You’re Number One! Act That Way

Chronic anxiety and panic attacks can take the stuffin’ out of you and turn you into a meek and cowering victim. I know from many years’ experience with panic disorder that the condition of being constantly on alert drains one physically and psychologically. My long struggle with anxiety turned me surprisingly passive.

Now, if something is holding back my dreams and goals I get properly pissed off and take action. When I was subdued by mental illness, however, I felt oddly powerless; I just sort of let the thing take me over. I wanted to be assertive, but expressing any kind of strong feeling was terrifying somehow. I felt so close to the breaking point so much of the time that I feared any strong display of emotion might tip me over.

Panic disorder and agoraphobia had me by the throat and I was afraid for far too long of fighting back. I couldn’t be assertive in the face of possibly increased anxiety. As I started seeing therapists, though, and sharing fear experiences in peer group settings and doing research, I began to understand my power and how to use it to become free.

The psychiatrist who said to me, “You know what your problem is?… you don’t love yourself” started the ball rolling – by making me understand I needed to start taking very good care of the most important and lovable person in the world – me.  I wish I could say my quest to become assertive and actively pursue a solution to my anxiety problem was a continuous journey, but addiction to alcohol and tranquilizers was still in my way.

Once I stopped trying to cure anxiety with alcohol and pills I became astonishingly less anxious. At that point my understanding of the importance of me and the will to make my well being a priority came into play. I was relentless thereafter in working selfishly for once on solving my problems. I soon realized the value of being assertive, as my confidence increased to the point where the thought of traveling frightened me less and less.

All that led to the momentous day when I burst through my agoraphobia prison wall and have been merrily traveling about since – more than 20 years ago. It became possible because I somehow found the will to make myself into a full human being again – one who could get angry and stand up for himself and get things done.  So my advice to you is right here when you are ready for it. The sooner you start acting “selfishly” the sooner you’ll recover from panic disorder.

I’m providing a link to an excellent read on the importance of “selfishness.:


8 thoughts on “You’re Number One! Act That Way

  1. Hi Hal
    I always thought it´s the biggest paradox of agoraphobia: you know you have to change, to go beyond the comfort zone, but, at the same time, some changes involve getting out of home. Some people want to get back to working, to University, but they are very scared of having panic attacks there. I didnt read your book yet (I want to buy, but dont have an international credit card), but what are your thoughts about it?
    Gustavo, from Brasil

    • Thanks for your comment Gustavo – and I agree about the paradox. That’s why I recommend in my recovery program that people do the work as laid out in the book until they begin to feel comfortable enough to travel a small distance. Once the reader builds confidence by doing the daily work, travel becomes easier and easier. Hope you can find a way to get the book. In the meantime, read all the blogs – that should help you get started. Best wishes. Hal

      • Hi Hal. Yes, I will find a way to buy the book. In the last 6 years, I tried to live a normal life. Got a job, used public transportation, went to the cinema, etc, but my problem is that, at home, it´s easy for me to stop a panic attack (because my room is very quiet, I can lay down on the bed to do deep breathing exercises and I have some distractions that I dont have when I am outside, like my guitar). So, I dont even think about panic attacks at home. But everytime I go outside, even in my neighborhood, I am always scanning my body and feeling stressed about the sensations, even if they are natural (like a stomach ache), because I am always afraid that these sensations can increase and turn into a panic attack, and I dont trust medication, other people, or my body to stop it as fast as when I am home.
        I am always trying to focus my attention on the things I see (trying to practice mindfulness) but my mind goes back to scanning my body again. I can only be mindful when I am doing something mechanical, like playing a game in my cellphone or drawing.
        I believe I will only be totally relaxed outside when I am confident that I can handle a panic attack very well. Did it happen to you? Do you have any advice? Thanks for reading. Peace

      • Try leaving the house with a mission. Take along a notebook so you can write about your observations. As long as you focus on your environment you’ll forget about the “self.” Try taking a short walk where you take note of, for example, every sign you see. Write down what each sign says as well as its location and color, etc. Or… you could take note of red cars or people with hats. Try drawing what you see; drawing is an excellent meditative activity. Once you get accustomed to staying outside of your own head, you’ll develop memories of calm times outside your safety zone. Be a busy, curious person and carefully study everything around you as you move from one place to another. I used to carry a camera so that when I began to feel anxious I could focus through the lens on something of interest and figure out how to take a good picture of it. Basically what you are doing is tricking your mind into no longer fearing panic attacks. Be a good trickster my friend. Hal

      • Thanks, Hal. I bought your book, and it´s helping me a lot. I usually carry a notebook in my backpack, but I only use it when I sit down at a cafe, for example, and, when I am drawing somebody at the other table, I really feel fine. But I still didnt try to take notes everywhere. Sometimes, when I am walking close to the beach, I take some pics, and the anxiety is gone when I am taking them, but it comes back after I put the cellphone in my pocket. I should do it more often, right?
        Thanks again

  2. Hi Hal : )

    I just started the program laid out in your new book, UnAgoraphobic. For the first time in a very long time, I feel hopeful. When we give up hope, that’s when we give up trying to get better. I’ve had Agoraphobia for well over 20 years. I’ve been on Clonazepam for at least 10 years; recently realizing that this is a terrible drug to be on and one difficult to get off of. Research has helped me find a way to do this over a long period of time. I’m not sure if now is a good time, as I am just beginning the book, or if any time is really a good time. What are your thoughts? Thanks for giving me hope again. Will record my progress on here for others : ) Much peace to you and everyone. Brenda

    • Hi Brenda – Thanks for your input. I recommend you get together with your doctor and set up a tapering off schedule when you are ready. I think as soon as you start implementing the daily work/activity program set out in the book, you’ll start to feel calmer and can begin going off clonazepam or Klonopin. I know two people who went off gradually over several months and both reported feeling better when they finally stopped. The cruel reality is the medication is actually causing anxious feelings as it wears off after each dose. Let me know how it’s going. You can become totally free from anxiety and agoraphobia. best wishes….. Hal

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