope!

    Of the utmost important, to me, is both acknowledging my anxiety and working through it. That means challenging myself, but it also means not challenging myself too much. For me, doing the bunny slope 12-15 times and just trying another hill was just fine. I worked within my limits while still pushing gently, so I was able to keep my anxiety at a manageable level.

    I also appreciate you mentioning medication. I've thought a lot about meds but have never started them. Right now, I'm doing alright, but I definitely have difficult times. Maybe I'll have to look into getting a bit more help when the going gets rough.

  14. SingleDatingMommy

    OMG!! Me too!!!

    I also have a *generalized anxiety disorder* and fight the stigma every day. We need more and more brave women like you to change the face of mental illnesses.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  15. Little Tree Vintage

    thank you for writing this. people who have ever had a panic attack KNOW that it is by far the scariest thing in the whole world, and unless you have experienced it, it's hard to describe. People who have this disorder are not weak, but strong because it literally can consume you. prayers and hope to those fighting the fight<3

  16. Laura Griffin

    Huzzah from a fellow Alabama girl! I've also struggled with panic attacks, anxiety, and depression, I can relate so much to this. Thank you for sharing. I've taken myself off medication before too, it's not fun. I'm now on medicine that works for me, I'm much less anxious. Life feels managable now! I still feel overwhelmed sometimes, but it's good to know other people feel that way too. Again, thank you for sharing your story.

  17. Anonymous

    I also have suffered with anxiety for most of my life. I would worry constantly about EVERYONE!! I could never settle down and was always moving. Anytime I feel anxious I would do something 'new' or 'exciting' to take away that anxious feeling. I know that sounds confusing but I thought this was an affective way of coping. However, I have know figured out that you take "you" where ever you go. You never escape your problems.
    I suffered my first attack a few months ago. I'm sure I had been through this before but I actually thought I might die. It was horrible.
    I'm so glad you shared this. Thank you so much.

  18. Erika

    Brittany– you are so brave & I commend you for sharing about your struggle with anxiety. So many people deal with it yet so little is said about it.

  19. Miss Diazepam

    I can relate to most of what you said. I hate how anxiety is so often perceived like some kind of silly weakness, and how some people refuse to understand it's a serious condition that can be really impairing. That's why they can get so judgemental about meds (luckily not always). I think I have kind of lost a friend because of how weird I was during my worst period of panic attacks, because he just couldn't understand it wasn't my fault.
    I get anxiety a lot. From things and from nothing. Now I know that's just how my mind is built to work and there is nothing wrong with me as a person! I think that's important to understand.
    Thanks for sharing, also in the comments. It's alwyas a bit relieveing to hear of fellow sufferers! Love&light to everyone 🙂

  20. Chelsea Talks Smack

    Thanks so much for writing this, I have struggled with panic attacks and anxiety for the last 5 years- sometimes I have TERRIBLE MONTHS, where everything feels like its going to explode- or the Earth is going to literally drop out from underneath me…..its always good to hear people who have/are coping and finding a way. I pat myself on the back when I dont have an "episode" as I call them- I know that it's been incredibly hard on my relationships, etc in the past and I'm getting to a point where it simply cannot control my life anymore…thanks for writing about this. 🙂

  21. Anonymous

    Thank you soo much for this post! I was initially diagnosed w/ Depression *and* anxiety, learning later they often go hand in hand. I've come to terms that this is something I will live with on some level for the rest of my life. I, too, do not raise the Anxiety Flag when I enter a room, but am much more open about it. I, too, am afraid I've lost a valuable person in my life due to this…Just not being able to "get it". And I don't blame him. I can't begin to "get" what it's like to live w/ diabetes or alcoholism…Yet, I still live fearfully that people will not accept *all* of me. Quirks and all! It's an ongoing process. 🙂

  22. Googlover/keishua

    Thanks so much for this post. I definitely have anxiety attacks. It is really hard to explain it to other people. One thing I have done is do a time out. It can help calm me down. Also, I try to honor my fear even if it seems silly. I know from experience beating myself up for my emotions only makes things worse.

  23. Jenipher Lyn

    This was so great! Brittany wrote everything pretty well! I suffer with a lot of anxiety and panic attacks too and since i've been on medicine and changed my environment it's been so much easier! I no LONGER think of myself as an overly sensitive person and now rejoice that i am the way i am! 😀

    Thanks ladies! 😀

  24. Anonymous

    I had these attacks when I was a boy and never knew what they were. As I grew up, got into teenage problems. The attacks continued, but no one knew about them. I always felt like I was burning up with a fever and had to get away from myself, which is not going to happen. When I became a young man; into drinking and some drugs these attacks disappeared until I was 26 when I stopped drinking and doing drugs. What I think happened was I was replacing a missing chemical in my body that I had no ideal was missing. One day about 30 years old I was listening to a man on the radio speaking about a chemical imbalance and that is when I starting to think that is what may be happening to me. long story short. I found that when I Drank a beer I did not have the attacks and when I stopped they came back. Researched about beer and found that "Hops" is a mild seditive that when processed in the beer my body used to get the attacks out. tried unprocessed Hops, did not work. Now I drink a beer once in awhile and the attacks stay away. When I quit drinking the beer they come back unanounced. Find out what chemical is missing in your body and replace it. I Thank God I found out the missing chemical. Why I'm here today? Had not had a beer in a few weeks and had an Anxity attack. Prayed and God Reminded me that I had not had a beer in a few weeks. Attack is past, again I really thank God for Reminding me. I hope this helps someone else.

  25. Anonymous

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    I like what I see so now i'm following you. Look forward to going over your web page for a second time.

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  26. Misard

    My life was a hell caused by my panic attacks and anxiety. I tried everything: psychologists, psychiatrists, all kinds of pills and drugs. The only thing that helped me and cured me were these techniques I found online. I hope they will be useful.

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