Dave's Story: Anxiety & Agoraphobia
Written by Dave Supinger
I had never dealt with anxiety or any other mental illness that I knew of until one day I had a stress-induced panic attack. I wasn’t sleeping, I was drinking lots of energy drinks, taking pre-workout to go to the gym, just got a divorce, and had just found out a business partner I brought in on my succeeding business screwed me over and tied me up in bad contracts. In a moment, everything converged. I hyperventilated and almost passed out, my heart was racing. I felt like I couldn't breathe. I began to panic and thought I was having a heart attack. I called a family member who is a Paramedic and asked what was going on. He told me it sounded like a panic attack...and this is where it all started.
From that day on for the next five years, I dealt with panic disorder and anxiety which eventually molded into agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. I couldn't leave my house, people couldn't come over, I was in and out of doctors, psychiatrists, energy healing doctors...I TRIED EVERYTHING! I was put on countless medications—some caused rare side effects and others caused me to react to them. Nothing seemed to work. Meanwhile, I was panicking literally 10+ times a day. I quit my job because of the stress and to make it worse, was now living at my parents. I struggled with this for five years and finally found a heavy medication that numbed me, but I felt like I wasn't living life and nothing made me happy. My friends said I was present when they were around me, but I was really just taking up space. I just wasn't there anymore and I hated it.
So I began a journey to find natural healing which led me to a doctor who addresses food-related stress and anxiety. I had all sorts of blood work done, and it seemed if you could name it, I was having some sort of physiological reaction to it: wheat, gluten, shellfish, fish, poultry, etc. I was placed on a strict vegan diet which began to have a positive domino effect on my mental health.
I learned that my food allergies affected my acid reflux, which contributed to shortness of breath at times. It was in these moments of having shortness of breath that I developed my triggers, transforming into full-blown panic attacks. It was all connected. My sleep was affected by my diet as well which added another factor to the anxiety I felt about having further panic attacks.
I remember being in line at the grocery store and felt the shortness of breath coming on, which raised my heart rate. I felt trapped standing in line and began associating anywhere with standing in a line with what caused my panic attacks. It spread to places with crowds and even to emotional situations where I felt I might be trapped. By starting to address my diet, I began to sleep better as well, in turn having a positive effect on the anxiety I was feeling.
But it was still there, so I saw a therapist and learned some really good breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation. My counselor finally referred me to a place called the OCD and Anxiety clinic, which turned out to be a miracle for me. I had been told up to this point that I was suffering from anxiety. I finally learned that I wasn’t suffering from anxiety, but rather a panic disorder. The anxiety came as a result of the panic disorder. I learned that I had trained my brain to be the way it was through what is called neutralizers. Basically, I had trained my brain to neutralize the stress and fear I felt instead of confronting it head-on. When I would have a panic attack, I’d turn on the shower, lay on the floor, and breathe deeply. I would try to get away from whatever I was fearing and tell myself it was okay. I further neutralized panic-inducing situations by always carrying my fast-acting medication. Ultimately, it was all a way around my disorder, not through it.
It was hard to hear this news and it was even harder for me to show up to the clinic to get the help I needed, 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. They taught me how not to neutralize the situation, but to live in the “uncertain”. They taught me how to re-wire my brain to no longer have panic attacks and how to deal with stressful situations. For example, I learned that every panic attack has a peak. After you hit your peak, you’ll come down—it’s learning how to “ride the wave” as they call it that I didn’t have the tools for. Instead of trying to diffuse the fear and uncertainty by telling myself things like “I will not do it,” “I can’t do this,” or “This won’t happen,” I was taught to simply tell myself “This may or may not happen, but it hasn’t yet.” This was key to staying present in the uncertainty of the moment.
It took me five weeks of hard work and dedication to change my life and way of thinking. And it actually worked! I no longer deal with any of the panic disorder or agoraphobia anymore. I’ve been able to take a bunch of trips and don't get triggered by the things that I use to. I can go to the gym, I can leave my house, and people can come over without issues. As I finally got my life back, I was able to get off my medications and I even took my family to Disneyland. Again, this was huge for me because travel was one of my biggest issues since it wasn't familiar and I wasn't near my safe place anymore.
If you’re at a spot where you’re not living life to the fullest or you’re being controlled by your panic and thoughts, the advice I would offer is to look inward at your triggers and understand why they are triggers for you. Look at natural ways to address the trigger. Identify those people who may have harmed you in the past and ask why they may have treated you that way. By doing this, you’ll learn to not internalize other peoples’ pain, but seek to understand the source of your own pain.
“The goal isn’t to get rid of all your negative thoughts and feelings; that’s impossible. The goal is to change your response to them.”-unknown.