Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Fear and Panic

I am continuously looking at new ways of looking at the world on a daily basis.  In order for me to understand certain ideas or concepts I use the recipe method.  I take the concept and begin breaking it down into its components.  My hope in doing this is that I get a stronger grasp at what comprises this concept and chunking it down gives me more maneuverability in overcoming the obstacle or challenge.

Yesterday I was listening to Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air”.  She had a guest, a noted poet, who has had some health problems in recent years.  During their conversation she asked him about his fears regarding diminished physical capacity.  His response was clear…you have to week out the panic from the fear.

I’d never deconstructed fear and never really included panic under fear in the organizational chart of emotions.  The interesting thing is that as soon as he said it a ray of light cut through the cloud in my head providing me with a level of clarity I hadn’t had previously.  The idea that panic is a component of fear was thought provoking.  Let’s face it, whenever someone receives a diagnosis for a chronic or life-threatening illness there will be fear.  I guess the question is does panic need to accompany fear or is it something that compromises our intellectual, emotional and spiritual defense mechanisms?  Is it panic and not the fear that causes moments of irrationality?  Is it panic and not fear that keeps us tied up and chasing our tails?

There is a saying that pain is inevitable but misery is optional.  I’m wondering if we can apply that same thought to our current discussion…fear is inevitable (when diagnosed with illness), but panic is optional.  I know your next question, “how do you curb the panic?”  My first recommendation is to stop and not do anything.  The tendency is to go into overdrive and get caught up in the frenzy of the diagnosis.  Sitting with the news, even for a short period of time will give you time to prioritize your next steps and create a plan.  There are many other ways to week out panic and I’ll discuss that over the next few weeks.

For now, be conscious and try to differentiate between fear and panic.  What are you doing to avoid that state of panic?  Are you able to honor the fear without triggering the panic?  I’d be honored to hear about your journey.


I've lived my life in service to others. I'm focused on mental health and how it impacts our relationships, culture, and society. Through creative expression and narrative I believe we can impact change.

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