About Hal

I come to this place as the perfect storm for creating an agoraphobia recovery program. See if you agree:

1. I had my first panic attack at age 10 and totally overcame agoraphobia at age 49 (more than 20 years ago).

2. I started writing (radio plays) at age 10 and have been editing and writing most of my life – my first career was in journalism.

3. When I recovered from agoraphobia I started volunteering at the local Mental Health Center (teaching pottery), which soon turned into a job offer to become a social worker, providing assistance and problem solving for severely mentally ill adults (I requested people with panic disorder on my caseload). I organized and participated in several agoraphobia peer support groups before and after I recovered.

If my life wasn’t ideal storm conditions for writing a recovery book, it was as close as I’d dare to come – especially that number 1. It was a stormy life, that’s for sure. Here’s what made it so extra stormy. The summer I was 16 I was working on a remote guest ranch in Wyoming when I had a recurrence of panic attacks. In desperation, I got one of the wranglers to bring me some beer from  town 50 miles away…… and it worked. At the end of the summer I relied on drinking 3 beers for the 3 hour car trip home. I drank off and on over the years and finally succumbed to my alternative med and became a hopeless, helpless, part of the time homeless agoraphobic alcoholic….. for about 10 years. I was also addicted to Xanax. My family intervened and transported me drunk in a motorhome the 3 hours to a treatment center in my home town. Not even a year later I had healed myself enough emotionally and physically to enable me to totally overcome agoraphobia and move to a place I desired to live in.

20 plus (ha! unintended double entendre’) years  later and I pretty much default daily to “happy” or at least spend most of my time in that neighborhood.

Just over a year ago I finished writing the book and packed everything I could into a rental truck and moved to Oregon where I didn’t know anyone. I’m having a whole great new start, kind of like a new life… kind of like but only a mere shadow to the feeling of renewal I had when I was first able to travel again. Nobody is allowed to get that high twice. I think I need to make a drastic change every 20 or so years in order to reinvent myself, and that’s what I’ve done.

I met a wonderful community of potters at the local art center and have been playing and laughing with them pretty much since I first drove into town. I took a break from decorating pottery to check my email one day about 4 months after I arrived here and learned that (drum roll) Red Wheel Weiser was going to publish the book. It was the day before my 70th birthday.

Now that I’m settled in here and have turned my garage into a pottery studio and my gardens into jungles and my bedroom into my writing room I can think about “why am I here?” – Why am I in this place? I realize I’m fulfilling a need I had during all my years with panic as my constant companion. I always experienced my highest anxiety level of the year as the days started getting longer – in early March. But then a great thing would happen. Spring would happen! And suddenly I’d feel calm and remain at a lowered anxiety level during that (short in Montana) time of the year. This became a life pattern, year after year, I always experienced this cycle: heightened activity at the end of winter and then a period of calm during Spring as the world was renewing and reinventing itself. I recall now that I often wished I lived where light was soft and things were growing green and it felt like Spring all the time. Oregon here I come (decades later). But, yeah, that’s why I’m here: I feel at my best when it’s mostly Spring with stuff growing almost all the time – including me.

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4 thoughts on “About Hal

  1. Hi Hal,

    Thank you for taking the time, effort and courage to write your book. I find it to be clear, even inspiring in places, and a definite help in getting beyond Level 3.

    I was wondering if you could more fully explain your meaning behind the puppet strings analogy you use on pg 52. (As everyone knows, a puppet is controlled by puppet strings attached to the hands/feet of the puppeteer.) My question is: who or what is the puppeteer, what are the self-made puppet strings and who or what is the puppet? And how exactly do the strings “save one” during a panic attack?

    Also, when you state on the next page, ” . . . once you cut the puppet strings . . .” do you mean the strings to the primitive fear reflex, or to the conditioned physical fear response, or to the avoidant behavior? Or to all of them?

    Many thanks as well for creating and maintaining this website; it’s a great resource for those looking for practical, not just moral, support in overcoming “aggie” for good!

    Best regards,
    Gene

    • Hello Gene – Thanks for writing; it sounds like you’re getting some help from the book and blogs. There was not much available to me when I was young with agoraphobia (40 plus years ago) – no books on the subject and certainly not any ideas about overcoming panic disorder. I suffered far much longer than I needed to because I had no help. I’m excited that you are bound for total recovery.

