name is Robert and I was born in Los Angeles in 1939.
My father was enormously successful as a residential and
commercial land developer. Being
a son of a multi-millionaire and growing up in the Hollywood Golden
Era, I had it all: wealth, freedom, and “attitude.”
I grew up in affluence.
How it started
future seemed guaranteed and unquestioned.
Then, suddenly, at age 17, the life I knew began to crumble.
had to go the hospital for a routine appendectomy.
When the anesthesia wore off, I awoke feeling that my brain
was on fire! I became
hysterical and felt totally out of control. I now know that my experience was a panic attack.
But at the time, I had no idea what was going on.
I was absolutely terrified.
that moment on, I became a frightened, dependent person, clinging to
my mother and my sister. I
was afraid I would die if I was left alone.
saw many doctors. They
were all puzzled: they
could find nothing wrong with me.
I tried many of the psychiatric drugs of the time, including
helped. If anything, the drugs made things worse.
What the suffering was like
day, I was driving to school at UCLA over Coldwater Canyon Drive.
I became overwhelmed with a feeling of impending doom.
My heart was racing, and I thought I was having a heart
attack. My mind was
swirling with scary thoughts. I
felt absolutely disoriented with feelings of unreality.
stopped at a stranger’s house and called my Mom.
She reassured me that I was OK, and I became calm enough to
from that day, I needed a “babysitter” wherever I went.
I needed constant reassurance.
I couldn’t even go on a date without running to a pay phone
to call my parents or my sister for reassurance.
was so afraid to leave home, I took my entire sophomore year in
college through correspondence courses. In my junior year, I had to pay people to drive me to school.
the day of a final exam, I would need a relative to go with me and
sit at the back of the room, so that I could feel safe enough to
entire life was run by a condition that no one – including me –
college, I struggled to keep a job – any job.
I think I could be in the Guinness Book of Records for the
number of times I was fired.
personal life was no better. My unnamed condition – with its constant neediness and “weirdness”
– cost me two marriages and countless friends.
in 1968, I met Dr. Brownstein at UCLA.
He diagnosed me with “agoraphobia.”
Finally, my condition had a name.
few months later, my mother saw an article in the Los Angeles Times.
It was about Dr.
Arthur B. Hardy, who was running a group called “TERRAP,”
standing for “territorial apprehension.”
Shortly thereafter, I met the great Dr. Hardy at his center
near San Francisco.
11 years, many doctors, family members and friends had tried to
fathom my condition, without success.
But within minutes, Dr. Hardy knew me “like a book.”
someone understood me and the condition I had been suffering with
for all of my adult life.
Hardy did not believe in medication.
For him, the answer was “behavioral modification.”
His method was called “flooding,” which meant facing the
fear head on.
amounted to daring your
symptoms to kill you, with Dr. Hardy’s reassurance that they
Hardy’s methods worked. From
being basically housebound, I made rapid progress in only two weeks’
the end of the second week, Dr. Hardy handed me a pack of
matches and asked me to please give it to his assistant, Don Bain.
I said “Sure, where is he?”
Dr. Hardy answered: “He’s
in Lake Tahoe.”
told him he had to be nuts – that was 200 miles! Dr. Hardy calmly replied:
“Go ahead. You’ll
I started the drive to Lake Tahoe, by myself.
Dr. Hardy’s instructions were to not call my mother or
anyone that could calm me down.
This work was to be mine and mine alone.
½ hours later, I arrived in Lake Tahoe!
I was weak from the experience, but I had done what I thought
was impossible! The
experience greatly raised my self-esteem.
Hardy’s “flooding” method changed my life dramatically, but it
didn’t stop the suffering. I
became a “functioning phobic.”
I still suffered, but I knew the symptoms were lying to me,
so I did my best to ignore them.
I suffered, but I could function.
years later, I met a psychiatrist in Mission Viejo, California.
He introduced me to a new approach called “cognitive
therapy.” I learned
to challenge the false beliefs that were the basis of my fears, and
I learned “cognitive skills” to combat my symptoms. Cognitive therapy helped me to get to a whole new level in my
there was more dramatic healing to come.
In 1996, I saw a psychiatrist in North Carolina who was an
expert with medications for panic.
By artfully combining Prozac, Buspar and Remeron, I was able
to achieve a true “comfort level” for the first time.
Now, finally, after all these years, I am comfortable in my
success of my healing turned out to be a three-pronged process:
behavior modification and desensitization (thanks to Dr. Hardy)
cognitive therapy and
me, the combination of all three approaches was the answer.
recently published a book about my story called “I Made It Through
the Rain,” by Robert E. Sterling.
It’s available on Amazon.com (where you will find several
interesting reviews) and BarnesandNoble.com.
are welcome to contact me for support and encouragement.
My email address is RESterling@carolina.rr.com