From panic attacks to peace of mind

By Jim

Three years after I got married my wife became mentally unwell. I thought I could handle all this pressure myself, as my wife did not want anyone to know about it. Additionally, I also was very private about this myself. The secrecy of that all caused me lots of stress and panic attacks. 

My first panic attack was about 400 meters from the hospital. I was not able to walk to the hospital, as I thought I was having a heart attack. They got an ambulance for me and brought me to the hospital. They kept me there for four days and I underwent all sorts of different tests. One of them was the thread mill machine and I was monitored. They said they could find nothing wrong with me and I was allowed to come back home. I was delighted with this, went back to work, and carried on as normal. Three weeks later I was back to the hospital with another major panic attack. This time they told me it was anxiety. I was given anxiety and antidepressant medication and was kept in the hospital for a week. After that, I had to attend a psychiatrist every two weeks. I was out of work for 10 months. When I went back to work I changed my job from being a truck driver to being a gardener. It all happened in 1998.

Being a gardener suited me better than being a truck driver, there was less pressure with the long hours of work and always rushing around to meet deadlines. Gardening was more relaxed. I was able to work with no stress and if I needed to take a day off, that was no problem. My wife was in and out of the hospital for years, about twice a year she was admitted there. They kept changing her medication when she got sick or doubling the dose, saying this drug is a gold standard. She was in a need of psychological help, but she was given none. Only drugs were given, even though she was diagnosed with agoraphobia. That time I started reading self-help books and doing evening classes in life skills, cognitive therapy, and mindfulness. After a while, I noticed myself that I began to improve. I didn’t know what I was doing right at the beginning, but I kept at it and healed myself with the help of others. When I started improving, my wife started to improve as well. When I got information from whatever course or book I was doing, I would pass it onto my wife.

I got a lot of good information from Grow as well through a friend in Grow. I was asked to join a group, but I refused. I thought it was a place for fudie dudies. When I joined Grow eventually in the town nearby, I found these people to be very intelligent. People with loads of self-knowledge and spiritual knowledge, very good and kind people. If I had joined earlier, I would have healed myself faster. I took a long way around, but during that time I found mindfulness classes. I find them the best of all. They made us carry out the skills of healing. I learned about awareness of my thoughts and they explained conscious awareness. Cognitive therapy thought me very important knowledge about the thinking process. A- was the event, B- was my belief about the event, C- was the consequences of the beliefs about the event. Compassion-focused therapy thought me about letting go, accepting, forgiving, and gratitude. Choice theory thought me about finding solutions. Putting together and applying all this information helped me to heal myself. Practicing skills is an ongoing process for me, especially informal anchor meditation that I practice every day. 

With the knowledge and skills that I acquired and shared, my wife was able to face her fears and cured herself of agoraphobia. With my help, she faced her fears a little at a time graduated exposure to the fears. Now she can go for walks on her own and get buses, go into shops on her own. She has not been to the hospital for 10 years. We still have to do more work on the agoraphobia e.g. walking across the bridges that are high up, motorways, getting trains, boats, heights in shopping centers, or high buildings with glass. I believe we will conquer all these fears with time, knowing she was freed from some of them already through self-knowledge, skills, and ongoing exposure and challenge. Now life is very good for both of us and I would say the best time of our lives. 

I have been attending Grow meetings for a few years now. It was a big task to move from face-to-face meetings to the Zoom one, it took a while to learn how to use online technology and to get used to the Zoom meetings. I have been with a new group for a while. Despite the bit of challenge Zoom meetings brought, I enjoy them a great deal. I found face-to-face meetings in the community were more private and I was much more comfortable sharing about what is going on for me. I find myself pretty quiet at the Zoom meetings. I worked on different tasks since I started Grow.

The most significant and ongoing task was that I learned to sing about 50 songs and keep singing them instead of analyzing the problem. I sang to the audience as well and greatly enjoyed that and my growing confidence. I discovered recently the song about Cherry blossom trees that I knew from the past. I thought I had forgotten it, but my long-term memory stored that for me and I was able to sing again.

I greatly enjoy 12th step work. My favorite parts of the program comes from Blue Book and New Program Book and those helped me with my tasks. The best of the program for me is step 8: We learned to think by reason rather than by feelings and imagination. I also often use: I can compel myself to act rightly despite my feelings. That line helps to push thought anxiety and makes anxiety disappear. I love the Serenity Prayer. I often reflect on part of the program that teaches us how to decentralize. “Nothing is either good or bad, but the thought makes it so”. When I need it, I practice; “It is not happening now”. When I stop analyzing, ground myself and my feet, it helps me to bring the flow of my thoughts and my mind down, it takes discipline to stay in the moment. It is a different type of discipline that takes to achieve things. It helps me to achieve well-being. 

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