There was a wonderful quote today on CNN.com from Jeff Probst, host of the “Survivor” television show (that caught my eye with the splashy title “Survivor Contestant Dies”) about the death of a former participant, that sparked me to consider the path I have taken in regard to my own thoughts about death.
Funny how up until 5 years ago, just that thought alone could have sent terrifying shock waves through me and sparked a raging panic attack with its pounding, accelerated heart beats, shortness of breath, lump in the throat, numbness in the extremities or face, even feeling like passing out. What a thing to live with for almost 20 years. It’s weird to think back and try and remember what that was like. What it felt like in the moment, namely that each moment could be my last. And how truly terrifying it was to think of dying, of losing my thoughts, my memories. I was never afraid of the pain of dying, or my body destroyed or rotting away, none of that. What I really feared was losing my consciousness. Losing my thinking. I was afraid of the concept of nothingness. Like the description of what is lost in this scene from Blade Runner (warning: spoiler, if you’ve never seen it), which I saw then as scary, but now as supremely beautiful:
I couldn’t go in graveyards, even seeing them was usually enough to start a panic attack. I couldn’t be around my grandmother when she was dying–that was right in the first couple of years of the attacks and there was just no way to be around her, knowing that she was dying, even with how much I loved her. I remember when Hank Gathers, a great basketball player for Loyola-Marymount University, was struck down by cardiac arrest, on camera in front of thousands of fans, and watching the video of that sent me into the depths of a days-long terror struggle. Life with that “disorder” was like running at full speed, in fear, towards the light at the end of a tunnel that kept getting smaller the faster and harder I ran. In the midst of it for all those years, I thought there was no way out. Even after we found that Xanax would work on the acute attacks, I still felt that it would be with me every day until that moment when the crazy heartbeats were the real thing and I would be dead, my consciousness lost forever.
But in the end, there WAS a way out, as I’ve talked about in earlier blogs. What remains fascinating, and, ultimately, super-empowering, was that something that seemed so real and all-encompassing, unable to be fixed by MULTIPLE and esteemed doctors and therapists, was, in the end, neither MEDICAL nor PSYCHOLOGICAL at all! (Some of you are going to claim it’s indeed psychological, but I make a distinction that I’ll explain). It came from my beliefs. And, therefore, the only one who could solve this was me. Nobel Prize winning doctors could not. Neither psychologists of renown. That’s because doctors treat the response, hoping to find the cause, and therapists treat the stimulus, hoping to affect the outcome. (For an explaination on the concept of Stimulus-Belief-Response, go here: http://www.option.org/the-option-institute/what-we-teach/37 ) And each of them thinks THEY are the expert on ME. But in this case, as is so often the case with anything that ails us, the only one with the actual expertise to solve the problem…was me.
How could that be? In all the years of doctors working on me, including finding Xanax to work on my acute panic attacks, none of them were ever able to find the cause. In all the years of psychologists working with me, even with modest successes in changing my approach to the world, they were never able to change the outcome (my feelings and bodily functions). That’s because none of them knew where to look. All of those years and years of training to excel in their fields, and they were never given the simplest of instruction into beliefs. And certainly only a very small minority of them believe that beliefs can have such a profound and complete control over what we feel and even over the actual functioning of the human body. So why DID I have panic attacks for all those years??? Because, as I uncovered when finally looking openly at my beliefs, I believed that I had to DO something in order for my life to have meaning. Whether it was write a book, make a movie, have a child, have someone tell me that I had changed their life…something to show that I had been here and had some sort of positive effect. And since, in my beliefs, I had not yet done anything worthy enough to qualify; it meant that if I died at that moment, that my life would have been meaningless. So each day was a race against death. A terrifying, head-long dash from an unseen enemy that could claim me at any moment. And as I uncovered this, I realized something truly life-changing: the thing I was using to spur me ahead in this race against death was actually STOPPING me from accomplishing the very thing I wanted: to do something meaningful! At each turn where I tried to move forward to create something meaningful, my FEAR would stop me from pursuing it! It was a vicious cycle with no way out. Except one…change the belief that started the cycle in the first place. Change the belief that unless I DID something significant, my life would be meaningless.
So I did. To find out how, tune in tomorrow…