My first anxiety attack happened in 2006 when I flew from Los Angeles to Houston. The attack didn’t happen on the plane, but it did happen while I was a passenger in a car while in Houston.
It was the first time I was away from my wife and child. I remember feeling flush and needing to “get out” but had no idea what was going on.
I somehow managed to make it through those three days without going to the hospital and it was one panic attack after another. That was before I knew what a panic attack was.
Early on in my 10+ years of my journey with anxiety I turned to books to understand what was going on with me. Although the initial doctor visit led to a prescription, I knew that would be helpful on an as needed basis as a very last resort.
Since 2006, I’ve reached for that pill just twice. I remember reading “Self Help for your Nerves” by Claire Weeks soon after my first experience with panic and it had a calming effect for me much in the same way Barry’s work has.
I remember going a few years without even thinking about anxiety, but it would come and go. In October of 2015 I had a huge panic attack driving on my way to work.
Adrenaline rush, rapid heartbeat, etc. I pulled over and call 911. They came out and everything checked out okay.
Now with anxiety and panic at the forefront of my mind, my world started to close up a bit. I would become more of a homebody, declined invitations to go out and could sense that if I didn’t do something soon I was going to be in pretty bad shape.
It was soon after that when I found Panic Away. I purchased the Panic Away online materials in February 2016 and it made a world of a difference.
Two months later I purchased DARE and I’ve continued working hard facing my fears and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
I was convinced there was nobody more scared to fly than me. How could anybody possibly sit in a tube of metal with no way out and fly across the country.
If I was able to somehow stay composed, then what would be my reward? I’d be 3,000 miles away from my bubble, my safe zone.
I’ve turned down job opportunities, vacations, family visits. I’ve laid down in bed at night staring at the ceiling near tears that nothing would ever change.
Not just the aspect of traveling far away, but the daily struggle in which our default mindset is “what if, what if, what if”.
This past January, I had to attend a mandatory meeting for work. I’ve lucked out as all the meetings over the last three years (the time since I joined this department) have been five miles from my house.
This particular meeting was taking place about 385 miles away. Beyond the threshold that any “normal” person would drive when it only costs $150 to fly round trip (and is reimbursed by the company).
I contemplated faking an illness, I thought about driving there, and I even remember thinking to myself, “If I got into a car accident, then that would give me an out so I wouldn’t have to fly up to the meeting”.
Yes, I actually started to believe that being rear ended by somebody on the freeway and being hurt would be more pleasant than flying! Did I mention the flight from Los Angeles to Sacramento is only a little over an hour long?
The day before the meeting and scheduled flight, I told myself that you’re going to have to die on that plane because you’re going! I’ve had a similar conversation with myself about our anxiety related things, but that’s for another story.
The day arrived, and my pregnant wife and three daughters dropped me off at the airport.
Two of my three daughters were crying uncontrollably because I was leaving. When you have a Dad who’s afraid to fly (they didn’t know that I was), then you have a Dad who rarely leaves you.
As soon as they drove away my heart started pounding. “This is really happening” is what crossed my mind.
I walked like a zombie through the security check not really knowing what to do.
I walked into the body scanner with keys and a cell phone in my hand, which prompted a delay with the process and groans from the eager flyers waiting behind me.
Each step then became an internal milestone:
- Waiting at the gate for the plane to arrive with minimal sensations
- Boarding the plane with normal anxiety (what most would have)
- Finding a seat where I wasn’t trapped between two people (what most people try to avoid)
Everything check out just fine. Here I was sitting in a plane, in my seat and I was comfortable! Internally I was feeling so accomplished.
But…the plane was not moving yet. The doors were still open and there was still time for me to “escape”.
Then it happened. The doors closed, the ramp pulled away from the plane and we started to taxi out to the runway. The sensations were starting with my heart rate picking up a bit, but I was still okay.
DING! That sound was followed by the announcement of us needing to fasten our seat belts. I’m still okay.
The engine revs, the plane starts to dart across the runway, the cabin is shaking, and everything is shaking! I get the adrenaline dump, my heart is racing off the charts, and my mind is telling me I need to get out NOW!
For a split second I started to crumble, I put my head in my hands and I thought this was going to be it.
The whole time leading up to the flight I pictured myself feeling out of control with no place to escape and screaming that I need to get out, I need to get out!
I stared straight ahead and said, “bring it on!” I thought about how I’ve always been fine after prior anxiety and panic attacks, even the really bad ones where I was certain I needed to go to the hospital because I was dying.
Even those turned out to be okay. I thought about the DARE community and how brave everyone is and how we always push through and come out okay.
Essentially, I had to help my mind understand that I was safe. We truly are our own safe zone and I was surely safe in this airplane (just take a look at the stats, it’s amazing how safe you really are in a plane).
As the plane proceeded along its journey, I looked down at the grids of lights and tiny houses with the clouds rolling across the window and sat back in my seat.
I started to think and realize that his wasn’t so bad. I was able to relax a little and even when the plane landed I was feeling okay.
I won’t say that I sat there during the flight and felt carefree.
There were moments where the little funny looking anxiety monster would pop up and get my attention, but there were also many moments (the majority) where I was feeling just fine.
I returned home from the work trip feeling great (I forgot to mention that I also had to give a presentation to my entire department).
Sure the meeting went well, but I felt the shackles fall off of me and the fear of flying and travel were melting away.
Nearly two months after the short plane ride, I jumped on another flight from Los Angeles to New Orleans (over three hours). From there I drove to Mobile, Alabama (two hours).
This was all for a two week vacation with my family. I’ve known about this trip for a couple years now and never did I believe it would actually happen.
While I was still a bit anxious leading up to the flight, and envisioned all of the same “freak out” moments occurring once the door closed, none of it materialized. In fact, do I DARE say that this round trip flight was actually enjoyable (and it was a four hour flight coming back).
This is what DARE is all about, and at times we have setbacks or we may start to doubt our own strength, or even the DARE process at times. As with anything else in life, it takes persistence and hard work, but this truly is the way through.
It’s so important to remember that our mind really does play tricks on us, but it’s only because it is trying to protect us.
As we’ve learned through DARE, all the horrible sensations we feel during an anxiety or panic attack is not really dangerous, it’s just our mind sending out help and waking everyone up in our body to fight the danger, the danger that doesn’t exist.
If you are not doing something because you fear you’ll have the panic attack of a lifetime, then go and do whatever that is.
Whether it’s flying a plane or taking your kids down the street to the park. We all have our own barometers for success.
If you don’t run towards the fear, then you won’t ever give your mind a chance to realize there isn’t a real danger. Some things we can think through, but other things we need to physically do.
Last night I was scrolling through the photos of the two week trip. I think how down I would be if I would have let anxiety “win”.
All the photos I have in New Orleans and Alabama would not include me and the memories would not exist if I didn’t run towards my fear of flying.
It would be easy for me to then think about all the missed opportunities I’ve had over the years where I didn’t DARE myself through things, but we beat ourselves up enough.
I’m looking forward, proud of my accomplishment, and feeling stronger every step of the way.
Do I now live anxiety free? Of course not, nobody does, and the sensations will be there when I fly again (which I look forward to doing again soon!), but with each experience I’m getting better and better at being comfortable with being uncomfortable. A key point in this program.
There are days when I have to practice my techniques more than others, but here I am not only doing things like driving long distances and flying, but I’m giving presentations on a weekly basis for the company I work for and meeting with clients in remote places.
I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to get anywhere in life if I kept doing things that were comfortable. Each day is one uncomfortable experience after another and that’s how I know I’m working towards my goals both emotionally and professionally.
Thank you, Barry, and the DARE family!