“Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination.” – Christian Nestell Bovee, author
“Is it normal to feel on the edge of panic all the time?”
Pamela was a 30 year old, budding entrepreneur. She entered my office with that fragile self confidence one often sees in those who consciously takes risks, daily. She was all decked out in high heels, and high fashion. Her shoes matched her purse which also matched, her hair colour. We exchanged pleasantries, and then she asked me, “Is it normal to feel on the edge of panic all the time?”
“Not usually! Why do you ask?” I replied
“Ken, I have been running my own restaurant business now for over five years…and, I still feel in a state of panic most of the time…that can’t be normal, can it?”
“Pamela, there is no normal, that is just a well intentioned generalization…there is just people with a vision, values, and opportunities…and, we call all of this, our life.”
“Well then, there is something wrong with mine…because my panic states are more often, and more intense!” she said, the pain and panic evidenced on her face.
“Pamela, tell me about your worst example of these panic episodes!”
“Ken, my most recent one is what got me to call you. It occurred last Tuesday. I have a partner, Todd. We have been together over three years, and it is a great relationship. We each have our own identity, our own work, shared and individual friends and our families are supportive…it has been going really well. Then, I missed a period, …I panicked, and went off the deep end.”
“But why do I have to be afraid?”
“What did you do, Pamela?”
“I didn’t know what to do. So, I took a sick day from my work, told no one…not even Todd, and went to the beach…and, all by myself!” she replied.
“What did you do at the beach?” I asked next.
“Nothing! Absolutely nothing, Ken!”
“Pamela, humans can’t do nothing…they can’t even think nothing…we even struggle to focus on just one thing, that’s why meditating is so difficult. Looking back now, what did you actually do at that beach?”
“Well, I sat staring at the waves landing on the shore, and just thought a lot about my situation.”
“And, what did you think about your situation?” I asked.
“So many things went through my head. A whole bunch about if I was pregnant, and a lot about, if I wasn’t pregnant. I must have sat there for more than three hours analyzing both sides of my situation. For example, I realized I want to have a child but have been avoiding it, so I could work on my business. And, I realized I want my future to be with Todd. And, I started thinking about how I could be both a mom, and a restaurant owner.” She said.
“It sounds to me like you did some important work on that beach, that day!” I commented.
“Yes, I suppose that’s true. But, how come I had to panic, to do it?”
“Pamela. panic is defined as a sudden overwhelming fear, with or without cause, that produces hysterical or irrational behaviour. I view panic as someone who is out of control…but, what you described, sounds like you being in control, does it not?”
“But, why do I have to be afraid?”
“Fear is an important survival tool for humans. It motivates them to learn very quickly. Without fear our life span would be much shorter, and our learning, much slower. It sounds like you don’t see all the benefits you get from your fear…really from your panic episodes. Is that true, Pamela?”
“I guess I get tired of being afraid! Is that such a bad thing?”
“As recently as 1979, neither panic attacks nor panic disorder, officially existed.”
– Scott Stossel, journalist
“You and I cannot behave outside our values.”
“Not at all…but, it did get you to come here today, correct? And, what if we could find even more advantages for you to your fear, to the point where you started to appreciate your fears, would that be useful for you, Pamela?” I asked.
“Do you mean I could learn to be grateful for my fears, actually grateful for my panic attacks?”
“Yes, I do!”
“Please show me how that works? I need to know right away!”
“I think you are a quick study, so, here is the condensed version. You and I cannot behave outside our values. We do it automatically, and unconsciously. It is the natural process of using our past learning to ensure our future survival. This means Pamela, your panic attacks have been benefitting you, but you have NOT been aware of it.”
She paused for a few moments, and then looked at me, saying, “Ken, would you show me an example of how that works, because I just don’t see it…I don’t see any benefits to me from my panic episodes.”
“Let’s use the example you cited earlier about going to the beach. Since you are here today, whatever you did at the beach that day worked for you, because you learned, survived and so evolved to this point in time. But, the question becomes…what exactly were the benefits you received?”
“Yes, I know I got through that episode…that experience…but where were the benefits?”
“Remember I said, we always behave within our values, unconsciously? Well then, to start, you must have honoured your own values in some way that day at the beach…but which ones did you honour?” I said.
