In the winter of 2008 I started to experience panic attacks and became familiar with the mental illness known as Panic Disorder. It was my third year in University and I was attempting to balance a heavy course load, a job, a boyfriend and a very active social life. Looking back, after looking deep within, I realize that I was seeking happiness synthetically, rather than organically, and my life was way out of alignment to my TRUTH.
My love of people led me to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. What I didn’t realize, was that what I was studying would directly impact me personally for the rest of my life. At first, my anxiety was a stranger to me. I had an attack in 2005 but had no idea that it was an attack; I brushed it off as circumstantial. The sensations that preceded an attack felt like coming home only to find you’ve been robbed – ambiguous, all-encompassing, and violating. I felt uncomfortable in my skin, as if I was a visitor inside this machine-like body – my movements mechanical and rigid, almost controlled. What followed was fear of feeling the way I did; my heart-rate would increase, my chest would tighten up and I began to marinate in the fear that something was seriously wrong with me. Worst of all, I felt totally alone.
My worst attack happened in Bali, my favourite place on Earth. After a night out on the town and minimal sleep to follow, the next day was sluggish, the sticky air contributing to my already dehydrated body. I should mention here that I was reading the book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, and that panic attacks often mimic other forms of illnesses based on an irrational fear of death. So there I was, sitting down for a nice dinner with a friend from New Zealand. A breeze hummed through the palm trees and down to our table, I instantly felt like I was moving with it – expansive, fluid, and disintegrated. It felt as though the wind was taking me away. Suddenly, I remembered Jill Bolte Taylor talking about feeling this way in her book while she was experiencing a stroke. In a flash I thought, “Could I be suffering from a blood clot in the brain? Is this why I feel so weird? Am I going to die?” My friend noticed my panic and I had to excuse myself from the table. I was mortified. I returned to my bungalow and took a shower, afterward explaining to my travel partner and dear friend what had happened. She encouraged me to seek help on my return to Canada. And that’s what I did. Experiencing how quickly the mind can shift after being under extreme strain, pressure, or damage, I decided to put myself through Cognitive Therapy. I also studied Psychopharmacology as a means to get an educational take on what was happening.
What I have learned is that anxiety can be brought on by stress, severe trauma, or for "no apparent reason at all." Disorders such as depression and anxiety are largely linked to childhood trauma or stress and are sometimes hereditary. Certain people’s brains are almost hardwired to react in such ways when dealing with stressors due to lifetimes of experiences; after sharing my experience, I learned that there is a history of depression in my family. If you can relate to what I’m saying, don’t panic because there are plenty of ways to gain balance in your life again.
I have found that exercise (specifically Yoga), meditation, hiking, journaling, and most importantly, a full nights rest, are enough to curb feelings of General Anxiety. Anxiety occurs for me because of exhaustion – mental, physical or emotional. I've also learned that I am empathic so I very easily take on others' energies and usually that leads to feeling overwhelmed, especially in large crowds. If you can relate here, I suggest protecting your energy field before you go out. This can be done by a quick meditation and/or wearing protective crystals. It's also mandatory to be present in your body and listen to your intuition. It's important to ask your anxiety why it has come, and what it is here to teach you. Anxiety is not the enemy. Lastly, and I know this can be a tough one, but remember that you have chosen to go through this. A Course in Miracles says, "I am responsible for what I see. I choose the feelings that I experience and I decide upon the goal I would achieve and everything that seems to happen to me I ask for and receive as I have asked." What this means, is that on some level you have agreed to experience the illusion of fear to teach you something. Stay open to the lessons. Taking responsibility for our lives and what "happens" to us is one of the most powerful things we can ever do.
I continue to investigate what works and doesn’t work, and I encourage you to do the same. Although the story of my life has had many road blocks, I continue to find ways around them, or tear them down. I continue to grow, to change, and to challenge myself through fear. Although I still experience general anxiety from time to time, I’m thrilled to say that I no longer experience attacks. I no longer look at my anxiety through the lens of embarrassment, hate, judgement or suffering; I see it as a total blessing to my life as it led me to my spiritual practice. My spiritual practice has brought me back into alignment. I am extremely grateful for that.
My story won’t be your story, but 1 in 3 people suffer from a mental illness and I feel compelled to share. You are not alone. If you need help, make sure you seek it and never, ever, give up because your life is worthwhile.
Finally, TRUST that "the force that holds the galaxies together can handle the circumstances of your life."