Each of us has had our own experience with panic attacks. The episode described below was an important milestone leading to the development of StopPanic.
My turn came on the day that I took the oral boards for the defense of my dissertation in April of 1962. It was the final phase of a doctoral program in clinical psychology at New York University. The process was as grueling as it had long been rumored to be. For two and one half hours a group of senior professors grilled me about all manner of technical and arcane things, some of which were, and some were not, related to the dissertation research.
The orals were known to be the 'do or die' determiner of whether one was awarded the Ph.D. or was: a) thrown out of the program or b) required to go through an additional year of misery to get it right. As can be well imagined, it was harrowing. To add to my personal stress, my wife was a couple of days overdue with our first son and I had already informed the committee that I might get an emergency call at any moment.
Traditionally, after the questions have been asked and the answers given, the candidate is sent out of the room briefly while the committee discusses its decision. 'Briefly' usually meant about five minutes. The place where this all took place was a dark paneled conference room in the university library, and you were sent out into the hall to cool your heels until the verdict was in.
Pacing up and down I waited impatiently for the door to open and be told the news, good or bad. After five minutes I started to get even more nervous. When fifteen minutes passed, I was beside myself. This surely meant disaster, I thought. Finally after twenty five minutes, the door opened. I was invited in by a smiling Prof. David Wechsler (of I.Q. testing fame), who was a member of my committee. I was greeted with "Congratulations Dr. Guller, you did very well. Sorry to have kept you waiting, but we got involved in telling some jokes."
To have been addressed as "Dr." was an amazing relief, but somehow I didn't feel any elation. I just thanked everybody and took my leave. As I walked to the bus stop and waited in the rather bright, sunny afternoon for my ride back uptown, I was numb. Suddenly out of nowhere, I began to feel as if my chest was being constricted. My heart started racing. I broke out into a cold sweat and felt weak all over. In short, I felt like I was going to die.
My father had died of a heart attack at a rather young age and I remember thinking "Oh no! Just when I get through all of this I am going to die before I have any chance to benefit from it." I missed the next bus that came along, but managed to get onto the one after that. I felt as if I would never be able to get off. I thought of telling someone to call and ambulance but slowly, as time passed on my ride uptown, the tightness in my chest eased. I realized I had just had my first (and up to now, thankfully, last) panic attack. In later years that episode, when coupled with some earlier discoveries which had not previously seemed connected, triggered a chain of insights. They are part of what we hope to offer you, here.
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