Don’t ask if I’m going to have a panic attack

Here’s two pieces of good advice regarding mental illness:

  1. Don’t ask a person who hallucinates what they are seeing and where
  2. Don’t ask a person with panic disorder if they are going to have a panic attack

Here’s an example of the second:

You know I have panic disorder and you are asking me to do something. You ask whether this will cause me to have a panic attack. Or you ask if the stress of what you are putting on my plate will cause me to panic. Or you say “don’t panic.”

Seriously, why do so many people think it’s okay or even funny to ask a person whether they are going to have a panic attack at that moment? I’ve had people ask it with a chuckle.

This is no joke. This is my life, my experience, my mental well-being.

You may assume because I have panic attacks I can’t function with the realities of every day life. That I can’t handle stress. This is not true. I balance an incredible amount of responsibilities.

And although stress is one of my triggers, this doesn’t mean every time I experience any amount of stress I automatically freak out. You are belittling my actual triggers and using them as weapons against me.

This assumes I have no control over the panic attacks, a dangerous idea. I rely heavily on a mental wall I have created that tells me I can fight panicky feelings. That just because I am panicky, this does not mean I will have a full blown panic attack. That I can fight it and I can survive. I rely on this strength I have cultivated.

I’m also not always having panic attacks because I live with panic disorder. It’s a myth that everyone who has a mental illness experiences symptoms 24/7. A lot of mental illnesses have periods of symptoms and ones with fewer or no symptoms.

And most of all, you don’t ask a person who is hallucinating what they are seeing in that moment and where because it makes it real. It is real life interacting with the unreal. For someone who sometimes has trouble deciphering the two, you are adding to the confusion.

The same things apply to panic attacks. You are inadvertently telling my brain there IS something worth panicking about.

If you learn I have panic disorder and it makes you feel confused or awkward, go ahead and feel this. If you don’t know what to say, that is okay.

I know you may not understand or believe this is an illness. Because of this, you may think panic attack triggers aren’t a real thing.

Don’t try to deflect this feeling or cover it up by making a poorly thought out comment. Do better.

A brain can come up with enough things to panic about on its own. I don’t need your help.

2 thoughts on “Don’t ask if I’m going to have a panic attack

  1. Rachel,

    Thank you so much for your words of wisdom! By telling us what supports you, or doesn’t support you, let’s others understand how to be in relationship with you and others with like triggers.

    It is challenging to know how to approach our loved ones at times in the most heathy way…. you sharing your story is a positive step in my understanding.



    Liked by 1 person

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