So often, my working relationship with a panic sufferer begins with an initial email of all-consuming pain, fear, bewilderment, and desperation. The writer has visited my website, identified with the content, felt a glimmer of possibility, saw my invitation to write, and did exactly that. But as this person wrote, just what were they really looking for? And what do they really need to receive at this most vulnerable, yet opportunistic, time? Those are hugely important questions because their answers hold the very keys to lifelong recovery and growth.

If you’ve been in the panic attack or panic disorder saddle, you know it’s a rough ride; especially when the symptoms first appear. I mean, seemingly out of nowhere you’re being pounded by sledge-hammers of panic, anxiety, agoraphobia, derealization, depersonalization, avoidance, phobias, depression, substance abuse, and crushed self-esteem and confidence. And you may not even know what some of these phenomena are, much less that you’re suffering from them. The one and only thing you know for sure is, “I want to be the way I used to be.” And you’re mentally, emotionally, and physically flailing wildly to establish that sense of identity and comfort.

All of this leaves you frightened beyond belief, baffled, absolutely certain you’re losing your mind, and hopeless. Truly, you’re beyond overwhelmed, as your mind is the scene of a fifty-mile-long traffic jam and no one’s going anywhere. You’re frozen. And I’m telling you, if your immediate situation isn’t managed with experienced finesse, insight, and direction a marvelous window of recovery opportunity will slam shut.

Just yesterday I was in the E.R. working with a woman in her mid-twenties who was experiencing some pretty intense thoughts of suicide. Very tragically, the woman became a paraplegic this past December as a result of a car accident. The past seven months had been an endless stream of medical care, personal and family adjustments, and attempts at rebuilding some sense of self and stability. But, her misery escalated over the past two weeks and her “life” became dominated by excessive sleep, poor appetite, loss of interest in anything she once enjoyed, and the ever-increasing desire to die. And as we ended our assessment interview the woman, crying profusely, shared that the foundation for much of what she was feeling was based in her belief that her husband no longer loved her and would soon abandon her.

This heart-broken woman needed so much more than the obligatory, “Hang in there, and good luck to you,” as she was wheeled off to the psychiatric unit. She needed something that, perhaps, wouldn’t even be absorbed in the immediate, but would later emerge and lay the foundation for her long-term emotional recovery and prosperity. Empty words, suppositions, detailed looks at tomorrow, and logic would be irrelevant and counterproductive at this moment in time. Instead, I offered the woman gentle and in-the-moment expressions of empathy, respect, compassion, and hope. Messages so pure and powerful they could have been conveyed without uttering a word.

I’m convinced the very same philosophy is the best medicine for the intensely agitated panic sufferer, whether their distress is new or they’ve been frozen for years. There will be plenty of time for chatter, theory, tomorrows, and reason down the road. Akin to a stroke victim requiring very specific immediate interventions to stave off permanent physical brain damage, there exists a critical care protocol for a panic victim that is equally as valuable in preventing permanent emotional and cognitive brain damage. And it’s grounded in the very same gentle and in-the-moment expressions of empathy, respect, compassion, and hope I offered my E.R. patient. It’s an incredibly powerful elixir that sustains the sufferer and holds open a very large window of recovery opportunity.

From one of my poems, “A strange sort of wisdom has grown so deep inside your troubled heart, and a miraculous power without notice is alive and at call. I know, so be calm, all truth is there. And it waits so quietly by your side. In the end, it will come.”

Author's Bio: 

After a winning bout with panic disorder, a career in the business world, and a part-time job working with socially challenged adolescents, Bill found his life's passion and work. So he earned his master's degree and counseling credentials, and is doing all he can to lend a hand to those having a tough time.

Bill authored a panic disorder education and recovery eworkbook entitled, "Panic! ...and Poetic Justice," which is available on his website and online store for immediate download. Also available is information regarding a collection of poems he wrote along his panic disorder and recovery journey entitled, "The Poetry of My Life." And now he's managing a blog. Lots of good stuff going on and much more to come.

In addition to doing psychiatric emergency work, Bill continues to do a lot of writing. He's conducted numerous mental health workshops for non-profit organizations and remains available to present more. Bill is a national and local member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (N.A.M.I.).