Panic Disorder – Case Example

Erin: a Case Example

Erin is a 33 year-old married woman who has two young children: Tanya, a 3 year old and Lucas, a 5 month-old baby. Erin used to work as a nurse at the local Children’s Hospital. She is an intelligent, well-organized and kind woman. One day, while she was shopping with her two children at the neighborhood supermarket, she suddenly felt anxious. She noticed her heart was racing, her palms were sweaty and that she could hardly breath. She did not understand what was happening to her.

The feeling was, in her words, awful, and she had a strong urge to flee the situation. She grabbed both her children, left her full shopping cart in one of the aisles and went quickly to her car. In the car she noticed that she was shaking all over. She felt hot and then cold and had a tingling sensation in her hands and feet. She thought she was having a heart attack, and thinking about her children in the back seat of the car, she panicked even more. She tried phoning her husband on her cell phone, but her hands were shaking so violently she could not press the correct buttons. She reached for a bottle of water she had close by and took a couple of sips. After a couple of minutes she started to feel better. The children were crying and she decided to drive home.

Later that evening, her best friend, Sharon, came to visit. Erin’s husband was working late and Erin was happy that her friend had come over. At some point she realized, though, that she was out of milk and bread. “Of course”, she remembered, “I left the store without buying anything this morning”. Sharon offered to baby-sit the kids while Erin went to the store to get groceries. Erin accepted gratefully.

However, when she parked her car by the store she suddenly felt anxious again. She felt the anxiety was “crawling” all over her body. She started breathing heavily and her heart was pounding. “I can’t do this” she thought “I just can’t. I have to get away from here”. She started her car and drove home as fast as she could. When she got home without the groceries, Sharon looked at her puzzled. “What happened?” she asked. “I don’t know”, answered Erin and burst into tears, “I guess I’m not feeling very well today.” “Don’t worry about it”, said Sharon, “I’ll go and get the stuff for you. You stay here and get some rest. You’re probably just exhausted”. “I guess so”, said Erin. “Thanks so much for doing this for me.”

The next morning when Erin woke up she felt restless and uneasy. She remembered the events of the day before and soon started to feel anxious. “What if the same thing happens today?” she thought. “What am I going to do? This is so horrible. I don’t want to experience this ever again!” Erin decided to stay home that day and not take Tanya to her swimming lesson. She was afraid the anxiety would hit her again when Tanya was in the middle of the lesson, and she would not be able to flee the situation immediately. “Only this once”, she promised herself, “tomorrow I’ll take the kids to the mall.”

A week went by and Erin still had not left the house. One morning before her husband left for work she asked him if he could go get some groceries. Rob looked at her with surprise. “Can’t you do it, honey? You’ve got the whole day…” Erin then told him what had happened. “This is stupid”, he said, “you probably weren’t feeling well that day. Just go and do it, will you love? I’m really late for work.” But Erin did not go that day, nor did she go the next day or the day after. Erin had developed Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia.