Can you be completely cured of a panic disorder? Or is panic always lurking somewhere in the wings, waiting for an unsuspecting moment to pounce?
Unfortunately, panic is not like a bacterial infection that can be eradicated from one’s system with an antibiotic. It is embedded in who we are and bears more resemblance to an addiction, like alcoholism.
Consider, however… those of us who struggle with a panic disorder have one very lucky leg up over those who battle addiction. For someone who is addicted to alcohol (or any substance), there is a powerful craving that must be repeatedly overcome, often for a lifetime. Not so with panic (unless you’re a real masochistic freak). No one I know craves panic. We’re usually expending some serious calories running as fast as we can in the opposite direction. There’s not much danger of panic luring as back in with tantalizing memories of hyperventilation and crippling fear. So, we’ve got that going for us. (Sometimes you’ve got to count the small wins.)
There’s not much danger of panic luring as back in with tantalizing memories of hyperventilation and crippling fear.
So, can you ever be completely cured of a panic disorder? In my opinion, the answer is yes… and no. Isn’t that helpful?
Allow me to elucidate… At least some of the factors that initially led to a panic disorder are still there, and always will be. We can’t exchange our genes for better ones, after all, (much as we might like to). And to at least some degree, our personalities (which may predispose us to panic) are pretty hard-wired into who we are. The beliefs, mindsets, and patterns of thinking that we began to learn from our families and environment from the moment we were born are deeply ingrained in us and challenging to change (though not impossible). And quite possibly, some of the life stressors that contributed to the emergence of a panic disorder are also still present, and may in fact be things we can’t exactly get rid of (like a sick child or a partner suffering from depression). Our basic propensity for anxiety and panic is likely still there and will be there for the long haul.
BUT… and this is a mighty big but… once you have developed the skills to manage panic and to recognize it in yourself, you are now equipped with some extremely high-quality panic-proof armor (think Bilbo’s mithril vest in The Hobbit).
At more challenging times in your life, you may still feel panic bat an eyebrow or twitch in its sleep – that predisposition, the susceptibility, is still there – but now, you are a hundred times safer than you were before you developed the disorder in the first place, when the propensity lay dormant, unbeknownst to you.
Now you recognize the warning signs. You know what those twitches feel like. For me, when my panic-dragon twitches, it translates to a slight shortness of breath. Nothing major, certainly not terrifying. It is more like a soft little tap on my shoulder reminding me, “ahem, I’m sure you probably already noticed, but I just wanted to draw your attention… oh, you’re already on it. My apologies for the interruption.” And I pause and take a few deep slow breaths. And when I have a few minutes, I reflect on my current circumstances, and what might be blowing the embers of my panic to life.
Your twitch might translate to a tightness in your stomach. It could be spinning unproductive thoughts. Whatever the signs, they are familiar to you, but now you know what to do. Panic has lost its frightening mystique. It has been unmasked, and honestly, underneath that spine-chillingly hideous mask, panic looks pretty scrawny and pathetic now that you know what it is and how to put it in its place.
Panic might once have been able to catch you off guard, but now you can smell its stench coming a mile away. And you’ve got weapons! Woe to the panic that tries to come at you now!