A Panic Disorder Sufferer’s Plea to Family Members

Dear Family,

Thank you for all that you do for me. I hope this little note will help you understand me a bit better.

Please don’t treat me as if I were defective, weak, or “crazy” because of my Panic Disorder.

I judge myself this way all the time, and it makes me feel awful. I have to remind myself that I wouldn’t judge a person who came down with a heart problem or diabetes. Panic disorder has its roots in heredity and physiology, just like those other illnesses.

Enlist the help of family members when dealing with Panic Disorder. Photo: Katman1972, sxc.hu

Enlist the help of family members when dealing with Panic Disorder. Photo: Katman1972, sxc.hu

People from all walks of life can have panic disorder, even the rich, famous, and successful. Just about everybody has some health issue. I have this.

Please don’t call me a hypochondriac because my Panic Disorder makes me believe I am sick.

My body is making me feel like I am terribly ill or losing my mind. These feelings are real, physical, feelings and they can be observed in a laboratory. Panic disorder symptoms are not imaginary like in hypochondriasis. They mimic the symptoms of some serious illnesses. It would be helpful if you would offer to accompany me to the doctor so we can rule out any medical problem.

Please don’t tell me to calm down when I have panic attacks, I have already tried that a million times.

All I do is try to calm down and it doesn’t help. Telling me to calm down makes me feel like a failure, even though it is well documented that simply “calming down” doesn’t work with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. Medicine and/or cognitive-behavioral treatment with a Panic Disorder specialist are what does help. Maybe you could encourage me find treatment instead, or just reassure me that I am safe.

Please don’t tell me that I am causing my own panic attacks, doing this to myself, or that I “have to stop”.

You wouldn’t blame people with diabetes or cancer for causing it themselves. You wouldn’t expect them to magically cure themselves. If I knew how to stop the symptoms of Panic Disorder, I would.

Please don’t think that I’m just making this up, or faking symptoms to get out of doing something or going someplace.

I don’t know why my symptoms come and go, or why I am able to do some things without panicking and not others. But experts will tell you that this is the nature of Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. Maybe this disorder does “get me out of” doing things but, I am paying a huge price for this. It’s like my life is being closed off to me. I’m unable to do the things I love to do as well as things I don’t like. I would never choose this as a way of slacking off. All I want is my life back.

Please don’t tell me, “oh just do it.”

Please understand that sometimes the simplest task seems as impossible as jumping off the top of a mountain. If someone told you to jump off the top of a mountain, would you be able to “just do it?”

Please don’t let me suffer from Panic Disorder when help is available.

If I have been to the doctor and ruled out a medical cause, then please, support me in my effort to find a therapist who specializes in Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia treatment so I can finally be convinced that Panic Disorder is what I have. If the diagnosis of Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia is correct, I have an excellent chance of getting better.

Oh, and last but not least…

Thank you for trying so hard so far, and for not giving up on me. Just like I can’t be expected to have some magical knowledge about how to handle my panic attacks, I know that you can’t be expected to have magical knowledge about how to handle a person with panic attacks. Let’s not let it come between us. Let’s keep talking.


Family members of those with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia often struggle to understand the puzzling symptoms of the disorder. They wonder whether they should challenge the family member to face their fears, or help them feel protected and safe. They often have to take on more responsibilities than they might like, because of the limitations imposed on the loved one by the disorder.

People with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia often feel misunderstood by their family members who have never experienced frightening panic symptoms themselves. They may hate the fact that they are more dependent on family members than they would like to be. They can get irritable when their family members say or do “the wrong” thing.

Ongoing communication without blame can help. Getting the right help can make all the difference. Your Panic Disorder therapist should be willing to meet with family members to educate them on how to help you.

This article is for general information only and is not intended to be personal mental health advice, treatment or diagnosis. Anyone with troubling symptoms should consult their physician or mental health professional.

©Lisa C. DeLuca, all rights reserved.  It is a violation of copyright law to reproduce this work on the web or for profit without written permission from the author. This article was originally published on the web in 2008. Please contact the author for permission.

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