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Becoming friends with Panic

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

I know fear. And I know what’s on the other side.

Let’s get down to it: paralysing panic is not who you are.

I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder as a young adult.

This showed up as panic attacks, social anxiety, performance anxiety and depression, whereby I was triggered not just by external circumstances but by the very fear itself. I became afraid of fear.

If you’ve experienced panic attacks - you know what I’m talking about. I know how isolating and terrifying it can feel.

Let’s break it down- fear is part of being human. We’re not trying to eliminate it. You can however learn to transcend it, welcome it, perhaps even fall in love with it.

I didn’t openly share my anxiety because I didn’t want it to define me. So I covered it up. Pretended. I also knew it was not who I was. Just a survival mechanism out of whack. So I kept it in a box under the bed. Knowing one day, I’d deal with that demon, for good!

How it all began: I was 9 years old, Xmas morning, bouncing off the walls with excitement- when a most loved and trusted caregiver forced his tongue into my mouth.

I went from childhood high, to scared, alone and helpless.

However, I later discovered, that wasn’t my rock bottom. It was just priming me for it. It was programming me to associate love and happiness with pain and suffering. Some seriously crossed wires!

As a young child I couldn’t process this event. I couldn’t comprehend that what happened was anything other than love. My mind was consumed with 2 thoughts stuck on a negative feedback loop: I must never tell anyone otherwise it will destroy people’s lives (aka I am responsible for everyone). I will never lead a normal life (aka I am absolutely fucked).

Of course this wasn’t the only (or first defining moment) of my childhood. But it was one that I spent many years unpicking.

I associated men with abuse, I connected love with suffering, I perceived happiness as something that could be taken away and that my ‘desirability’ was going to lead to misery- unless I took charge of it.

I learnt to use my desirability as a weapon. All the while running from the belief I was broken, tainted, worthless. I couldn’t feel clean. I began obsessive tidying and orderliness. I washed my hands until they cracked. I conjured up ghosts to haunt me and slept with a rope attached to my hand and my mums, so when the fear was at its worst, in darkness I could pull on it and feel her pull back. I told no-one. I wrote it all down. Revisited it regularly. As if it was happening again. Then I’d bury it- with drugs, alcohol and sex. I’d turn light switches on and off repeatedly to keep the people I loved alive. My brain was looking for threats and trying to control the uncontrollable.

I knew that people wanted things from me. So I became a chameleon giving people what they wanted. I shone when in front of the camera and tried to fade in front of my peers. I got A star grades to be a ‘’clever girl’, but couldn’t let people think I was proud of myself, else I’d become a target (See how happiness was a precursor for abuse) So success, became shameful. I booked casting after casting- but as the years went by feelings of unworthiness haunted me. I wasn’t allowed to be happy with anything I had.

It wasn’t until one day, when completely in my zone, filming on set for a tv series. Feeling safe in the knowledge I was providing what was being asked of me - giving a part of myself over - that my childhood programming surfaced in the darkest way. I stumbled on my lines. The assistant director shouted and swore (clearly under tight time deadlines). I froze. I panicked. My mind couldn’t think. I wasn’t enough. I was in danger. I didn’t deliver. I went blank. I had my first panic attack. Under the lights. I suddenly felt very unsafe. Not just with the environment but in my own head. My mind was not playing ball- it wouldn’t give me my lines. It just shut down. I am fucked.

I survived. I pushed through. I filmed the scene.

And so it became my default way of living- feel panic, push through.

I’d go for a couple of years sometimes without the attacks, but they were always lurking on the down low. My mind felt like an internal timebomb I couldn’t control.

At its worst I was having rolling panic attacks during the night. I considered trying drugs - but the anxiety turned on medication and I became panicked at what was going into my body. I took one dose then through them away.

But something kept me going. Despite thoughts of suicide wafting in and out.

I’d never be normal.

I was responsible for everyone.

And there amidst the chaos, I’d found my purpose.

I was never meant to be normal.

I have a purpose that’s bigger than me.

A responsibility to transcend the fear.

So I could help others to heal.

Healing became my quest. Even when distracted, lost, happy or busy- it was always calling for my attention.

You have work to do.

You have work to do on you.

You have work to do for others.

My pain became my leverage.

The first thing I want you to know is healing is entirely possible.

*You can live without fear of fear.*

I spent years looking for solutions so I could share them with you now.

I am no longer afraid of my past, my childhood programming, panic or my mind.

My mind was never out to get me. It just did what it thought was necessary.

I am so grateful my mind has been open to learning a new way. That my sharp mind took on the challenge of questioning everything and then quietening so it could listen to my heart.

I couldn’t share this work until I’d delved to the depths and returned. Not perfect. But enough. Ready to share.

There is a no magic pill, but there is a formula. And on the other side of fear, is FREEDOM. And it feels good.

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1 Comment

Ashlie Walker
Ashlie Walker
Feb 13, 2020

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