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Pulling Back the Curtain On Living with a Panic Disorder

Selfie of Jeffrey VanDykeWritten By: Jeffrey Vandyke, Graphics Design Specialist

It’s time to pull back the curtain and expose a long kept secret…. I live with a severe Panic Disorder.

For many this comes as a shock…why?  You never expected to hear it, especially coming from me. That’s right, me… I live in a state of almost constant anxiety.  On the outside I’m someone who’s quick witted, I have a great sense of humor and I always try so hard to pick other’s up… sometimes to a fault.

However, what you don’t see most the time is what’s happening underneath all of that. See, when you live with an Anxiety Disorder the slightest shift can send one’s brain into overdrive. Maybe you missed a text, a change in plans, an unexpected test result, a misstep in your word choice, or worse… you feel like you hurt someone you love, so you compulsively apologize. Not just for something you did recently, but for something you did years ago that just so happens to sneak its way into your thoughts.

Because we’re all different, one scenario may send you over the edge, but not bother someone else. My personal landmines tend to vary by the day, but the ones listed above are and have been a constant for me. Fourteen years after my initial diagnosis, I still have no idea why these seemingly simplistic scenarios send my brain into an emotional tailspin. I know this all seems irrational, but my brain doesn’t discriminate… no matter the topic, person, or scenario, it can always find a way to twist even the smallest detail into the worst possible self-talk there is. From they love me to they hate me in the midst of a single conversation.

The good news is as time has gone by I’ve learned little coping mechanisms, which have helped me learn how to better manage my anxiety a great deal so it doesn’t dominate every aspect of my life as it used too. (Of course I still have bad days, but I’m doing better than I was generally). If my anxiety starts to run away with my thoughts, I’ve began trying to draw my emotions… sometimes it’s easier for me to visually depict what I feel rather than saying it. Other times I’ll turn on a favorite song and listen on repeat… not just because I love the music, but because I know what’s coming next and exercising just the slightest bit of control can help put my mind at ease… in otherwise uncontrollable situations. All in all, while this process certainly isn’t easy… not for myself or anyone else living with the same or similar condition(s) I keep reminding myself that everything in life worth having requires small but necessary steps in order to proceed. You can have a house, but you need to lay down a foundation first. You can run a mile, but you need to learn to walk first. You can have your dream job, but first you have to apply… on and on. Hopefully whatever goal you’re working toward becomes closer and closer each day. You might stumble along the way or get pushed back a bit, but you find the courage to keep going. The life you hope for might not be easily attainable, but with a little effort it is possible. You’re worth it!