Press release: Panic Prevention Day – 10 July 2009
The business of Panic
True stories of business people who triumphed over Panic Disorder
In a cold sweat… It’s hard to breathe… Hands tingling, vision blurred… Chest pain… It’s not a heart attack, although it feels just as dangerous. Panic Disorder is a frightening, and very real, illness. Anxiety disorders, according to Prof Dan Stein of UCT (SASH Study), affects 16% of South Africa’s population. Anxiety disorders like Panic Disorder can affect anyone – businessmen and women, housewives, teenagers, regardless of socio-economic status, education, or gender.
Up to two-thirds of Panic sufferers don’t seek help. “I thought I was going crazy”, says ex-panic sufferer Zane Wilson. “I hid it from everyone.” Yet Panic is highly treatable – even curable. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has the 10th July as National Panic Prevention and Awareness Day. “We know how debilitating Panic attacks can be but we also know that with the right information, treatment, and support, Panic can become a thing of the past”, says SADAG’s Cassey Amoore. Call 0800 20 50 26 or 011 262 6396, or visit www.sadag.co.za for more information or help.
SADAG was founded 15 years ago by entrepreneur businesswoman Zane Wilson who after suffering from crippling Panic attacks daily, and finding no support for the illness, decided to start her own Support Group. Wilson’s story is not an uncommon one, but does reveal how devastating and isolating this disorder can be – and how Panic can be overcome.
As a thirty-something Director of her own company, Wilson had her first panic attack in the car. It came out of nowhere and she began developing a fear of driving alone. “I would only drive with other people in the car in case I had another attack” – even though she hid her condition from her staff, colleagues, and associates. But driving with someone soon wasn’t enough to curb her fear of having another attack. “I needed to go to meeting with someone else, business lunches were terrifying for me – what if I had an attack in front of a client! I couldn’t even go shopping for groceries or clothes alone. Then I became scared of flying which was more serious as much of my work involved flying around the country for meetings and conferences.” While Wilson had a very high pressure job, there were no immediate stressors, no obvious reason for her fear and attacks. “I felt like I was going mad – there was no reason for these attacks, nothing that was making me stressed. Why was it happening – and what was wrong with me?”
No-one could tell her. For years, Wilson went from doctor to doctor, from test to test, with no answers. As her world became smaller, and work became more difficult, Wilson was having an average of 5 attacks a day, and became very depressed – even suicidal. Eventually, a Johannesburg psychiatrist diagnosed her condition. She wasn’t going crazy, she didn’t have a terminal illness, or a brain tumour, or a heart condition – she had Panic Disorder. 10 years after her first attack in her car, Wilson finally had a diagnosis and was put on medication. “My first prescription didn’t work well, and actually made me feel worse. So the medication was changed and I’ve been on those meds ever since. I’m now 60 and running another high profile, high pressure, fast-paced company that involves national and international travel, presentations, workshops, and awards – and I’m able to do it all.” Wilson says that through those years when her world was so dark and scary, work was the only thing that stayed even vaguely normal. Now she has no attacks and helps others get help a lot sooner than she did.
Langdon, a 33-year-old accountant from Cresta, knows how isolating an anxiety disorder can be. “I’ve always really been quite a worried, anxious person. About a year ago, while I was in bed about to fall asleep, I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I was under a lot of stress at the time and thought I was having a heart attack”, says Langdon. He contacted his GP, and after many tests a heart attack was ruled out. But he still did not know what was wrong with him. “I was always afraid and worried – I honestly thought that I was dying or just mad. My self-confidence started to drop, I felt worthless, and depressed. I just wanted to die in peace." Langdon stopped being alone, he always surrounded himself with people – “The anxiety got worse when I was alone” – and he hid how he was feeling from his colleagues.
He was referred to a psychologist and a psychiatrist – and was diagnosed with Panic Disorder. “As soon as I had a diagnosis and knew there was a real illness, I told people how I was feeling. Having information, knowing what was wrong with me, and finding out that I wasn’t crazy or alone really helped.” After about 6 weeks of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Langdon feels more in control and is coping much better. “I no longer feel so worried and anxious about everything, and I’ve been taught the skills to deal with worry and stress.”
Johannesburg-based CBT psychologist and anxiety expert, Dr Colinda Linde says that not wanting to be alone is quite common. “Receiving a diagnosis is generally reassuring for the Panic sufferer - they are not going mad or having a heart attack or a stroke – they are ill, and that’s a lot easier to deal with.” Dr Linde will be running a Panic Therapy workshop at the Morningside Clinic in Sandton on the XXXXXXXX from 9am to 12. During this incredible workshop, a ‘must’ for any Panic sufferer or loved one, Dr Linde will explain the dynamics of a Panic attack, what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is, look at self-help techniques that work, and will teach you relaxation and breathing exercises to help stabilize your body and mind to stop Panic in its tracks. The session will cost only R50 and is an amazing opportunity to learn from this world-renowned expert. There will also be workshops later in the year in Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town. For more information please contact Chevonne at SADAG on 011 262 6396.
SADAG, together with Health24, will be hosting an online chat about Panic and Anxiety Disorder from Tuesday 7th July until Saturday 11th. Three therapists and a psychiatrist will answer your questions online so get to www.health24.co.za and post your question.
“Mental illness is the same as physical illness and it happens to the best of us”, says Langdon. “Don’t be scared to go out and find information - this is what will help you get better. Take medication and see a psychologist. It gave me my life back.”