Standing motionless at the crossroads of a busy intersection, I felt paralysed. Holding the hand of my two year old, I couldn’t keep walking. We had just dropped off my eldest to pre-school, and our target was to go to the shops. I was returning a book that I had bought the day before.
I looked down at my son, and could see he was okay. The sun was beaming off his forelocks, and he gazed up at me wondering when we are going to begin moving again.
I knew I couldn’t go any further, and that I had to return home. The anxiety started to ebb away, I felt better. But… this was the second time this happened.
I thought that it was just a horrible nightmare, and it would never happen again.
The night before, as I was about to hop into bed, a terrible gush of fear burst through my body. There are no other words to describe it. I felt as though I had just been condemned to death, and was about to lose my head. But with no immediate danger around me, my greatest fear was that I was going crazy. I was scared out of my brain.
After what seemed like a relentless abyss of heart palpitations, hand sweating and disorientation, I finally mustered up the courage to run to my neighbour’s house. She had once told me that she suffered from panic attacks, and I wondered, was this what was happening to me?
The terror was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I felt like the world was going to suck me into the abyss, and I was barely hanging onto the crevices of a slippery cliff that was only too happy to let me fall to my death.
My neighbour immediately recognised what was going on. She said that it would happen most often when her husband would go away to deployments. My husband was away in East Timor. I had been taking care of our children for three months on my own. We had three months to go.
After chatting for half an hour, I began to feel a little better, slightly reassured and safer. However, as soon as I returned in the house, the terror returned.
I fought with all my resolve to reason with myself. I was safe. Everything was okay. There was nothing to be afraid of. However, as soon as I would think about what I was afraid of, a feeling of impending doom would wash over me, creating a desperate desire to escape, and flee to safety.
Initially, it was only in the voices of other people. It was by talking to my husband, who I found, and still do, will listen without judgement. I would disclose my deepest fears, and upon hearing them, he would tell me all was okay, or that what I was thinking was normal and would go away. He was right.
I would also find these voices of reason on the web. In 2002, the web was still in its infancy, but there were already writers sharing their stories on what anxiety was about. I felt tremendous comfort in reading about the causes of my fears, and how my thoughts were directly related to what was happening.
This was empowering. If I had control over my thinking, I would reason, I had power to change how I felt. These realisations led to my quest to learn everything I could get my hands on, and eventually become an educator. I wanted to share what I had learnt with others. What I didn’t realise was that the school system, as it is currently structured, was not designed to learn about these issues. But more on this in a later post.
What I learnt over many years was that by facing my fearful thoughts, and learning about what was causing them, I became stronger. I was no longer firmly held in the clutches of my fears.
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