Author Donna McLean is just a normal lady who appeared to live a ?normal? life?and yet she carried a secret that filled her with despair. The stresses of her life, compounded by a series of emotionally disturbing events, tragedies, and traumas, translated into crippling anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. After twenty-four years of enduring the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder, such as rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, jelly legs, the urgent need to find a toilet, and feelings of terror, she found refuge in the life of an agoraphobic.
Now she shares her personal account of a life lived in fear. More importantly, however, she describes a life ultimately reclaimed and healed. She recalls her long search for effective treatment, support, and a cure. This memoir began as a therapeutic journal and evolved into an inspirational real-life story designed to educate, empower, and inspire.
From a very dark and lonely place, Donna created a ray of light at the end of a very dark tunnel ? and so can you.
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Overcoming Panic Disorder
My Storyâ?"My Journey into and beyond Anxiety, Panic Attacks, and Agoraphobia
By DONNA MCLEAN
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Donna McLean
All rights reserved.
Overcoming Panic Disorder
My Story–My Journey into and beyond Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Agoraphobia
Finally on the Right Path!
This book is about my journey with anxiety, major panic attacks and agoraphobia and the subsequent treatment options I sought along my journey in search of a cure. It really could be the journey of countless others: similar stories, just different plots.
I have not written my story in hopes of gaining sympathy, but rather so that others may gain a deeper understanding as to the impact our thoughts, memories, diet, and lifestyle have on our emotions and, in turn, our bodies. Following my story, I have provided an insight into the different treatment options I used on my journey into healing, in the hope that you might also consider them viable for you. After having endured agoraphobia for twenty-four years, my intention in writing this book is simply to inspire you to keep seeking options until you find one, or maybe a combination of options, that work for you as I am living proof that one can overcome this disorder or at least regain a semblance of a life well-lived. Even though I am not completely cured yet, I now at least know that with each fear or challenge I confront, understand, and overcome, I become a much stronger and more resilient person.
This excerpt from an e-mail I received years ago entitled "The Awakening" (author: Sonny Carroll) pretty much sums up the point I had reached in my life, and I have no doubt that the day will come when you too will finally say "Enough" and forge ahead to a better life:
A time comes in your life when you finally get ... when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out ... ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on. Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes. This is your awakening. You realize it's time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon. You realize that in the real world there aren't always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of "happily ever after" must begin with you ... and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.
Boy, did I have an awakening to the fact that I had become my own worst enemy. I was blaming everyone else for my inability to heal and taking no responsibility for myself. My diet wasn't great, I definitely wasn't doing enough exercise, and I'd had very few quality conversations with my Maker.
Since my awakening, all of my health issues have been improved significantly–some cured totally–by addressing my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. To this end, I was blessed a few years back with the opportunity to witness cancer patients receiving treatment and I was very humbled by their outlook, commitment and dedication to altering their entire diet and lifestyle. Talk about 'an awakening'! I came away with a renewed dedication to utilizing the old adage, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." I decided it was time to stop pussy-footing around and only half-believing, half-doing, and half-living, and really knuckle down to get on the right path to regaining control of my life. I stopped looking for that magic pill that would simply "take it all away." I started focusing on ways I could help the natural healing process of my over-sensitized and exhausted nervous system to take place.
It was emphasized in many books I read how thoughts and interpretations of situations can cause health issues if left unchecked, hence I started making a concerted effort to look objectively at both sides of all situations in my life that caused me angst. I began to address my fears head on and soon realized that each time I surmounted one, my confidence and courage grew, and my outlook on life became much more positive. I really started noticing how my resentments, disappointments and sadness were affecting, not only my mental health, but also my physical well-being.
After much research on the subject of anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia, one of the most significant pieces of information I came across was an observation by a gentleman that, in his opinion, the majority of anxiety attacks can be attributed to flashbacks or recollections of something that has happened in the past, being brought back into the present moment or situation by the sufferer's overactive mind (possibly assisted by cellular memories).
I took on board the advice offered and started to take the time to sit with my panic attacks and try and understand what was truly triggering them. I quickly came to the realization that he was right. I found that the majority of my fears and anxieties were usually triggered from a fleeting recollection of a moment or a sensation that I had experienced in the past, or a visualization of a worst-case scenario possibly happening in the future and that I had, once again, allowed myself to go out of my present state. It was quite a relief to understand that this is what was happening to me. Once I started taking the time to understand where my anxieties were coming from, my fears started dissipating. I started to regain some self-confidence.
