I Made It Through the Rain
By Robert Sterling

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Background

My 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

My future seemed guaranteed and unquestioned.  Then, suddenly, at age 17, the life I knew began to crumble.

I 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.

From 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. 

I 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 thorazine.  Nothing helped.  If anything, the drugs made things worse.


What the suffering was like

One 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. 

I stopped at a stranger’s house and called my Mom.  She reassured me that I was OK, and I became calm enough to drive home.

But 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.

I 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. 

On 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 concentrate.  

My entire life was run by a condition that no one – including me – could understand.

After 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. 

My personal life was no better.  My unnamed condition – with its constant neediness and “weirdness” – cost me two marriages and countless friends.


Diagnosis

Finally, in 1968, I met Dr. Brownstein at UCLA.  He diagnosed me with “agoraphobia.”  Finally, my condition had a name.

A 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. 

For 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.”

Finally, someone understood me and the condition I had been suffering with for all of my adult life.


Healing

Dr. 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.

“Flooding” amounted to daring your symptoms to kill you, with Dr. Hardy’s reassurance that they wouldn’t.

Dr. Hardy’s methods worked.  From being basically housebound, I made rapid progress in only two weeks’ time.  

At 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.”

I told him he had to be nuts – that was 200 miles!  Dr. Hardy calmly replied:  “Go ahead.  You’ll be fine.”

Well, 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.

4 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. 

Dr. 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. 

Many 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 healing.

And 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 own skin!

The success of my healing turned out to be a three-pronged process:

1) behavior modification and desensitization (thanks to Dr. Hardy)

2) cognitive therapy and

3) medication

For me, the combination of all three approaches was the answer.

*          *          *          *          *

I 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.

You are welcome to contact me for support and encouragement.  My email address is RESterling@carolina.rr.com


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