Let me begin with my own story. By describing my own experience in overcoming a phobia. It’s an important chapter as every one of us carries a certain burden with us, dragging us back in life.
Perhaps my experience will help you in your search. Maybe in this chapter you’ll already find an idea that will change your life. When we finally free ourselves from this burden, we see light on the horizon. We might not know the burden, but it’s there and we drag it behind us in the dark. Until we find out what that burden is and reconcile ourselves to it, we don’t live. At least I didn't.
It all started in my early youth when I was chasing rabbits in the meadow, leaping in the garden and pouring water into my neighbour's boots in my free time. A carefree and great life until one fine morning, when I was five years old, I was woken up and taken to pre-school which, of course, was compulsory. What a shock! From one day to the next, I was enclosed in a space of just a few metres with a group of unknown faces. If I had been a bark beetle, I would have bored through that front door. As soon as the opportunity arose, I ran from that school and flew off to my uncle Nace’s place. I drove the teacher round the twist, no doubt. I was already troublesome at that time. I simply didn’t understand how someone could take away my freedom and, out of the blue, literally lock me into some small school. (Translator’s note: Pre-school in Slovenia is called "mala šola", meaning "small/little school".) Of course I got used to it in time, but at the cost of developing a phobia, which anchored itself in my subconscious. I had to become something that was the complete opposite of how I had lived up to that point.
Some children are perfectly comfortable with this type of new company and space. Others may be more or less reluctant. I, as one of the most stubborn and hyperactive children, who needed a huge amount of space, couldn’t agree with this idea in any way. Neither have I ever, nor will I ever, blame my parents or my teacher. This means that, in my view, nobody is to blame. In our society, children have to go to school, irrespective of whether they want to or not. Where exactly there’s a problem in that, psychologists will know.
Whether it was precisely this event which triggered my phobia or whether it was always there only to be discovered in later life, is something I’ll never know for sure. Maybe it was already hidden deep inside me. Certainly the phobia started to sprout roots at that time. Even back in primary school, the moment some door couldn’t be closed properly and had to be temporarily locked, I panicked. At that time I didn’t understand why. That was one thing I kept hiding and suppressing in myself. I didn’t outwardly show any visible signs. After class I would throw my schoolbag into a corner and everything was “super cool” again. Slowly and persistently I was becoming a real master in hiding my feelings.
Disturbances were destructive and placed limitations on all areas of my life. Ever since I can remember they’ve been a part of me, the difference is only that until then it was easy to sweep them under the carpet, until one day I ran out of space and energy to suppress things.
I don’t share my private life as if I were an open type of person (I’m not) but I do believe that there are other people with such a disorder or one similar to it. I, myself was indefinitely avoiding facing mine. And that’s not right.
The symptoms which accompanied such bouts (at least in my case) were: panic, pounding and irregular beats of the heart, high blood pressure, uncontrolled raging of thoughts and a desire to escape, tension in the stomach, nausea and confusion. All that I ever wanted at such times was to leave whatever room I was in – to escape.
These attacks are certainly completely needless as there’s nothing life-threatening there. I knew that myself, too, but had no control over it. You know, it’s not logical, rather completely senseless, but you can’t help yourself. It just happens and you don’t know why. And then again, over time … each attack gets a little bit stronger. Until you subconsciously discover a pattern – that this happens in certain places in certain situations – you would also stay a mile away from any other locations where you might experience such an attack. This is in no way clever if you’re a pupil or student.
I was programmed for the panic to switch on when both of the following conditions were met:
– a space which was difficult to leave; even outdoors, when there was a feeling of tightness (for example, in a group of people), and – the presence of at least one person or observer.
Alone, I could go into the middle of a claustrophobic pyramid and wouldn’t experience an attack.
Especially terrifying are those events which require a great deal of responsibility.This means events which are very stressful and tightened in and of themselves already. Such an example is the matura examination where you’re not allowed to leave your space when taking the test.
At home, under stress, I thought about all that. Constantly under pressure. Until I was completely worn out by the thing and started to avoid all other locations as well, such as shops, crossing the square or a simple visit to a friend’s apartment. As I wasn’t able to stop this circle of thoughts, even at home, I became totally exhausted. I ended up surrounded by four walls. In the evening, before going to sleep I would regularly mull over the panic situations or those in the future, which I still “had to” attend. I no longer saw sense in life.
