Sitting in my graduate classroom on the Wilfrid Laurier University campus in Waterloo, Ontario, I had my first panic attack. It was 2:11 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon in October, 2007. I started to Read
As a former smoker, prescription pill addict and anxiety sufferer, my life was anything but normal. I had a drug to counter practically every emotion. If I was angry, I’d smoke a cigarette. If I was anxious, I’d take a pill. If I was sad, I’d do a combination of both. Even when I was happy, I’d celebrate with a bottle of cognac or a few shots of tequila.
During the early stages of my Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder diagnosis, I developed a severe case of monophobia (the fear of being alone), coupled with agoraphobia (fear of open or crowded places). I was afraid of being alone and wouldn’t travel anywhere if a hospital wasn’t nearby.
Occasionally I would spend nights sleeping in my car in the parking lot of my neighborhood hospital. I was comforted knowing that I was only a few feet away from medical help if I needed it.
Approximately eight months after my initial diagnosis, I became addicted to my anti-anxiety medication. I also survived a Vicodin overdose not long after. I subsequently lost control of my life. I soon realized that what I relied on as coping mechanisms was actually killing me.
Over the next few years, I set out on a mission to save myself. While traveling along the road of self-healing, I discovered a few things that made a huge impact on my life.
1. I made meditation my medication.
I had my first encounter with meditation during my first yoga class while doing corpse pose. After 60 minutes of downdog and Warriors 1 through 3, corpse pose was very appealing.
As I let go of control, my body sunk deeper into my mat. With every breath, I would let go a little more. The more I relinquished control, the negative feelings I’d been harboring started to drift away. My conscious thoughts began to dissipate and descend into tranquillity.
I was alone in my mind, relaxed in my body and peaceful in my spirit. I wasn’t anxious about my future, nor concerned about my past. No one else existed in that moment. I shut myself off from the rest of the world and detached myself from my emotions. For the first time in my life, I was present.
Since then, meditation has become a part of my daily routine. Every morning I claim my day with a 15-minute meditation. I remind myself that I am good enough, that I am perfect, and that I'm comfortable with both.
2. I accepted my worst-case scenario.
During my countless hours of researching anxiety disorders, one of the most common themes I discovered was fear. It’s no secret that fear resides in all of us. Some people are terrified of spiders, some are scared of heights, while others are afraid of failure. No matter the specifics, we’re all afraid of something.
For me, that something was a heart attack.
Fear can generally lead to severe panic attacks for anxiety sufferers like me. Heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness and difficulty breathing are well known signs of a heart attack, but they are also symptoms associated with anxiety attacks. My attacks were regularly heightened and prolonged due to the thought that I was having a heart attack.
My grandfather passed away from a heart attack when I was in elementary school. He and I were extremely close, which made coping with his death very difficult for me.
I viewed a heart attack as a way of suffering, which was another underlying fear of mine. What I soon realized was that I'd suffered enough. My body had been battered by years of smoking, drinking, poor eating habits and drug abuse. Mentally I was tormenting myself with fears of things that had yet to happen.
The most rewarding decision I made was to accept my worst case scenario and understand the chances of it occurring were very slim. Instead of worrying about something that didn’t exist, I began to focus on things that I could control, like my diet and exercise.
3. I created my own lane.
Who says that you have to live according to someone else’s standards? Who says that you have to conform to the belief of the majority?
I’m a normal guy from Baltimore who defied the odds. I was told by peers and teachers that I wouldn’t amount to much. I witnessed my father battle drug addiction, and subsequently survived an addiction of my own.
I persevered by creating my own path to healing. I didn’t rely on anyone else; I did what I felt worked best for me. Don’t try to fit yourself into a category. Don’t apologize for being you.
True happiness is a state of mind. We decide whether or not it becomes a part of our lives. Don’t allow the opinions of others to manipulate your faith. We make the rules, therefore we decide the outcome. I chose to be happy ... do you?
To learn more about meditation or happiness, check out our video courses The Essential Guide To Meditation and How To Create More Happiness & Meaning In Your Life.