As I had experienced anxiety of one form or another for the majority of my life I also had to contend with a body and mind that were exhausted from being in a constant state of over-drive, and that they were crying out to be respected and nurtured in a healthy way. I discovered that, although it was extremely important to understand where my anxiety was coming from, it was also very important to unknot my muscles throughout my body, change my negative thought processes, and calm my mind by incorporating massage, meditation, relaxation, yoga, and exercise.
There's an abundance of information on the topics of anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia, literally at our fingertips these days, courtesy of libraries or Google, so there's no longer any excuse not to understand the condition. There's also a multitude of relatively affordable self-help techniques for you to explore.
Before I understood my condition, for quite a long time I just couldn't see my life ever getting any better. My fears had escalated to the point that I was constantly experiencing fear of the fear itself! By that, I mean my panic attacks and the associated overwhelming sensations of fear that went with them had caused me to become terrified of experiencing the symptoms, the sudden onset of the feelings of terror, accelerated heart rate, dizziness, disorientation, jelly legs etc. This fear of the fear eventually threw me right into the depths of full-blown agoraphobia and depression. Trust me when I say I experienced the whole gamut!
As I started healing and gaining more understanding of my condition, I became more aware of what was happening to me. I also started actually taking the time to really see nature's design and its life cycle. I looked on in awe at the new life that sprang forth on blackened trees that had (appeared) devastated in local horrendous bushfires. It was a wonderful lesson to see new life after so-called death. It was a profound reminder that our Maker gave nature the ability to rise again from the ashes.
I have also seen firsthand many trees that have been blown down in severe storms, only to touch the ground, put down roots, shoot again and grow back into magnificent trees. Nature has taught me that I, too, can weather the storms of life. I may still get knocked down a few more times before I die, but at least I'm putting down roots and creating a more solid foundation for my life and if, by chance I do take a fall, I pray that I'll just come back all the more stronger for it.
Prior to these revelations I can honestly say, there were many times I questioned whether all the work needed was worth it. I had some terrible mind struggles. I frequently felt overwhelmed and just plain tired of trying, yet somehow I always managed to drag myself out of the doldrums to have another go; and how lucky am I that I did. I would have missed out on so many wonderful experiences had I not pushed myself onward and upward like the new growth on those trees that had been blown down or burnt.
Looking back, I even get a chuckle out of some of the situations I found myself in while trying to be brave and face my fears. One such occasion was in Gosford Hospital during a visit to my mother following her heart surgery. Accompanied by my sister, I managed to get to her room but upon leaving, we exited on the wrong side of the elevator on the wrong floor and got totally lost. That was enough to send me into a full-blown panic attack—and I mean full-blown. I'm sure I must have looked like a chook with its head cut off. My heart was racing, my head spinning—my poor sister didn't know what had hit her. I just headed for the first exit I could find, which happened to be a door marked "NO ENTRY. STAFF ONLY." It eventually led us down into a boiler room where a nice staff member pointed us in the right direction to get out of the place. I even contemplated climbing out a window and down a very steep and dangerous embankment at one point! We actually laughed and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we reached a door that lead to the front of the hospital, but no sooner did we sit down on a garden benchseat to regain composure, I got a call on my phone to go back to mum's room. I don't think I need to explain the strength it took for me to get back up and make my way back in again. I must add though, that once I got myself settled down, the next trip in was so much easier. No panic attacks at all. Maybe I'd endured the storm and my body had nothing left. Whatever the reason, I'm so glad I found the courage to go back in as each triumph gave me just that bit more hope that maybe I would, one day, be able to live like a 'normal' person again.
I knew my reaction during my first exit from the hospital was outrageous to all those around me, but I had just allowed my fear of my fear to overwhelm me. You'll be pleased to know that I can now visit local hospitals, take elevators on my own, and even get lost trying to find a room and just take it in my stride. It's such a relief to feel normal again.... well, most of the time, anyway. I can't emphasise enough that you must keep your sense of humour! Laughing with my friends has definitely helped me to keep the light burning in my soul throughout my journey.
