THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH.
I’ve suffered from panic/anxiety disorder since 2009, when I experienced my first panic attack in the Brooklyn/Battery Tunnel. My ears started ringing, my hands shook, and my legs trembled so much I could not keep my foot on the gas. I thought I was having a heart attack at the ripe age of twenty-nine. This one event sent my life into chaos, and confusion, a realm of agoraphobia, autophobia, and claustrophobia. My world became smaller; I couldn’t drive, fly, take the subway, or even walk too far from home without feeling a wave of dread. All the things I loved folded up into the matrix of despair. I couldn’t sleep or eat, and my mind….oh, my mind would NEVER stop.
I know how alone you can feel and how terrified of your thoughts and emotions you can be. I know how you can feel like it will never get better or it will never end. And I know how desperately you can want to be released from the prison of an anxious mind. I have been there, and I, too, have felt that hopelessness. The scenarios I would concoct in my head were Oscar-worthy, even if they never manifested into anything more than sheer panic. I sincerely thought I would die; strangely, a sort of death was upon me, but not the kind I expected.
EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH THE MIND
To understand anxiety, you must first know how we got here, to this place of negativity, gloom, doom, and despair. Many of us who find ourselves navigating the world of anxiety are besieged by unresolved trauma, the result of which is the development of coping or survival skills to help get us through those uncomfortable, tragic, and traumatic experiences. While we might have needed those protections during times of heightened stress (they may have gone so far as to save our lives), our minds have somehow become stuck in these old thinking patterns. We have become trapped in the idea that we are unsafe and somehow in grave danger, even though there is no evidence to confirm it.
Years of this thinking caused us to create negative neuropathways in our brains. In convincing ourselves that we are somehow perpetually in danger, we proceed to take whatever measures necessary to find comfort in the terrifying world of the unknown. As a result, our world becomes smaller and more fearful.
But the reality of most, if not all, of these situations in which we panic unnecessarily is that none of it is based on reality. A THOUGHT quite literally brings on our attacks. Think about that for a minute. Think of something you avoid doing because you are afraid of a panic attack. Think about being there right now. Feel how your body changes at the THOUGHT of being in a situation you THINK might cause you to panic. What is happening? For many of you, you will actually start to panic.
What does this mean? It means your body reacts to a THOUGHT, not a clear and present danger. This is a clear realization because it starts to help you understand how shifting the balance of power from your thoughts controlling YOU to YOU mastering them is essential to healing panic/anxiety. They call this thought correction in cognitive-behavioral therapy (which can cure people like us).
Now here is the good news! If our minds can create negative neuropathways, then it would be logical to assume it can also create POSITIVE neuropathways. This was the one realization that changed my life.
REPROGRAMMING OUR BRAINS
As with all things, we are retraining our brains isn’t easy. It will take perseverance, dedication, and a lot of patience, but it can be done. I am living proof, and I thought (there’s that word again) there was no hope for me ever reclaiming my life.
Three things happen when we begin to correct our thoughts, and all three must change before we can forge some new positive neuropathways. It works something like this:
- First, we change the THOUGHT.
- Next, the BELIEF associated with the thought.
- And finally, and this is THE most important one, the EMOTION associated with the belief.
This is how positive affirmations work. After repeating them over and over, we start to BELIEVE them. And once we believe them, we begin to FEEL the EMOTION attached to that new belief. And that is how things slowly begin to change.
LEARNING HOW TO LIVE AGAIN
Once I realized the power to change was within me, I worked diligently on correcting my thoughts. Rather than fear the unknown, I consciously decided to embrace it. Whenever I would panic, I bring my awareness to the here and now. I would then immediately replace the negative thoughts with positive ones. Did I still have an attack? You bet, but I’d surrender to it rather than fight it. I realized I’d had hundreds of panic attacks in the last decade and never died from them. So for me, I could rest assured that it would pass. I also knew that I’d have no more adrenaline left after thirty minutes, so even if I couldn’t stop the attack, I could wait it out. Over time, I noticed the positive thoughts were overpowering the negative ones much faster, and the attacks would come less frequently.
Now, while this was all miraculous in and of itself, what I found truly amazing is how this anxiety forced me to change. I realized somewhere in the race of life; I had lost myself. I became a machine focused on trivial bullshit and a drive for success that was not only unrealistic but toxic. I was a shadow of my former self, focusing on what I didn’t have rather than what was right in front of me. I was lost, and I didn’t even know it. I was so focused on getting something from my life that I had forgotten how to live.
While creating positive neuropathways, I started to uncover the REAL me… the one who was trapped underneath the public persona I had made to cope with life. There, hidden under a mound of anxious thoughts, was an emotionally devastated little girl asking me to see her, screaming for me to choose her, and begging me not to be afraid of my true power. I realized that years of putting others before myself had cast that little girl into the shadows. Nevertheless, she remained right by my side through every tear, laugh, trauma, and triumph, yet I had forgotten all about her. She sacrificed everything in fighting for me to survive, and now it was my turn to fight for her to live.
I decided to heal my past, correct my thoughts, and create the world I wanted to live in, but most importantly, create peace of mind, which my weary soul desperately longed for. I began removing toxic people from my life, caring less about what others thought of me and more about what I thought of myself. I went through the past with a new set of eyes, cherishing all the positive things I’d accomplished which had been glossed over under the influence of my negative thoughts. The anxiety would lessen each time I CHOSE to see my life differently.
Do I still get attacks? Occasionally, especially if I am under stress, but I know how to deal with them now. It has taken years to get to this point, and I did not do it alone. I have a fabulous CBT therapist who has become like family. I’ve been blessed with friends suffering from anxiety who lend a compassionate ear, and I have come across numerous books and articles from brave souls sharing their stories to inspire others. I have included a list of articles, books, and sites at the end of this article.
We are not alone, whether in the spiritual or the mundane; there is always helpful guidance when needed. As every breakdown leads to a breakthrough, I sincerely believe that panic/anxiety is a way to help us grow, to take us on a journey of self-realization. It is a journey that is not without pain, but if we can still our minds through the fury of the storm long enough to center ourselves on the light within, we might finally be able to see the rainbow.
**If you suffer from panic/anxiety, please remember you are not alone! Below are some resources I used on my journey; please follow whatever resonates with you. Blessings and Love.
This last book was a lifesaver! He also has a video program that I loved and was so reasonably priced I could cry. Check it out!