Panic Disorder: Case Studies
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Panic attacks can affect anyone given the right circumstances. They are frightening events, ones that routine life cannot prepare us for. Small wonder that a panic attack is never forgotten, and it is the very intensity of these attacks that make us all so vulnerable to succumbing to a life filled with anxiety and punctuated by panic.
When Mandy gave birth to her second child, the birth was unexpectedly complicated and what started as a natural birth ended up as a C-section and a baby in intensive care. However, the hospital staff were excellent and Mandy’s little daughter came home after three weeks to meet her older sister and the rest of the extended family. Relieved, Mandy and her husband settled down to the task of bringing u daughter number two.
Mandy was a little tired and run down, but she naturally put it down to the traumatic time she experienced during the birth followed by the worry about her newborn daughter together with the constant trips to the hospital and back. One day, after her husband came home from work, Mandy raced down to the local supermarket alone, so she could quickly pick up a few items for dinner.
At the end of the first aisle she started to feel a little unwell, but pushed on with her shopping. By the time she got to the checkout, she was feeling uncomfortably stressed. She felt a tremendous sense of impending dread. Putting it down to tiredness, she continued unpacking her items from the trolley.
That was when the first attack hit her. She couldn’t breathe; her heart raced and felt like it would explode into the checkout operator’s face. Her legs almost crumpled from under her and she badly wanted to run out of the shop, scream, or grab somebody to help her. She didn’t know what was happening to her. All she knew was that she felt like she was going to die. She grabbed the items she needed, threw them into a bag, somehow managed to toss some cash at the operator and fled from the shop. Back in the car she settled down a little, but she still felt terrible. She slowly drove home but by the time she pulled into her driveway she felt almost her old self again. She promptly forgot about the ordeal after a day or so.
Unfortunately her brain didn’t. The following week, Mandy was at the traffic lights with a wailing baby in the back seat. Next minute, another panic attack engulfed her and she sat, trapped in the car, unable to move due to the traffic. It was all she could do to pull over to the side of the road. She phoned a friend on her cell phone who came to get her.
Mandy’s attacks continued to occur and Mandy quickly learned to avoid any situation where another attack could occur. Her daughter is now in school and Mandy is unable to take her there and relies on a friendly neighbor to take her daughter to school and back. Mandy seldom leaves the house and only in the company of her husband. Mandy has developed Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia.
Not all cases of PDA are as severe as Mandy’s. Craig also suffers from Panic Disorder but is able to attend work. However due to his disorder he takes the same route to work each day as going outside of familiar territory can spark an attack. In social occasions, he always sits in a position where he can readily escape should a panic attack occur. Although not as badly affected as Mandy, Craig’s quality of life is diminished.
Treatment is available for both Mandy and Craig and we will explore treatment options in coming articles.