Gerry's Story: Two Steps Forward and One Step Back
How It Started
In 1963, I was 33 years old. I was the mother of three children, ages 7, 9 and 11. I was a wife, a daughter and a friend to many, with a full schedule and many responsibilities. I was someone who just couldn’t say “no”, and that’s how I found myself in the situation that brought on my first panic attack…
My husband was Cubmaster of our sons’ Cub Scout Pack and couldn’t find a father to be a committee Chairperson. So, I took over that position along with the many other activities in which I was involved.
One evening, during a committee meeting, I suddenly had this terrible urge to leave the room. But I couldn’t leave — I was chairing the meeting! That was when I suffered my first panic attack. At the time, I had no idea what I had just experienced.
Soon, I started having panic attacks at the market, at restaurants and while driving my car. I didn’t know what they were, and I wondered if I was going crazy.
I continued to take care of my responsibilities to my family. At one point, my parents were planning a grand party for their 50th wedding anniversary and, at the same time, my 13-year-old son was preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. I was very involved with the planning of both events, and I pushed myself to carry out my responsibilities. I would leave the house, do what needed to be done, then run back home. I had no idea what was wrong with me.
When I went to my doctor, he told me that I was suffering from “housewife’s nerves”. Needless to say, this was not helpful. Somewhere, I had heard that breathing into a paper bag was beneficial. It seemed to help, so I always kept a paper bag in my car.
I got up the courage to share what was going on with a close friend. As it turned out, she was going through the same ordeal! She also didn’t know what was wrong, but it was a tremendous help to know that I wasn’t alone.
In the winter of 1965, after two years of suffering, I finally saw a doctor who decided he knew what was wrong with me. He said I had “borderline diabetes.” He put me on a very strict diet, with no carbohydrates or sugars. This was the beginning of the worst period of my suffering.
I read all I could about diabetes, for that’s what I thought I had. I followed my strict diet, but I became weaker and weaker. By summer, I literally could not get out of bed. My husband had to come home from work every day to fix lunch for me and the kids. I had lost a lot of weight. I believed that I was terminally ill and that my three children would soon be without their mother. It was a nightmare.
Then, a concerned neighbor suggested that I see her doctor. My husband and I made the appointment. I was so weak, my husband had to carry me into the doctor’s office. After a battery of tests, the doctor told me to go off my restricted diet and to start taking vitamins. He also gave me a prescription for Valium.
I began feeling stronger, but I reacted badly to the Valium. It made me so dopey, I couldn’t function. The doctor switched me to three doses of Librium a day. I hated taking drugs, but I did what the doctor ordered. The Librium worked much better for me, and I started to feel better.
Some months later, a friend invited me to go to a yoga class with her. I’d been doing exercises from Jack LaLanne’s TV show and other types of exercise, but I had never heard of yoga. I was curious, so I decided to go.
After my first class, I felt an immediate change. The breathing and relaxation made a tremendous difference. I began a regular yoga practice and I continued taking classes. I felt steadily better. Slowly, I was able to taper off and discontinue the Librium.
When I left the house, I did it on my own. I didn’t use a “support person”. When I experienced anxiety, I did my yoga breathing. I took two steps forward and one step back, but I did it. I never gave up.
In 1969 – six years after it all began – I achieved my full recovery.
Throughout the years of my recovery, I felt that I was “guided” each step of the way. My yoga practice was the “key,” combining relaxation, breathing and meditation.
Years later, my husband and I just happened to be listening to a call-in radio show when a woman phoned in wondering if she had something called “agoraphobia”. As she described her symptoms, I turned to my husband and said, “That’s what I had!” Then I added, “If I could help one other person to overcome this malady, it would be wonderful.”
Some time later, I got my wish. I happened to see an ad in the newspaper offering training for “agoraphobia counselors”. I signed up immediately. During the training, I learned that I had done everything right in my own recovery. Since then, I have gone on to counsel and to teach yoga to many people.
It’s been over 30 years since I achieved my cure. I’ve enjoyed travelling all over the world. I’ve explored the US, Canada, Mexico, Hawaii, Israel, Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Asia and Africa. And I still do yoga.
My experience with panic disorder and agoraphobia changed my life in a very positive way. In addition to finding yoga, I learned to say “no” and to “stop and smell the flowers.” I learned that out of bad experiences, good things can happen. Certainly, in my case, they did!
Guidance for Others
If you choose to try yoga as your “healing practice”, you will learn a wonderful form of meditation that includes relaxation, stretching and full, yogic breathing.
Often, the road to recovery is two steps forward and one step back. Never give up, and you will reach your goals. And don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Remember to “stop and smell the flowers” along the way!