Inspiration: Overcoming Anxiety

Following a talk I presented on anxiety on November 14, 2013 for friends of the Rumson-Fair Haven Friends of Different Learners, a woman shared her inspiring story with me about how she overcame a lifetime of anxiety. I believe we can all relate in some way to her struggle to overcome fear. As we approach the New Year and we think about resolutions, I hope this story will encourage you to think about the things you can do to live a happy, healthy and more productive 2014.

Anxiety, whether fully debilitating or promoting a slight feeling of unease, can be especially hard to manage. You may break into a cold sweat with the thought of flying. The anticipation of socializing with strangers at the annual work party could have you frantic with worry. And, in extreme cases, you may not even be able to leave your home to shop for groceries. No matter your anxiety level, you may find help in the words of the woman below. Her hard work in therapy has helped her to live a more fulfilling life. She’s now in control of her thoughts and though a continued work-in-progress, she has more insight into her fears and their triggers.

“When I share my story with people who did not know me “back then” they are completely surprised that there was a point in my life when I could barely leave my home. I was to the point that even walking around my neighborhood, I needed to get back home. The little things in life that people take for granted, grocery shopping, walking 10 minutes from your home, sitting in a movie theater, traveling, visiting relatives 30 miles away … these were a daily struggle for me.

My panic disorder probably started to show itself in my teens or that is when it started to be noticeable and alter my life.

The first memories I have were those when I was able to drive. I never wanted to be without my car. No matter where my friends and I went, I either drove or took my own ride. It did get pretty apparent and my friends just joked with me about it. But, at that time, all I understood was that I needed to be in control of whether I could “escape” back to my comfort zone, my home.

The first real “panic attacks” for me started when I went to college in Pennsylvania. I was in the middle of nowhere, with no car, with no family or friends. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what was wrong with me and used alcohol to get me through the fear feelings I had. After two years of college, I called my parents up and told them it was time for me to leave college because I was doing very poorly and I could tell it was not going to get better.

Once I moved back home, I continued on to Katharine Gibbs School in New York. Taking the bus through a tunnel was out of the question so I commuted by train. Towards the end of school, I was driving my car once again.

I got married when I was 26 to a wonderful man and felt safe. At that point, I controlled the panic by avoiding what I call “triggers” and since we were newly in love, he never gave me a hard time. For instance, I could not fly and he agreed to a honeymoon nearby in Pennsylvania skiing. I look back and realize how narrow my life was.

We have two boys and things really started to change when the boys were young. I stopped working to raise them and became quite comfortable not having to leave the home. But when they started getting older, I wanted to take them out to play. The only way I could do that was if I was with other mothers…never by myself. Again, I had no idea why. To go to the store, I had to go with my neighbor. If I went by myself, I would have a paralyzing fear of walking into that store.

My husband’s family lived about 30 miles away and once I started refusing to go to visit, this is when he started to get irritated with me. And then with his irritation and my frustration, I became quite nasty. I knew I wanted to have a fulfilling life but the fear of having a panic attack made me stay in my comfort zone, no matter what.

Family vacations were often ruined because I couldn’t fly, only could drive, and many times, I had limits of where we could go and how long. Also, there were a few vacations cut short because I needed to get home.

Thankfully, my husband insisted I go see someone about this. It was affecting my life, our marriage and our sons’ lives.

I remember clearly the first day I went and had a therapy session. When I was told that there is a name for this … Panic Disorder … I felt a feeling of such relief and freedom. Wow, I wasn’t so weird after all!! Other people have this. WOW.

I started my journey with dealing with this disorder about ten years ago. I have a homeopathic view and therefore I refused to take any medication. The course of therapy I began was cognitive behavioral therapy and it was amazing. I was learning to talk to myself in a different way … instead of “What if” I say “So what” … little things like that and learning how to reprogram my thoughts. My circle finally started to grow.

One of the things that also was a game changer was when I was told to go with the panic attack and don’t fight it. It will be over, it won’t kill you and once you let it go, it does subside. Of course, that took a while to master but to this day I know when one is coming on. I have many self-talk conversations that I use and yes, I ride it out and I welcome it. One of the things I was told was just think, “If you could choose between having three panic attacks a day or having one of your boys have cancer, which would you choose?” Of course, I chose my panic attacks! Also, when speaking with those I know or travelling with I let them know I may get anxious and this helps tremendously because I am not hiding it. I can be honest and say, wow, I am having a little bit of anxiety right now.

It was not an easy, quick turnaround and I still struggle once in a while. What I didn’t realize was by constantly feeding my brain with personal development books and audios, I keep a positive outlook on things by feeding my brain with positive versus negative thoughts.

Two years ago I founded a mission-based company to help the environment and a big part of this business involves self-development. I have even stretched my wings further and have started to travel once again … yes, I fly! And I have to say, quite nicely now. And my final step, my final hurdle, was speaking in public. I never thought I would see the day that I would be able to stand in front of a room and address my team and train and educate them. That platform was probably the most paralyzing fear I ever had.

I feel so empowered now being able to not let a feeling of anxiety or panic that is coming into my life decide what the course of my life will be. I have learned that for anything you do in life, if your “why” is big enough, you can overcome or achieve anything you want to.”

All material contained on this blog is for information purposes only. This information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional psychological advice. Always consult a qualified professional prior to utilizing any of the information provided in this post.

If you feel that private therapy would be beneficial, please feel free to contact me to schedule an appointment.