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I Know What You’re Going Through. I’ve Been There

I wasn’t always courageous and bold. I used to panic. I still get afraid sometimes, but it isn’t a big deal. Fear has become a companion of sorts. I take it with me. It keeps me sharp when I need to do something important. There was a time when fear was totally incapacitating, though. Let me tell you how it began....

It’s a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Johannesburg in 2001. A friend and I are sitting on the bank of a river in a park next to her home studying for our Art History exam.

Out of nowhere, 3 men are holding guns to our heads. The next 10 minutes feel like an eternity. They taunt us with death threats, rob us and eventually flee. While horribly shaken, we’re grateful to be alive.

The next day I saw a counsellor who diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was constantly keyed up, on edge and terrified to leave my house. We spent the next 5 weeks processing the trauma and my symptoms improved.

6 months later, I’m sitting in a crowded restaurant when suddenly I’m overwhelmed by paralysing fear that sends shockwaves through my body. My heart feels as if it’s about to burst through my rib cage and I can’t breathe. The restaurant is spinning, and I’m overcome by a strange feeling of ‘unreality.’ The tingling in my hands and the crushing sensation on my chest is unbearable.

I excuse myself from the table and rush for the door. “I need to get out, I need to get out,” is all I remember thinking. Once outside, my mind races uncontrollably: “What if I’m having a heart attack? Oh God, something is very, very wrong…please let it stop…Why can’t I breathe?...What if something terrible is about to happen?”

I get into a taxi, curl into the fetal position and ask the driver to get me to the emergency room as quickly as possible. After examining me, the doctor on call explains that I’m having a panic attack. “It’s not dangerous and it will soon pass,” he says. I’m incredulous: “This is just anxiety?!”

This dreadful experience lasted another 10 minutes until it began to subside. I was given Ativan and a ‘box breathing’ technique’ to use should they continue.

And continue they did. For the next few months, I had multiple attacks. First I began avoiding restaurants. Then everything else. I didn’t want to leave my house. My world got smaller and smaller. My body felt like a threat. The harder I tried to escape it, the worse I felt. I grew hopeless.

Months later, exhausted and worn down with only brief moments of medication0induced respite, I decided I can’t live like this. I saw a therapist who taught me that the panic attacks themselves were not the problem, but rather the way I was reacting to them.

This was incredibly empowering, for if my reaction was the problem, then a different response could be the solution. I could be the solution. This insight changed my life.

Armed with the tools my therapist taught me and a burning desire to recover, I practised a completely different approach. I began to do the opposite of what my instincts kept telling me to do, which was to wage war against my anxiety, endlessly distract myself and do all I can to ‘stay calm.’

I don’t know where I’d be without this epiphany, but today I have the honor of sharing these tools with you. There’s no greater joy than seeing people recover from the very condition that used to plague me. Every time one of my clients experiences a breakthrough , I get to share in their profound sense of relief, joy and hope for the future.

I trust with the right guidance you can recover as well. It’s heartbreaking to consider that so many millions of people will continue to suffer unnecessarily.

So my pledge to you is: once you’ve helped yourself, share the content on this site with someone who can benefit from it. Pay it forward to an anxious or overwhelmed friend so they too can reclaim their life.

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