      I wish to apologize for the blood and gore of page 52. My original writing of this analogy puzzled my editor, so she had a go at it and passed the manuscript on to another editor who also went after the puppet analogy, and then I didn’t take responsibility for fully explaining what I meant. Now it’s a hopeless mess and I am sorry to have tortured your obviously bright brain with that. I wish I hadn’t mentioned puppet strings.

      I wanted to get across the point that the thought patterns, the neural pathways operating in a person with “panic disorder” that are controlling your behavior, are self-made structures. People who end up agoraphobic have conditioned their minds to be hyper vigilant, constantly looking for danger. All the brain science indicates that we can change our thought patterns by persistent, consistent positive, constructive thoughts and actions. So I was saying that once you understand that your current way of thinking can be changed, you can become free of the puppet strings that were controlling you.

      I was also trying to say that once I admitted that none of the outside influences – like an emergency room, or a certain person, or being in a certain place was going to save me from a panic attack, and that I only had myself to rely on I felt liberated somehow. I felt like I was in charge, that I had to take care of me, and that’s how I started putting together various ways to get out of panic disorder. It was a lengthy difficult process. Keep doing research. We each have to figure out for ourselves how to create that burst of courage it takes to get over the top once you get to that point of going past your boundary forever.

      There’s some fascinating research on anxiety and the amygdala in the “biology of mood and anxiety disorders” website if you like reading scholarly articles. I usually zip down the conclusion before I decide to wade in on them. Have fun with your research. You’ll win the battle, Gene. btw, if you’re of a mind to do so, please consider doing an amazon review. Thanks. Hal

  2. Dear, Hal
    This book saved my life. I read it in December and have been implementing the program. I was completely housebound. Now I go out and do my own shopping, and the panic is less every time I do it. I’m actually going to start scheduling hair and dental appointments soon, which I never could have done before. Thank you so much.
    Sincerely, Kitty

  3. Dear Hal,
    i FOUND YOUR BOOK ON THE new ARRIVALS BOOKSHELF AT THE MAIN BRANCH OF MY LOCAL LIBRARY. IT WAS “PULLED” AND ON TOP OF THE BOOKSHELF AS TO DRAW ATTENTION TO IT’S RECENT RELEASE. IT HAS GIVEN ME A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE, FUNNY HOW IT IS, AND HAS ALLOWED ME TO BROADEN MY HORIZONS ON THIS CONDITION. THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING SO FAR IS THIS: WHEN I FIRST FOUND THE BOOK I WAS
    CURED IMMEDIATLY – LITERALY IN THAT HOUR. I HAD A FEELING I SHOULD MARCH OUT OF THAT LIBRARY AND START “LIVING” MY LIFE THE RIGHT WAY
    FINALLY FOR THE FIRST TIME! BUT BEING AN ADDICT MYSELF I DIDN’T AND i
    STAYED READING UNTIL THE LIBRARY CLOSED (FINES ON MY LIBRARY CARD PREVENTED ME FROM TAKING THE BOOK OUT). I HAVE RETURNED AND HAVE
    BEEN STUDYING AND RESEARCHING THIS TOPIC SINCE. I AM ON A DISABILITY FOR IT AND FEEL REAL CHANGE THANKS TO YOUR BOOK. THANK YOU HAL FOR GIVING BACK IN A WAY THAT HAS impacted MY CONDITION AND AM GOING TO CONTINUE TO FINISH THE BOOK AND PROGRAM AND LIVE A FULL
    ENRICHED LIFE FROM THESE POINTS ON. I LOOK FORWARD TO CONTINUED CORRESPONDENCE AND FUTURE UPDATES AND MAYBE TO MEET SOMEDAY-
    BUT I’M STRAIGHT. THERE’S WOMEN OUT THERE -SOMEWHERE- FOR ME.
    THANK YOU FOR THE COMMITMENT AND HOPE YOU REAP THE REWARDS IN THE AFTERLIFE FOR THIS WORK IN THE HERE AND NOW.

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