I got torpedoed by yet another cycle of panic attacks and relentless anxiety in my late 20’s that resulted in one of my more memorable panic attack dramas. I was sitting in my University of Montana campus 3rd floor office when the totally unexpected blast went off. Panicking, I raced down 3 flights of stairs to the parking lot where I jumped onto my motorcycle and drove at high speed through campus, across lawns and sidewalks with students screaming behind me to the student health services building, where I dumped the bike on the lawn, ran breathlessly into the office and said to the first person I saw in a white coat, “I need help!!”
The campus physician took me into an examination room, talked me down, and made an appointment to see the psychiatrist. When the time came a few days later, I recall nervously tapping on Dr. Katzen’s* door and hearing a gruff “Come in.” The stocky gentleman stared at me silently as I walked to the chair in front of his desk and continued staring at me for several seconds after I sat down.
“I know what your problem is,” the 60-ish, balding, white jacketed doctor said, his arms crossed over his chest. (Finally…. I thought to myself, somebody’s going to tell me why I have episodes of terrifying panic attacks that began when I was 10). “You don’t love yourself, he proclaimed”
I still recall how shocked and stunned I was by his simple statement. My first reaction was almost revulsion. i honestly felt it was somehow morally wrong to love yourself. I don’t remember anything else about my first meeting with this wonderful man except his parting prescription: “When you get home, look in the mirror and tell that person, ‘I love you.'”
About 15 minutes later I was standing in the doorway of my apartment bathroom, dreading the walk over to the mirror above the sink. I crept to the side of the sink and then sort of leaned to my side to peer in at a tense-looking face. The whole experience of confronting myself and looking deep inside me and saying those 3 little words was surreal and oddly uncomfortable. I went through this brand new ceremony for several days before I felt at ease and as though I was being honest.
Since then, unconditional self love has been at the center of my recovery from agoraphobia and a tool I use in the sometimes grueling and trying time of writing. During my research I drop in on various online support groups and am saddened by how much self revulsion I read from victims of mental illness of one kind or another. Brother and Sister Agoraphobes, please listen to the words of Uncle Hal about this. You got to love yourself and accept yourself just as you are before you can make significant gains in overcoming panic disorder. There is no reason whatsoever not to love yourself and everything to gain by doing so. At least that’s my opinion.
So….. I guess you could see this coming…. I want you to get up from whatever you’re sitting on and go to the nearest mirror. Talk things out with yourself and get to know you. Have these dialogues daily and don’t forget those 7 little words: I love you and I mean YOU! (pointing)