I suffer from panic attacks. They started back when I was in graduate school, but they weren’t too bad then. Usually they occurred while I was driving and I’d just roll down the window or turn on the AC to feel something moving around me and within a minute or so, back to normal. Over time, they got worse and worse until a couple of years ago when I was taking public transportation in the East Bay and had a full-scale meltdown. I thought I was having a heart attack. I was convinced of it. I felt alone and trapped and terrified. Somehow I was able to make it to my freelance gig where I asked a woman I hardly knew to take me to the hospital. Once there, I was miraculously healed. Every symptom disappeared the second I told the admitting nurse that I thought I was having a panic attack.
After that, I would have at least one major episode annually, more often than not in November. Another doozy was when Travel Boyfriend and I went to Southeast Asia. It was our first night and we were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Until then I’d only really traveled to Western countries and to say that Cambodia is quite different than your Germany’s and Spain’s is the world’s biggest understatement. Triggered by water retention around my ankles from the long flight and my discomfort at realizing I was as far from home as I’d ever been, this panic attack had me curled up naked on the bathroom floor with Travel Boyfriend feeding me Xanax and talking me down.
After that I resolved to cure myself. I never wanted to feel that way again. At first I tried talk therapy as well as some tapes I bought from that anxiety infomercial lady, Lucinda Bassett. The talk therapy helped with some other issues, but not the attacks. And I was too lazy to get very far with the tapes. Eventually I just decided to live with the periodic attacks and fear the month of November. But a little over a year ago, I found out about a hypnotherapist in San Francisco named Angie Choi. Travel Boyfriend and I were just starting to plan our dream trip to Egypt and due to a nightmare I’d had in college, I was convinced something bad was going to happen to me there. In fact, I actually believed I was going to die in Egypt. That thought, coupled with the fact that my panic disorder had also manifested itself into a fear of flying quite inconvenient for a Travel Betty, convinced me to give hypnotherapy a try.
Surprisingly after only a couple of sessions with Angie, I was able to take my first flight without Xanax. I couldn’t believe that the fear was gone. It wasn’t just sort of gone, it was completely gone. Encouraged by that short domestic flight, I started to look as forward to my trip to Egypt as I’d always imagined I would. Angie made me a CD that was specific to my fears about the trip and so armed with that and my comfort bag, I was ready to hit the airport with confidence.
The flight over went great and I thought I was cured. But at that point, I’d had yet to fly on Egypt Air. My first flight on Egypt’s national airline had me gripping the armrests from the moment I stepped onto the decrepit plane. As we were taxiing down the runway for takeoff, the overhead compartments were shaking so violently, I thought they were going to crash down on our heads. I was a wreck and disheartened that I wasn’t totally cured. I was also afraid that this flight scare had dislodged all hypnotic suggestion and that I was destined to a life fearful of flying once again. Luckily, that turned out not to be the case. Now, I’m about 80/20 with flights, and I rarely have to resort to Xanax anymore. Certain things trigger my fears. Anything that makes my body feel not quite right, like a cold or some unexplained soreness. Also drinking caffeine and especially if I drink alcohol the night before. If I’m even slightly hung over, chances are I’m going to feel afraid on the plane. It’s a bummer that I’m not totally cured, but it’s also so much better than it was before. I can’t imagine having gone to Bali by myself without Angie’s help.
Panic attacks are definitely scary, but being able to recognize them for what they are is a huge leap towards being able to manage them. If any other Betties out there have had positive experiences curing or managing their panic attacks, please feel free to share them in the comments section. That way we can all help each other to be more fearless on the road.
Travel Betty Basics Unfortunately, the fabulous Angie Choi recently closed her practice, but she recommends Marilyn Gordon for other Travel Betties in need of hypnotherapy in the Bay Area.