Art Therapy : Agoraphobia, Panic-Anxiety and Depression
Charting Your Soul's Voyage: Agoraphobia, Panic-Anxiety and Depression
By Anita Glenn
"I used to feel like there was an impenetrable invisible barrier across my front door and just the thought of going out would induce an anxiety attack."
Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia became an unwelcome part of my life in 1989 after many years of living a high-stress lifestyle and having an interesting childhood. Indeed, I am surprised that I did not develop Panic disorder a lot earlier in my life, like when I was 8 years old or even when I was 16 years old. People used to ask me if I was depressed when I was agoraphobic. Of course I was depressed. I couldn't go shopping for three years! In fact, I could barely leave the security of my own house without fearing that a panic attack would swoop on me from out-of-the-blue and each day I felt like I lived with a loaded gun to my head.
I used to feel like there was an impenetrable invisible barrier across my front door and just the thought of going out would induce an anxiety attack. Some days it would take me hours to psyche myself up to walk out the door. Prior to developing Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia, I held a full-time job and was studying Naturopathy part-time at college in the evenings. I had also recently married and was embarked on a whole new life complete with in-laws and, well, you know what it's like when you first get married and start living with somebody new.
Over a few short months, my panic attacks gained momentum and increased in intensity and frequency. I was forced to quit my job, relinquish my studies and my world quickly and inexorably narrowed to the dimensions of the house in which I lived. My self-esteem went beyond rock bottom and everything I had believed about myself, who I was and where I was going just collapsed around me. I was metaphorically, naked, alone and in the dark. I was terrified, confused and so ashamed of being weak and vulnerable. I had absolutely no idea why this had happened. Why me? Why now when everything seemed to be going so well?
As I was severely agoraphobic, I couldn't leave the house to go to the doctors and the thought of sitting in a waiting room was a terrifying prospect. I also feared I was going insane and so I did not consult a doctor in case they agreed and shoved me into a psychiatric hospital. I thought it was just a temporary situation that would pass. That I would get better in a few weeks but I didn't. The one thing that maintained me during this dark chapter was my belief that everything happens for a reason and I just had to find what that reason was. I wallowed in self-pity for the first 15 months until I got utterly sick of myself. I realized that if I wanted to reclaim my freedom, I had to haul my butt out of the beanbag, bite the bullet and challenge my fear. I either got busy dying or I got busy living it was that simple.
While I was languishing in that beanbag (which I burned in a celebration bonfire later on), I had been educating myself about Panic-Anxiety disorders and Agoraphobia and read just about every book ever written on the subject that had been published at that time. I had learned enough to understand the mechanics of a panic attack and how catastrophic thinking exacerbates the physical symptoms of a panic attack. In time, I got myself to meditation classes, which were facilitated by a woman who had also been agoraphobic and had recovered. This woman had recovered by simply sitting still and doing nothing and taking her classes was the turning point in my own recovery. It wasn't easy getting to those classes. It was only a 20-minute journey from where I lived to the venue and each minute seemed like an eternity as I endured rolling panic attacks and died a thousand deaths each time I got stuck at a red traffic light. I can laugh about it now but it was utter Hell at the time.
I devoted myself to practicing meditation twice a day and although I worried about whether I was doing it properly (which everyone worries about) and the fact that I often did my best thinking while I was meditating (not a bad thing), the calming effects soon became apparent. By soon, I mean after just two weeks, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and my general anxiety level had decreased significantly. Each day I went out and did something went to the shops or drove to a certain destination or walked around the block. I slowly but surely, pushed back the boundaries and success built upon success. I became stronger and more confident in my ability to face down and ride out any panic attack that dared to rattle my cage.
Meditation was the "link-breaker" but during my recovery process, I also consulted with a skilled homeopathic practitioner and a spiritual healer, who guided me as I resolved a lot of inner issues that were the reasons for my having developed Agoraphobia. It was my choice to not consult a psychiatrist, psychologist or a western medical physician nor did I take anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications. What felt right for me, may not be right for you and there is much more knowledge about Panic-anxiety disorders in 2005 than there was in 1989. I did see a GP in 1988 and he diagnosed me as having Irritable Bowel Syndrome. IBS is a physical symptom that a lot of people experience when they have a panic-anxiety disorder. Many people rush to the ER fearing they are having a heart attack, when in fact, they are having an anxiety attack. The physical symptoms are quite profound and most GPs are more aware of the many ways in which panic-anxiety disorder manifest through physical symptoms these days than they were 15 years ago.
By the end of 1993, I was back in the world again and making up for lost time and I had thought Panic Disorder was behind me. I was wrong. In February 2003, I started to experience panic attacks again and in June I was diagnosed with severe anemia, which does contribute to raised anxiety levels. Something I didn't know. A rather nasty black dog depression tagged along for the ride as well. However, this time I understood what was going on and instead of fighting the panic attacks and depression, I chose to leave my job and to stay home and nurture myself and once again, find the reason behind why panic disorder had visited me again.
By May 2004, I had more clarity and a deeper understanding of the nature of panic anxiety disorders and depression than I had back in 1993. Drawing on my own experiences and the insights I have gained over the last 15 years, I developed a workshop called Transforming Fear and I returned to my work as a Holistic Healer. Work I had abandoned ten years previously for a variety of reasons that seemed valid at the time. But I had abandoned my work for the worst reasons: to please somebody else and for financial security and comfort.
However, working as a Holistic healer and assisting people to overcome panic-anxiety and depression is my life's purpose. It is my calling and I had to go to Hell and back, to really find that out. Back in 1989, I received a call from my soul to change and I did, but not all the way. I had missed the deeper message within that experience and so my soul called me again in 1998, after my marriage ended. But I didn't notice because I was too busy building a new life for myself and starting over. The soul is pretty persistent and again it called me in 2000, after I had completed my training as a massage therapist and I sort of listened then continued working in my nice secure job with the regular salary. Finally in 2003, my soul got serious and once again pulled the rug right out from underneath me. This time it had my full attention because I was single and living alone. No way and no how I was going to allow Agoraphobia back into my life but it had me on the mat for a few months.
Hindsight has 20-20 vision and early in 2004, when I looked in the rear-vision mirror, I could see with more clarity the missteps I had made and the landmarks I had missed. I have lost count of the number of times I ignored my intuition and went ahead with a course of action that, naturally, led to more misery and more depression. I beat myself up for all the things I could have done but didn't do. The stupid decisions I had made; the relationships I had been involved in and I reached a point where I seriously doubted my ability to make a success of my life. I experienced a classic dark night of the soul and within it lay a profound insight: I was experiencing soul loss. I knew I would die if I didn't start following my bliss, as Joseph Campbell so wisely advised all of us to do. I had been barking up the wrong tree!
It has been a long journey for me to realise my life's purpose is as a Transformational Holistic Healer. That my destiny isn't about working for somebody else and doing the nine-to-five jive. When I assist individuals who have panic-anxiety disorders and depression, I see myself more as a map-maker than a counselor. I have sailed the seas they are embarked on and I know where the maelstroms are, the rocks, the doldrums and the safe harbors. Each person's soul voyage is unique based on what they have experienced in the past and what they are dealing with in the present time and where they want to go in the future. There is no blanket treatment for panic-anxiety or depression. No one pill, no one technique or "cure" that addresses the multi-dimensional nature of these conditions as well as an integrative approach does, which addresses the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual levels.
About the Author
© 2005 Anita Glenn