Coping with Panic Attacks and Acting As If

I used to have a “committee” in my head. I called it the itty bitty shi@@y committee–no I didn’t make that up. A lot of people in 12-Step Programs use that term.

Here is a painting I made of it years ago. I call it “Committee Over Soul.” The painting I did called Committee Over Soul

The committee is the voices, tapes, reruns, etc. that I have heard playing over and overandoverandover again that used to run continuously telling me: “You CAN’T do it! You’re too: sick / unworthy / useless/ undeserving / guilty /incapable / etc…You CAN’T go! Everyone will know: you’re crazy / afraid of people / afraid of life / etc…” (insert any negatives, they were all in there).”

Sometimes the noise of the committee was unbearable. Other times, when I was in a better place emotionally, I had to listen kind of hard to hear the committee. Nevertheless, these tapes played 24/7. God forbid I had a sleepless night, I couldn’t stop them. The committee was a direct reflection of my sense of self, my sense of worth, my self esteem.

Coupled with my all too frequent panic attacks and crippling social anxiety, the messages from the committee were devastating.  I got to a point where it was my life was completely unmanageable. I was afraid to go anywhere, or even talk casually to people.  I couldn’t make eye contact. Church, movies, PTA, or any gathering in a room were all things of the past.  Even sitting at a traffic light would make me feel anxious, so convinced I was the center of attention.

If you look at the painting, you can see small traces of pink underneath all the layers of crud and darkness. That pink is the goodness that was always within me. At the lowest part of my life when I was crippled with my panic disorder and social anxiety disorder, I didn’t believe there was any pink or goodness in me. I was just walking around believing this huge load of negative energy and crud. It was a terrible way to live. I couldn’t scrape my self esteem off the floor.  I could barely leave my house.

When I hit my psychological and emotional bottom, I finally went to Al-Anon. My psychiatrist urged me to go for years. It was hard to go to the meetings at first, because I was so riddled with anxiety.  But I forced myself to keep coming back to meetings.

I got a sponsor and  learned (very slowly and painfully) HOW to crawl out of my misery. I learned that the only way to defeat these very powerful negative tapes that defined me really, was to re script my inner dialogue. I also had to realize that these tapes were there because on some level I allowed them and believed what they said.

Through the support of therapy and my 12-Step Program, I began to live a new life, and I learned to replace negative coping skills with positive ones. One very important tool for self care I learned was “Acting As If”. I was taught to act as if… As if I was capable, as if I were happy, brave, good enough, kind enough, loving enough, deserving enough.  Enough to live.  And then enough to live a life of quality.

At first , I didn’t believe it. No matter. I was told, do it anyway. ACT AS IF. Keep acting as if. It was very hard at first.  I was scared.  I was told to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” So I did. Over and over and over again. Until it didn’t feel fake. Until it started to feel true.

It started to work. I began to let glimmers of pink healthy light into my head. I have used ACT AS IF countless times throughout the years in my journey of healing from a life ruled by panic disorder and low self esteem. My inner tapes now are pretty pink for the most part.

It’s been years since I painted that picture.  Occasionally, the committee still tries to convince me that I am incapable of healing.

Acting As If does take a lot of repetition and determination, but my shiny happy self  living a full life of quality is the payoff and it is worth it.

Have you ever tried to Act As If?  Did you feel the fear and do it anyways? How did it go? I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to leave a comment so we all can share and learn together :)

I wish you peace,
Jill G.

ps.- Thankfully, there are a number of effective anxiety self help programs available to panic attack sufferers today. See which one is right for you or if you like, you can work with me . Please get started today and reclaim your life from fear.

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