Neal's Story on the Discovery Health Channel

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Neal's story was featured in "Fires of the Mind: Circuits of Fear," produced by the Discovery Health Channel.  The show was broadcast several times in 2001 and 2002. It was then available on video.  However, Discovery has discontinued selling videos.  We are currently working to get permission to show the first part of the video -- about Neal's story -- on this website.

Neal's experience of the filming for the TV show:

In May of 2000, I received an email from a television production company doing a documentary for the Discovery Health Channel.  We chatted on the phone, and then met in person.  They asked me if I would do an interview and I said I would love to share my story.

We set up the interview for June 1st, and we ended up filming for the whole day.  It was one of the most fun things I've ever done!

Steve, the producer, did the interview with me, and it went really well.  I said most of what I wanted to say.  He really liked my story, and he started coming up with ideas for shooting scenes to re-enact key aspects of my healing.

Steve wanted to shoot a scene showing how I started to learn meditation -- by lying down on my bed, listening to a tape that Mimi Peak made for me.  He said: "It would have been great to have had the original tape."  I hadnít seen that tape in years, but it just happened to be right where I could lay my hands on it!  It was one of those days when everything just "clicked".

After I changed costumes, they shot a scene of me tracing my routes on maps.  The first map was of LA, and I plotted my route to my first big goal in overcoming my agoraphobia -- Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, about 16 miles from my apartment in Santa Monica.  It took me 3 months to get there, "practicing" six days a week.  The second map showed my route to my next big goal -- Santa Barbara -- which is about 100 miles from Santa Monica.

The third map showed my route for my cross-country trip in November of 1998.  At that point, they ran out of maps!

Then, the real fun started.  They rented a Sebring convertible for me to drive -- the lighting is better for filming when you're in a convertible.  They shot a scene of me re-enacting a panic attack I had had on the Santa Monica Freeway -- all the drama I could come up with was looking pensive and tightly gripping the steering wheel.  I had to concentrate to keep from smiling.

We did some very exciting scenes on the Pacific Coast Highway, which was the first part of my route to Santa Barbara.   The cameraman was in a car alongside, and we communicated via walkie-talkies.  They got some great shots of me driving with the ocean in the background.

These routes were my "healing ground", where I confronted and mastered my panic.  They had a special significance for me, and I guess they did for the film crew too.

They called me back to do one more scene: re-enacting part of a cognitive-behavioral therapy session with my former therapist, Dr. Ron Brooks.  We did it at Dr. Brooks' office in Encino.  Steve was interested in the "interoceptive" work, which is where you intentionally create some of the sensations that you experience in a panic attack.  (See "Slowing Down and Unmasking the Panic Monster: The MAP Program.")  We did a scene of me intentionally hyperventilating and feeling dizzy.  Dr. Brooks then had me show that I could function perfectly while feeling dizzy, by walking heel-to-toe in a straight line.  It was very cool.  I don't know if I'll win an Emmy, but it was fun.

When we were all finished, I asked Steve how many subscribers Discovery Health has.  He said about 25 million!  I had no idea it was so many.  I would have been more nervous if I had known!

Here's a scene I wrote that we didnít have time to use.  It illustrates the process of  challenging the scary thoughts:

Dr. B:  "Are you having any anxiety now?" 
Neal:   "Yes"

Dr. B:  "What's your anxiety level, on a scale of 0 to 10?"
Neal:   "About a four."

Dr. B:  "Tell me about it."
Neal:   "On the way driving here, I had the scary thought that I could have a panic attack and go crazy."

Dr. B:  "And how many people have become psychotic as a result of having a panic attack?"
Neal:   "Zero.  No one has ever gone crazy because of a panic attack."

Dr. B:  "And how many people have become psychotic because they drove to Encino?"
Neal:   "Zero!  That's ridiculous!"

Dr. B:  "So, what's the chance that you'll suddenly become psychotic as a result of driving to Encino?"
Neal:   "Zero!"

Dr. B:  "What's your anxiety level now?"
Neal:   "Maybe a two."

 

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