“…I’ve actually felt calmer knowing what I want now for my future…”
Then, I added, “Let’s start with the most obvious to me…you managed the emotional and physical stress of having your whole lifestyle, and future, jeopardized by an unplanned pregnancy…is that true, Pamela?”
“Yes, I suppose so. But, I don’t think that’s enough benefits for me, Ken!” she replied skeptically.
“There’s more Pamela. It sounds like you also learned you do want to be with Todd in the future, and have a child. How important is it to be more clear about those two goals?”
She thought for a moment, and said, “Actually, Ken, there are very important to me. I have had them in the back of my mind for some time, nagging at me…kind of unspoken items, sitting on my shoulder. So, they really are benefits!”
“How does it affect your work and finances, having that clarity about the family you want to create?” I asked.
“I guess it has implications for how I develop my business, and how I plan my financial future, doesn’t it?” she said, thoughtfully.
“So, at the beach, your learned to give more attention to your work and your wealth. Sounds to me like it would be important in anyone’s life. Realizing you want a future and family with Todd…does that not benefit your relationships with your family and Todd’s?” I asked.
“Ken, I think they will be so pleased we are getting serious about our future…and grandchildren…my parents will just flip. And I think Todd’s will too!” she said, smiling broadly.
“Pamela, what about your friends and colleagues…how does it serve you in that realm?”
“I think our closest friends will be pleased as well. They have teased us in the past for being too career focused while ignoring our biological clocks.” she replied, smiling again.
“Getting more respect from your close friends, more focused in your business and finances, and getting even closer to your families…your benefit list is growing. What about the beach day’s impact on how you seen yourself? What happened there, I wonder?”
She looked thoughtful again, staring into the middle distance. Then, she came out with, “Since that at the beach, I’ve actually felt calmer in a way, knowing what I want now for my future…knowing what I need to do next. And, I have started discussing it with Todd. He is really eager…but, I want to plan things carefully.”
“Nothing prompts creativity like poverty, a feeling of hopelessness, and a bit of panic.”
– Catherine Tate, actress
“I was more certain and confident.”
“Pamela, can you now see at the beach that day, you raised your self esteem by honouring some of your most important values and life goals? And, you also raised you self confidence at the same time, by deciding, it was time to act, time to talk with Todd.”
“Yes, that’s true, isn’t it? I have started to act on some of the decisions I made that day. And, I feel OK about it, too!”
“There is one more benefit I think you received that day. You have just uncovered how you raised your self esteem and self confidence; you started realigning your business and financial future closer to your goals; you generated more respect from your close friends; you started getting closer to your family, and managed the stress of having your entire future challenged. Pretty impressive! But, what does all of those benefits do to your spirit, your enthusiasm for your life, knowing you received all these benefits at the beach while you were in a “panic?” I asked.
“Ken, when I left that beach I felt strangely calm…like I knew what I had to do to deal with this situation, regardless of whether I was pregnant, or not. I was more certain and confident. I went home, and that evening I had my first talk with Todd about it.” she said.
“So, can you see you strengthened your spirit, you became more determined to live your life according to your values and your goals?”
“Yes I did! Indeed, I did!” she said, repeating herself with the new insight.
“Pamela, we are going to look at every time you perceive you had a ‘panic’ attack in the past, and I bet, we will find a very similar pattern. Then, you will start appreciating what you call your panic attacks, because you will be proving to yourself, they assist you to achieve your goals, within your values. Then, you will see those episodes in a new light, see them for what they are…just important times when you focus your learning in specific areas to prepare you for your future. Are you ready to continue?”
“I sure am, Ken! This is really starting to make sense to me, thank you!” she said smiling and resettling herself in her chair.
And that is what we did. We looked carefully at every significant ‘panic attack’ in her memory and found that pattern of learning and evolution. As we uncovered each one, Pamela got faster, and faster, at seeing the pattern emerge. When we were done, she said, “Ken, I’m already starting to view my visit to the beach, not as a ‘panic attack’ but rather as a learning attack. And, now I appreciate them for what they really were, and are.”
“There is no panic you can’t allay, no problem you can’t solve.”
– Lauren Weisberger, author
Until Next time…
Now you know, panic attacks are really useful, focussed learning events where you get to set priorities for your future. They help you clarify your values and plan your future. They are to be appreciated for what they are…opportunities to grow yourself and take control of your own life.
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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