According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6 million people suffer from panic disorder each year, and 15 million have a lifetime prevalence of the disorder. Only one in four people who experience panic attacks receives appropriate treatment.
Diane Mengali grew up in Northern California in the 1950s, when family dysfunction was cloaked in denial. On the outside, her family appeared functional and successful, but the part hidden from view was her mother’s depression, alcoholism, and suicidal tendencies, and her father’s intolerant attitude and infidelity. As a child, Diane internalized her mother’s fear and insecurity and by age 10, she had become a chronic worrier.
Diane married Dave in 1966. She had her first panic attack in August of 1967. While disturbing, she saw it as an isolated event, not the life-altering siege it soon became. A world of confusion unfolded in 1975 when Diane met Ellen, a registered nurse. What began as a friendship, turned into an affair, forcing Diane to question her sexuality and to seek counseling. After much turmoil, Diane and Ellen moved in together. Her marriage to Dave ended in 1980.
In 1983, a psychiatrist diagnosed Diane with agoraphobia, a type of anxiety disorder in which one fears and avoids any situation that may cause panic and is usually accompanied by feelings of helplessness, shame, and being trapped. A few years later, she found a therapist who guided her through long-dormant painful emotions, introduced her to behavior modification and the life-saving practice of mindfulness.
Diane hopes her story will help people understand the torment and terror that people with panic disorder and agoraphobia face on a daily basis. Panic disorder need not be a life-altering, frightening struggle. With early diagnosis and treatment, panic disorder can be treated with therapy and medication.