As I sit here about to write this personal story, it seems like a whole other lifetime, and I guess in a way it was. When I was in my twenties and a stay at home mom with three children, I began to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. They started gradually and weren’t something I wanted to share with anyone because I didn’t know how they would react, so I tried to deal with it on my own.
If you’re not familiar with what a panic attack is, let me explain.
I would be driving to the local grocery store, and out of nowhere, my heart would begin to pound rapidly and feel like it was coming out of my chest. I would shake, have a hard time breathing, my hands would sweat, and I pretty much felt like I was going to die. There were a few times I would speed to get to my destination knowing once I got there someone could help me. When I got to where I was going, I would eventually be fine. No one could tell there was anything wrong by looking at me.
I couldn’t get onto an elevator, especially alone. If our family went on an outing, I would try to calculate in my head how far we were from a hospital in case I would have an episode. If I went for a walk, I tried to keep our house in sight for fear of not being close enough to get help if I needed it. I even made a couple of trips to the E.R. thinking I was having a heart attack, but all the tests were normal. Eventually, it became so severe I was having a hard time leaving the house. I realized I could become agoraphobic (fear of leaving the house). I was beginning to feel like a prisoner in my body. I was young, healthy, had a wonderful family, but couldn’t really enjoy anything because I was always waiting to go into panic mode. Thankfully, I have a very understanding husband who supported me and tried to help, but there isn’t anything anyone can do when this happens.
One day, I had to go to the doctor for something unrelated. I told him about how I had been feeling and he prescribed valium. Now, mind you, I had never taken a drug and never wanted to, but he told me the pill would take the edge off. So the next time I started to feel anxious I took a valium. Not only did it take the edge off, but it made me feel like a zombie. Being the mother of three small children, there was no way I could function normally taking that drug. I decided not to take them, but kept them in my purse and with me wherever I went. I became emotionally dependent on them even though I didn’t actually take them.
Then one day something happened that would change my life.
I started to get a panic attack and I reached for the pills. I cut one in half and put it in my mouth. Without even swallowing it, the attack subsided. I realized then that a pill was not what I needed. I did not want to live like this any longer. I wanted my life back. I wanted to enjoy going for a long walk or drive. I wanted to enjoy my family.
The Turning Point
My first step in changing my life for the better was realizing that my brain was conditioned to make me experience these anxiety and panic attacks, which became clear when I put that last pill in my mouth. My mission now was to recondition my brain.
The first thing I did was flushed the pills, which was difficult, but realized they were nothing more than a crutch and not a cure. The next time I felt anxious and on the verge of a panic attack, I sat down and worked on a crossword puzzle. Now, mind you, this wasn’t easy. I had to concentrate on something that would take my mind away from the fear. Guess what? A few words later my episode subsided. So I bought a crossword puzzle book. If I was somewhere I couldn’t do a crossword, I would count in my mind, two plus two, four plus four, eight plus eight, etc. By the time I got to numbers I found hard to multiply in my head, the anxiety would be subsiding.
My next mission was the dreaded elevator. I forced myself to get onto one alone. This was really hard, but while on the elevator I looked for anything to read on the wall. Even the numbers on the floor buttons would do. When the elevator door opened I felt like I had won a marathon. I made three more trips on the elevator that day, and it became easier each time. Then I started to drive alone farther and farther each time. Since it’s hard to read while driving and not very safe, I prayed. To this day driving is still one of my favorite places to pray.
There are millions of people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks who go to therapy and take drugs for them. I realize not everyone is the same, and this was not easy, but if I could do it, so can a lot of others. I’m not special. I’m just a normal person who realized that I had to do something to change my life for the better, and I realized that my mind was controlling me and not the other way around. The mind is a powerful thing that sometimes can cause barriers, but I know from my own experience that these barriers can be broken to achieve success whether it be panic attacks, addiction, weight problems, a job, etc. The mind is an amazing thing, and we are in control of it. We just have to want it enough and know that we are strong enough to recondition our minds and eventually be healthier, happier, and successful.