Stories of Healing
My name is Ana, I’m 40 yrs old, an artist, mother of 2 beautiful kids.
My first panic attacks started around my 29th birthday. I’ve been running my own company since my early college years, which included lots of work, responsibility, organisation and stress. Maybe I’ve been already burned out from too much work, maybe it was genetics.
I’ve been trying to figure out for too long what was the reason for the hell I fell into, but it didn’t matter, really. What matters is how I found my way back.
After my first panic attacks, my life completely changed. I started feeling incredible fear and anxiety and lots of weird physical sensations each and every day, constantly. I didn’t have a clue what was going on with me, I thought something absolutely terrifying is going to happen, I will have a heart attack or stroke. All the possible worst case scenarios kept running in my head.
My mother took me to the doctor and the doc said it’s just anxiety, gave me Xanax and told me to rest and to go to see a therapist. I didn’t. I thought back then that I just need a rest and everything will be fine. But it actually got worse with time and Xanax really didn’t help in my case. It wasn’t a solution for my problem and very soon I stopped taking it. I felt ashamed and didn’t tell anybody how I felt and what was going on within me.
After 4 years of suffering I finally decided to visit a clinical psychologist who said she did CBT. After the brief talk, she told me the diagnosis: anxiety and panic disorder. Her approach didn’t help me. In fact, I started feeling even worse with time and really felt like losing hope. After all this work with her (mainly talking about family issues), I thought I’ll just have to “live with it” for the rest of my life.
I started reading lots of spiritual and self-help books. I desperately wanted to find the key: how to get rid of these terrifying emotions, irrational thoughts and scary sensations. I didn’t like my diagnosis. Knowing its name didn’t help me.
I didn’t want to read about panic disorder at that time. It felt “weird” and I felt “crazy.” But spirituality and self-help didn’t help me either – although I’ve learned lots of wonderful things reading all these books along the way.
Things started getting worse with time – I started avoiding things and activities on a daily basis, running away from situations, places or meeting people.
Summer of 2013 was the breaking point for me. Triggered by some big events in the family, I started feeling so scared I literally couldn’t leave the house. I desperately needed help and finally decided to share my story with my husband who hasn’t been anything but supportive and full of understanding. I shared my feelings with my Mom as well, and then found out about her personal PDA (panic disorder/ agoraphobia) story and the struggle with panic throughout her life. It was a great relief.
I started reading again about CBT and realized there are different approaches to it and somehow stumbled upon Neal’s site. I was really touched by his personal experience and the story about his recovery and decided to contact him and give it a try.
Going through CBT sessions this time was a completely different experience. I gradually started to feel better and better after every session. Learning tools and techniques in such a clear and even fun way was very easy and it just all made sense. I knew I was on the right track this time.
Very soon, everybody around me started noticing changes in me. I became more joyful and open to people, situations, life.
I’ve learned lots about panic and how it tricks us, but also I became aware that I need to work WITH anxiety to recover from PDA. There was no other way. I just had to embrace it, stop running away from it. All of the uncomfortable feelings, sensations and thoughts…I just started allowing them. Step by step, slowly. I didn’t believe that I will make it…but it worked!
It sounds easier than it is, but once you try and see the results, you know that is the path you need to follow. I started experiencing calmness and confidence in the moments where I thought it’s absolutely impossible for me. I started exposing myself gradually to so many things that I was terribly afraid of before.
Every little success felt like a victory and my strength and self confidence have risen with every new step and every new challenge that I have managed to overcome. I started opening myself more to all of life’s possibilities and my marriage and my career started to bloom.
When you start to experience that deep inner change, when you prove to yourself that it’s possible and that you can do it…there are no words to express that incredible feeling of joy, inner freedom, happiness and gratefulness. When you open to life and all it’s uncertainties, miracles start to happen.
As everybody else on the path to recovery, I also experienced setbacks, but I always try not to worry about them much. In fact, I know that there is no way back once you learn the CBT tools – you just know too much and the panic can’t trick you as much as before.
I’m still on my way, and there are lots of challenges before me, but I know that I can make it. And if I can make it, so can you, believe me.
All you need is give it a try: step by step, day by day, with a little trust and a bit of courage…and you will see that miracles are possible and that you are much braver and stronger than you ever thought.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
— Nelson Mandela