It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.
I need to connect. I must force myself to reach out. If I don’t, before I know it, I’m in another depression.
I thought I’d jump right into the middle of my recent life. I have been working on that, you know, starting things in the middle. Preparing, researching, studying, gathering — it’s my well-worn safety net. In my world, it’s hard to start something without a plan. A perfect plan at that. It’s hard to trust myself enough (and others) when only 80% prepared. But, I’m working on it.
So, now, I write without a plan. (Well, honestly, I write with only an 80% plan.)
Why do I need to write? Why today?
Because, I’m terrified. And, I think it will help to expose the thinking that’s holding me down and to spotlight the progress I have made since my last post.
Again, why am I terrified? Because, tomorrow, I am scheduled to fly to my parents’ hometown for the holiday. No joke. Me. Miss Agoraphobia. Yeah. Me.
Wait, my bravery gets even better, especially for those readers who know me from ages past.
While I’ve been away from this blog, I have been working overtime trying to conquer my agoraphobia, fear, panic attacks, excessive worry, and depression.
In case you’ve just stopped here for the first time (welcome!), here is where I was about 10 months ago.
However, in the past few months:
• I have gone to the large, popular, busy grocery store alone maybe 10 times. I have tried going both during peak and non-peak hours. I survived it — with groceries — each time.
• I have gone to a book reading in a completely unknown part of the city. I enjoyed it in spite of almost canceling at the last minute due to panic.
• I took a train through the redwoods. I had been avoiding this 1.5 hour train ride since the day we moved here about four years ago. I panicked as soon as I boarded, but 10 minutes later, I was feeling more at ease.
• THE BIGGIE: I signed up — and showed up! — for a Fear of Flying Clinic at our local international airport. I wish I had a penny for each time I convinced myself I couldn’t hack it, that I shouldn’t go. I went. I panicked. I laughed. I GRADUATED!!
During the Fear of Flying Clinic (which was a four-day seminar over two weekends) I practiced so many things that I usually avoid, such as:
• Taking the hotel-airport shuttle bus. Three times!
• Walking through nearly every inch of the airport terminal. Mingling with people standing in line at the ticket counters. Taking airport elevators. The anxiety peaked and subsided. Peaked and subsided. Finally, it just melted away to a really manageable level.
• Going to the United Air Lines Maintenance Base with the Fear of Flying Clinic.
I was so nervous and sick before. This was on the second day of the clinic. The first night, I literally slept only one hour. The second night was a bit better, but not much. So, being tired and going to a place that is normally off-limits to the public lowered my panic threshold a bit.
We arrived, showed personal identification, had to wear badges and stay together, or else! Then, before getting going, by big butt tripped an alarm! The security team was shouting and everyone looked at me at the same time. I had a major surge in panic (and even thought, “Okay, this is it. I’m going to jail.” Of course, nothing happened).
The panic was pretty intense for the first hour of the tour. But (now hear this all my fellow panic sufferers!) I still used my voice to speak to the group. I did not retreat. I let the anxiety come along with me. I more than survived. It was so empowering!
We also got to board a stationary plane. My panic hit me full force as I climbed the stairs to enter the plane. Nevertheless, I did not retreat. The class got to look around, go into the cockpit, and do a progressive muscle relaxation exercise while on board. This opportunity to get on a real plane (in these times, too!) made this class perfect for someone like me — someone who needs to get lots and lots of practice in vivo to ultimately feel less panic.
• I took a graduation flight to Palm Springs, CA (about 1.25 hour flight from San Francisco). I FLEW!
Here’s the plane I was on just moments after taking this photo.
The flight was delayed while we were already boarding because they were waiting for someone whose connecting flight was late. And, it was packed; every seat occupied.
To top off the experience, the rainy weather had slowed down take offs. Our plane was 12th in line for take off. Oh. My. Gosh. Everything that I feared came true. But, I made it. I survived. I even had moments of relative calm in between my 5-6 panic attacks.
The return flight was even better. Not totally panic free, but still better.
Really, everyone who fears flying, it’s doable. Not easy, but it’s doable. I promise. If I survived, you will, too.
• I looked out the window on the return flight to see this gorgeous view welcoming and congratulating us.
Then, guess what I did two weeks after our Fear of Flying Clinic graduation flight?
I booked another practice trip to Orange County airport (about one hour flight each way). Can you believe it?!
What else have I done despite having panic attacks?
- I’ve joined a health club with a pool!
- I’ve been shopping at the area’s largest, busiest mall.
- I’ve gone to the mall alone.
- I’ve taken my cat to the vet.
- I’ve eaten in 5-6 new restaurants.
