I grew up with divorced parents. My mom is a drug addict and alcoholic and my dad is an alcoholic. I’ve seen everything from domestic abuse, over intoxication, being put in unsafe and dangerous situations and left responsible for my 3 siblings as young as 8. I had my first severe panic attack when I was 15. I found out my friend killed herself. Ever since then they haven’t stopped. I get them daily. As the years have gone on, about a year ago I’ve developed an obsessive fear with being drugged. I think that everyone is out to get me. It feels like my childhood is finally catching up to me. I’m having flashbacks of extremely traumatic events and I avoid any situation related to alcohol and even cannabis. Just to look or smell it gets my mind racing. Sometimes I’ll be feeling completely fine and happy, then out of nowhere I’d get that feeling in my stomach that indicates a start of a panic attack. Then the chills, disassociation, extreme shaking and overwhelming feeling takes over. Then I just can’t stop thinking about my childhood, and recent memories since it hasn’t gotten any better. During these attacks I’m convinced I’m going to die. The feeling of not being in control of myself convinces me that somebody put drugs in my food or drink. I’m afraid of even prescribed medication. I didn’t take anything when I got my wisdom teeth got removed even though that pain was the most horrible I’ve ever experienced. I get this every single day, multiple panic attacks a day in severe cases. I want to be happy, I’ve been trying my best to think positive and fight to beat this but it just grows worse and worse. What’s wrong with me?
You have had what many would consider a very traumatic childhood. Your parents couldn’t be there for you when you needed them because of their drug and alcohol issues. You witnessed dramatic scenes of violence, intoxicated parents and were placed in unsafe situations. Almost anyone faced with that set of circumstances would be negatively impacted.
In order to learn to trust others, one needs safety, consistent caregiving and unconditional love. When that doesn’t happen, problems can arise.
The types of early experiences you have described are considered traumatic by those who study abuse among children. The phrase used most commonly in the research literature is adverse childhood experiences (ACES). These experiences include sexual and emotional abuse, divorce, loss of a parent either through abandonment, death or dysfunction, bullying, neglect, drug abuse and alcoholism, parental incarceration, and others. All these issues take an extreme toll on one’s mental health and left unaddressed, can cause problems in one’s adult life.
In all likelihood, your symptoms are the result of a chaotic and unsafe home life. Your symptoms seem to be consistent with a potential panic disorder and/or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), both of which are categorized as anxiety disorders. Please know that I can’t diagnose you over the internet. The only way to know if you have a disorder (if at all) would be to be evaluated by a mental health professional, in person. If you have the opportunity to consult a mental health professional, in person, you should. Currently, we are in the midst of a pandemic and thus it may be difficult to see a professional in person. Many professionals have moved to telehealth services which could suffice for now.
You are a victim of your parents. You didn’t ask to be raised in chaos yet you are now faced with the aftermath. Thankfully, there are very effective treatments for the symptoms you have described. Two treatments that are highly effective include cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure and response prevention therapy. Both are good treatments. They could help you immensely.
Medication is not something you may be open to given your paranoia about being drugged, however, it could help to diminish your symptoms. It’s important to believe in reality. How much fear one should exhibit in any given circumstance should be dictated by the probability of that circumstance occurring. The probability of you being drugged is so low, as to barely register on the probability scale. Believing in facts can help you to stay grounded in reality.
You have symptoms that are highly treatable. I hope that you will consider seeking help. You shouldn’t suffer with symptoms that are treatable. Good luck and please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle