For anyone, seeing Alaska for the first time is an experience of beauty and awe. For me, it was also an experience of gratitude. It was an incredible gift – a perfect celebration of my cure from panic disorder and agoraphobia.
The first time I saw Alaska, the autumn colors were incredible: every conceivable shade of yellow, orange and red, against the backdrop of the snow-covered mountains. The skies were clear and blue, and you could see Mt. McKinley from 100 miles away.
I had achieved my cure only a year before, and now I was traveling thousands of miles, via planes, trains, buses and boats, to places I had only dreamed I would ever see.
By bus, I experienced Denali Park, starting out before dawn. The sunrise revealed a breathtaking landscape stretching all the way to Mt. McKinley. The wildlife seemed to notice us, but they were completely unafraid. During a hike, a red fox crossed my path, intent on stalking an arctic squirrel. Mountain sheep – ewes with their lambs – grazed right next to the road. I saw several grizzlies munching on huckleberries, and I believed the guide when she said they can eat a half-million in a single day.
I took an all-day cruise to see the glaciers in Prince William Sound. The cruise departed from Whittier – a town that gets several hundred inches of snow a year, with the entire year-round population of 200 living in one building!
Photographs can’t do justice to the sight of a glacier. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen – one huge ice crystal. The ice is so compressed, it shines a hundred shades of blue.
In the course of my trip, I was amazed to meet two people who had recovered from panic disorder. They had both been very lucky to get an early diagnosis and excellent treatment.
I also met a third person who had been struggling with panic disorder for 10 years. He was still undiagnosed, but it was very clear from our conversations that this was his condition. I told him a little of my own story. We traded email addresses.
Back in Denali, I signed up for a white-water river-rafting trip. My ride was late getting me to the dock, so when I arrived, the guide hurriedly gave me a two-page list of disclaimers to initial and sign. There was no time to read it, but I doubt I would have enjoyed reading it anyway! Then, he rushed me out of my shoes and into a huge, orange ‘dry suit’, life vest and rubber boots. All trussed up, I was then spirited down to the dock where the other adventurers were waiting. The guide then told us in excited, rapid-fire tones:
“Now, the water is freezing, so if you fall in, the dry suit gives you about 5 minutes before you start getting hypothermia. Two people were lost to hypothermia this year, so, if someone falls in, don’t waste time – pull them back in the raft as fast as you can. And if you fall in, float on your back so that your legs don’t get crushed. Paddle with your arms like this… When we throw you a rope, take hold of it like this…”
The man standing next to me was getting visibly nervous, and started mumbling something about having second thoughts. Without thinking, I found myself talking with him gently and calming him down. Once we actually got in the raft and were floating down the Nenana River, his apprehension began to fade. My own tingle of anxiety turned into exhilaration. I joked with my acquaintance in the raft: “The scariest thing about this trip was the disclaimers and the guide’s instructions!”
The ride was thrilling, fun and not at all scary. Midway through the ride, I was amazed to find out that the man I had been calming down was an experienced hang-glider and had been skydiving! But on this, his first river-rafting trip, I calmed his anxieties!
My trip to Alaska filled me with gratitude for my healing and cure. I know now that every step of my healing journey has been a gift, including every experience of suffering and pain – because each one of those experiences helped to reveal the healing that was to come.