- I’ve hosted a dinner party for 6.
- I’ve reached out to old friends on Facebook.
- I’ve gone to the doctor’s office, alone.
- I’ve gone to the hair salon, alone.
- I’ve driven to my husband’s office that’s about 40 minutes away, along a very curvy road.
I am so proud of myself, really, I am.
And yet, here’s where fear is creeping back in.
Lately, because of the ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) workbook I’m reading, I have had the personal power to do what I care deeply about (like travel, see far-away family, feed my family, connect with people in my community) and not try to manage or control my panic attacks. Control doesn’t work.
I’ve realized that my old coping strategies aren’t very helpful because I still have panic attacks.
So, I have had the courage to go forward and stop avoiding doing things until I feel better. Really, the only way to feel better is to do things we value, things we love.
What has avoiding panic really done for us? NOT MUCH. We still panic at home as our worlds get smaller and smaller.
Do I want to be remembered as “She really worked hard fighting panic.”?
Or, do I want to be known as “HSP Woman lived a full life. She had lots of panic attacks but she still did all the things she loves: swimming, laughing, connecting with people, learning, sharing, traveling. She was much more than her anxiety.”?
Seriously, do we want to be defined by our anxiety disorders?
I really, really don’t. But this is the difficult part. My “willingness to feel whatever I feel, think, imagine and still continue doing what’s of value to me” is pretty difficult to sustain.
In order to do all the wonderful things I have done in the past three months, I have had to be willing to allow my panic to come if it pleases. Who says a life without struggle is more valuable? I’m not sure that struggle and pain aren’t just as valuable as joy and pleasure.
Why then am I now struggling against allowing ALL my feelings, thoughts, body sensations, memories just be what they are: words, thought, images, sensations. These events aren’t me; they’re just part of me.
I guess this flight tomorrow is allowing doubt and mistrust to enter my heart again.
I need to turn on my willingness switch like it had been while I did all those challenging things.
Before the graduation flight, I was a nervous wreck the week prior. I had all my self-help books sprawled out on top of the table. I downloaded three “relax and breathe” CDs from iTunes. I meditated every waking second. I cried. I tried to back out. I got physically ill. I didn’t eat well. I didn’t sleep well.
The second flight was a little less intense in the days before.
But, at the airport gate waiting to come back home, I felt different. I was more afraid of myself. The graduation flight included most of the class, in addition to a licensed psychologist and many successful graduates on board with us. Maybe I felt safer in that the therapist could explain to all the passengers I am really not psychotic as I run naked up and down the aisle screaming!
And, on that last return flight, I really panicked while getting on the plane, worse than the other three flights.
Then, as I sat down, I had a real moment of total acceptance. Total acceptance of whatever thoughts, images, body sensations came my way. And, it was during this moment of total acceptance that I had about 5 minutes of complete calm.
It was wondrous. Peaceful. Safe.
Of course, my old thinking crept in and took my tranquility and willingness. But I did have it for a short time.
It’s funny. After both these round-trip practice flights, I fell into a depression upon returning. It passed a couple of days ago, but now I am depressed that I am still anxious to fly even after my course, my preparation, my therapy sessions.
Part of me believes I should be over this fear by now. Enough already!
Part of me is panicked because I haven’t been furiously studying my coping skills and acceptance workbook.
Part of me wants to take the road of least resistance, to stay home and avoid everything!
I guess what I really am afraid of is that I am not 100% prepared. Yet, it’s impossible to be 100% prepared. No wonder I have panic attacks if that is the underlying belief I have about myself.
Okay. Let me say it.
Eighty percent is enough.
Eighty percent is enough.
Eighty percent is enough.
I don’t want to stress myself out even more by speed reading five self-help books tonight. I think I need to focus on self-care — a healthy dinner, some funny TV, a nice epsom salt bath…
Tomorrow, I can try to pack lightly, not worrying about everything under the sun I may need. There are stores where I’m going.
And, I will breathe. Like now, I am breathing deeply and evenly. Nice.
I’m ready for this flight. More significantly, I am willing to experience whatever I experience while waiting to board and while flying.
I want to fly to Nevada to see my parents. I want to spend Thanksgiving with them after so many years of not being able to. I want to spend my 14th wedding anniversary having fun with my husband. I want to see people of the world again.
These are things I value. Panic is not dangerous, just really uncomfortable. Accept it with compassion. It will pass, it always does.
Do I want panic to keep me stuck in the house forever? No. Do you?
I am committed to living a value-driven life whether or not panic wants to come along.
This is the bottom line.
Keep me in your thoughts tomorrow, please.
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