I lived in fear for over 15 years of my life. It wasn't abuse or even a tangible object that held me captive. I struggled with anxiety and panic disorder for over a decade and it ruled my life.

I remember my first panic attack. I was 7. At that age it's not likely you know what's going on and it's impossible to explain it. I remember trying desperately to tell my confused father what I was experiencing. I would feel that frustration for a very long time.

By the time I was in my late teens I had been dealing with the "attacks" for so long that I had figured them out. I hadn't learned why I had them or how to make them stop completely. I did learn how to cope with them once they started and at times I could push them away for a few moments. I rarely told anyone because, honestly, I had no clue what was wrong with me and to explain it is still a difficult thing to do. I had never heard the term "panic attack" or "anxiety disorder". These things certainly weren't talked about like they are today. I suffered in silence, not knowing if I was going insane or if the attacks would ever stop.

When I was 19, I ended up in the ER late one night. I could no longer control the symptoms. The racing thoughts, fear and numb feeling in my body were so severe I didn't know what to do. I arrived in the ER only to be treated so poorly that I was in tears. The doctor had no compassion or understanding for what was going on. He wanted to dope me up and send me on my way. I was devastated. I had finally asked for help and was being condescendingly sent away.

In the weeks that followed that night in the ER I began seeing a psychiatrist that finally put a name to what was going on with me. I was diagnosed with panic disorder and oh, how the prescriptions flowed. Within months I was completely addicted to Xanax. The unknown fears and reasons behind my anxiety and panic attacks had been replaced by my massive anxiety that came with keeping up with the pills.

No behavior therapy or delving into my past to look for root causes was ever done. I was given higher and higher doses until I was on an obscene amount of the medication for my size. No one ever told me how dangerous it was and I never thought to ask. In my mind, the panic attacks were gone and if they should arise I could make them go away in an instant.I spent seven years clutching that bottle, making sure it was in my purse and completely losing control if I misplaced it or left it behind. I was more of a prisoner than ever.

And the panic attacks weren't gone. They weren't even subsiding. They were easily masked by the pills but, a few attacks a month became a few attacks a day. The anxiety disorder was ruling my life and the pills were only making things worse.

When I first met my husband, in 2002, I was severely addicted to the pills. He was not a fan of this. It wasn't until we started talking about kids that he decided someone had to do something about my addiction. The panic attacks were still there and it was a huge strain on our relationship. He believed that I could kick the pills on my own and end the anxiety and attacks at the same time. I believed he didn't know what he was talking about. I had been dealing with the anxiety attacks my entire life and was thoroughly convinced I could not live without the pills. Who did he think he was?

Turns out, he was the most patient and caring person that could have possibly entered my life. Talking and delving into my past was certainly not something I wanted to do. Changing my way of thinking and behaving didn't interest me in the slightest. I was resistant to change and didn't believe it would work. Over time I came to understand how much that negative way of thinking was affecting me.

Through talking about things that had happened to me and through behavior modification I was able to change my way of life. When it comes to "fight or flight" I was always the latter. I learned how much that had shaped who I was and how crippling it was to my anxiety. By pushing problems away and not dealing with things head on I had created a storage of problems in my subconscious that had been left far too long and needed to be dealt with. I learned the most important lesson of my life during that time. The mind is much stronger than we think.

Despite the growing knowledge of panic disorder and depression (which often go hand in hand), it sometimes seems like there is still a stigma and maybe some confusion. Panic disorder and the attacks that go along with it can be very hard for the person experiencing them to explain to people. The symptoms aren't all the same from person to person or even attack to attack. For me, the hardest part about explaining my attacks was that I didn't know the "why". I experienced anxiety from my subconscious. It wasn't something in the moment that was making me panic. I was never once able to pinpoint the reason behind the anxiety and being asked made it all the more frustrating.

If you or someone you know suffers from anxiety or panic disorder it's important to know that you aren't alone. There are options out there and it's entirely possible to overcome these obstacles. I've been xanax free for over 3 years. I cannot remember the last time I had a full-blown panic attack. I am no medical professional. I cannot speak from medical journals. I speak from a place of experience with a lifelong captivity to a scary disorder and a seven year addiction to a dangerous drug. I'll say it again; it is entirely possible to overcome these obstacles. What worked for me may not work for everyone but, I truly think that every single person dealing with this disorder owes it to themselves to know that they are strong enough to change their life and live without the anxiety. I was lucky enough to have someone that believed in me and knew I could do it. That made me stronger and I believe in every single person out there and their ability to take control of their own lives.