Burt Reynolds revealed his vulnerable side when he realized he was being steered into marriage. One day while browsing the furniture department with his would-be bride, he suddenly collapsed onto a bed and doubled into the protective fetal form. Moments later, he was sucking oxygen through a brown paper bag, his eyes wide and darting.
His panic attack was interpreted in a humorous way for the sake of the movie, but real panic and anxiety attack survivors know there's nothing funny about it.
Impending divorce triggered my first major panic episode. It stirred almost daily, waiting for any event that would bring it to the surface in a full blown attack. Sure enough such an event did arise, but not from any outside force.
While I contemplated taking a shower one day, anxiety swept over me, along with an unexplained dread that something terrible was going to happen. Suddenly, I was afraid to eat, afraid to go out, afraid to stay home alone.
As I drove down the highway, uprooted trees and black garbage bags along the route took on indistinguishable grotesque shapes. Passing through overpasses was particularly alarming as I dreaded losing control and smashing into the abutment. Elevators and stairwells triggered a new symptom: claustrophobia.
Particularly alarming was the day I was afraid I'd lose control and toss myself off the 6th floor balcony. That's when I knew it was time to get help.
Two years of psychiatric treatment eventually brought an end to those terrifying events. Until 10 years later when I decided to switch careers and return to college. I was 37.
Then, it happened again. I was in the huge school cafeteria walking along the self serve line. It began as I became intensely aware of the drone of voices echoing throughout the quadrant. Quite unexpectedly, anxiety swept over me. I thought I'd lose my mind as my heart and thoughts raced and that old familiar dread took hold.
Struggling with the attack, I made it to a seat and tried to eat my lunch but it soon became apparent it wasn't possible. The initial fear was verging on panic. I rushed from the cafeteria to the nursing station at the top of the stairs, but at that point, I felt it might pass.
I continued aimlessly down the busy hallway. All I could think of was getting away from the noise, the bustling students and the insecure openness. Moments later, sitting in the peaceful, dimly lit student lounge, I curled up in an armchair and fell asleep. When I awoke, the attack had passed.
Years ago, my doctor had explained that my attacks were a result of a chemical imbalance. He also pointed out that a lack of confidence and a sense of impending loss of control were related to my anxiety.
During my therapy, I persistently plied him with questions and bombarded him with every sensation I had over the previous week. He was a man of few words, always turning my questions back on me to interpret. Through his few choice words, worries of things going wrong in my life were soon mere flashes, rather than mounting thoughts to stoke my simmering anxiety.
His advice echoed when I emerged from that major panic attack at the college 10 years later. I was in a strange environment undertaking a new career. The attack clearly was brought on by my fear of failing, along with numerous other fears.
It all made sense. I was moving into a new frontier with new faces, new challenges. In all likelihood, I would emerge a new person, but as happened with my divorce, it was a time when I feared I would lose control of my body, my mind and my life.
What saved me was something my psychiatrist said years before when he responded quite simply to one of my 'what if?' questions. His reply has become my 'mantra', if you will.
In an effort to make me focus directly on the issue and think rationally about the outcome, he merely asked, 'So what?' Who could have known that those two small words would become my rock? The moment a terrifying thought entered my head, all I had to do was ask, "So what? What's the worst that could happen?" and it was never as bad as I'd imagined. And today, it always brings me back to earth.
There is help for you, too.
Recently, I came across a product that I wish I had when my panic attacks were raging. This e-book provides an equally simple and highly effective solution for people who have panic attacks.
Understanding how the body reacts is the first step to knowing that panic and anxiety attacks can be cured without medication. Joe Barry has taught thousands of people to be panic free.
To learn more about his successful formula go to http://www.book-titles.ca/panic.htm.
Sylvia Dickens has struggled and overcome panic and anxiety. Formerly with the Canadian Mental Health Association, she's written, "A Guide to Teenage Depression & Suicide" and offers a book to cure panic quickly and without medication. You can learn more at http://www.book-titles.ca/panic.htm.