It took quite a while for me to accept that I needed to let go of what wasn't working for me and to focus on ways to improve my situation instead of just complaining about it. I finally started being grateful for the good things in my life and looking for solutions instead of constantly playing the victim and having pity-parties. I stopped expecting others who hadn't walked in my shoes to understand what I was going through. It became so much easier once I stopped being angry and started accepting responsibility for my own healing.
Andrew Snowdon's Foreword in Annette Noontil's book Beingness, A Commitment to Self, reinforces this with her comment:
"Change in your life is inevitable, the direction of that change and the effect on your life is absolutely up to you."
I often take a moment to appreciate just how far I've come and just how much I've changed (in a positive way). As my sister often reminds me, I'm now a human-doing, not just a human-being! I'm now aware of the processes taking place in my mind, body and life, therefore I have the knowledge and understanding to be healed. I just need to keep focused, patient, strong and persistent. A bit like a new shoot pushing its way out of its seedpod as it reaches for the light.
One of the constants I see in people who suffer from panic disorder or agoraphobia is that they become very angry at themselves if they've been unable to achieve a goal they've set for themselves due to an anxiety episode getting a grip on them again. The truth is, you may have a few setbacks, but when you do, remind yourself that all is not lost. The distance travelled, the obstacles overcome, the fears conquered, and the ground and momentum you have gained are not lost. Early on in my journey I had many moments when I felt total despair following my own personal setbacks as I felt like I would have to start all over again. However, after I got back up and started forward again, I realized I had NOT gone back to where I had started. I was still at the place I'd left off. Everything I had achieved to that point was still there. I likened those moments to when I had writer's block. That is, I would hit the 'Save' key on my computer and walk away from it for a while to clear my head. After a short time I would return to my computer energized and creative again and I would continue on my way to writing the next chapter. None of my previous work had been erased. I'm sure our brains have a "Save" key too. Trust it. Just be aware of how your disappointment at that moment is clouding your judgment of just how far you HAVE come, and then get back up and keep forging ahead. As in the words of Guy Finley in his book "The Secret of Letting Go":
"Just as a weary rock climber must at times reach above himself to gain a difficult resting ledge, you too must dare to go beyond yourself to find this ever-present safety. There is no danger in true self-ascent. The only real danger lies within remaining where you are. Think about it. If you could realize and enter into that true quality of life where there is an entirely new you every moment, it would mean that with every single heartbeat you would be free from any possible heartache that might have preceded it. In this new life, every relationship begins for the first time over and over again. Every discouragement is over, right now. Every challenge, every difficulty is shouldered only in its time and is never carried forward or looked back upon with regret. Isn't that what all of us really want?"
Positive Reinforcement that helped me move through my fear and anxiety
There was a time when my panic attacks were so bad that I was unable to drive at all; which then lead to not being able to travel as a passenger in a car; go into shopping centres; have friends over etc. I became quite the hermit. After many treatment sessions I managed to get back behind the wheel for very short trips and, thanks to Mark Grant's Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (E.M.D.R.) sessions (see back for more details) that I listened to on my iPod while travelling, I managed to become more and more relaxed travelling further afield, both as a driver and passenger. I'm proud to say that I've notched up more kilometres on my car in the past two years than I had in all my previous years of driving.
I've found a great tool for positive reinforcement while driving is to listen to motivational audio CDs. I have quite a collection including Guy Finley, Byron Katy, Louise Hay, Brendan Bays, and the whole collection of The "Be Unsinkable Teleseminar Series" and the "Unsinkable Bounce Back System", and I play whichever one takes my fancy on a particular day. I feel quite positive, relaxed and uplifted by the end of my trip.
I listened to the Kurek Ashley CD my sister loaned me as I was driving along a few years back (solo, up a freeway no less – something I'd only recently begun to do) when the words "What counts isn't how many times you get knocked down in life, what counts is how many times you get back up" echoed out of the player into my heart. I listened more closely to all the reasons the gentleman gave for persisting on my journey to regain my life ... to regain 'me'. Many of his words struck a chord and stirred a strength in me.
I find that each speaker usually offers a few powerful comments or phrases that are relevant to the issue I'm personally dealing with, and I recall those points during times of need.
Excerpted from Overcoming Panic Disorder by DONNA MCLEAN. Copyright © 2014 Donna McLean. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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