I tried to hide all the symptoms within at full tilt and keep them inside myself. I hid them behind a smile on my face or a bottle of alcohol, which was a loyal friend at social meetings. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me anymore, I was ashamed when I was in society and so I avoided it. When I experienced panic, I hid the symptoms and pushed them deep down where they put down even deeper roots. In each situation, I withdrew under the pretence of not having time. When I was going through a moment of panic, I found an excuse in the form of a cigarette or anything else, only to be able to get out of that situation.
As I didn’t talk to other people about my problems, I became completely drained. Finally, one day, I spoke out about my problems and was sent for a series of tests. There it was confirmed that these were most likely psychological problems: claustrophobia, agoraphobia (this means a fear of being in much frequented places, e.g. shopping centres, cinemas etc., a fear of losing control in public places, a fear of being in spaces which are difficult to leave (elevators, busses etc.), an inability to leave home for a longer period of time, a feeling of helplessness) and anxiety disorders. I was given tranquillisers as an initial help in overcoming my phobias, but I quite quickly found out that pills weren’t the solution and that the problem lay elsewhere.
Advice: If you have problems, confide in somebody! Whether it’s a friend, a parent or a doctor – it doesn’t matter! Don’t wait too long. It’s almost impossible to recover without taking this first step. There’s a ball curled up in your head and you need someone who will help you do the untying at least in this initial phase. Some negative things can be deeply ingrained in you for years. It doesn’t even cross your mind that things can be different – that life can also be beautiful (again)! That’s why you need someone! If your condition is unbearable, immediately see your personal physician or call a helpline.
With me, the situation quickly started to change for the better. After only a few visits to the psychotherapist (thank you!), I noticed the first improvement quite quickly. That was mostly due to honest conversation about my problems, which is very important in this early stage of recovery. From a psychotherapist you get clear instructions, kind advice and are given tasks to carry out.
At that time something moved in my head. The wheels started turning in another direction, in the right one. It’s true that I needed several months, even years, for the situation to really improve. However, at that time I already developed a new point of view and above all hope.Since then I’ve been working on myself, I live again and enjoy life. Though there may still be some obstacles sometimes, I don’t see terrible problems in them, but rather challenges, which I’ll be able to cope with sooner or later. And even if I didn’t, there would be nothing wrong. After a long time, the batteries started to recharge again.
What brings us to a condition like that?
I believe that a certain percentage of people are more inclined to anxiety disorders, panic attacks or phobias due to the following three primary factors:
- predisposition, genetics: everyone has a different physical body, different brain function and emotional perception;
- tragic situations and events, especially those from our youth: an occurrence isn’t necessarily tragic, it’s enough to be taken tragically;
- too much thinking and analysing: sensitivity and reminiscing about the past.
It’s important for each individual to find out on his or her own, which things lead him or her to this condition. Along with the obvious ones, they usually also come in a set: bad habits, an unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity in the sun or certain things in the subconscious which we’re not even aware of, but they ruin our lives.
The good news is that we can change. We can change our thinking, and create new, better and healthier habits. We turn on hope. If we don’t change anything, the next few years will be exactly the same as the last ones, with the only difference being that we’ll get older.
As I’m aware that lots of people, the youth in particular, are faced with similar problems, I’ve gathered some advice here on how to improve your life and above all on how to wake up!
How do you know you are on track? You find joy again in doing things which you used to like many years ago. These might be hobbies, such as playing the guitar or drawing. Maybe your taste in music or your company will change, you might change your environment or the colour of your clothes and begin to live more healthily and with less stress. Develop a passion for life and energy. You might become as restless as a little child who simply can’t keep still as the whole world awaits him.
The good side
Try to find at least one positive thing in everything you do. What could possibly be good about that? In fact, there’s not only one good thing, there are even more.
I was awoken by the experience. I’m aware that I’m not alone in the world. That we, people, are spiritual creatures and that a conversation doesn’t run through uttered words only. I still make many mistakes and I’m still just a human being. The difference lies only in that I try to make the most of all these mistakes and try not to make them again whenever possible. I’m aware that I’m the architect of my own fortune. I was born as a blank canvas and I’m going to scribble all over it the way I want to and not the way that society expects me to. Being careful, of course, not to hurt other people.
The biggest positive thing which happened to me on my journey was to discover the power of thoughts. Imagine the power of imagination and mind needed to make you go literally out of your mind: the anxious thoughts being the only thing going on in your head. Similar to a computer processor which ends up going round in circles. It works with a hundred percent of its power, but doesn’t do anything useful. It doesn’t respond at all. It uses a lot of energy and it’s going to overheat sooner or later. It ends up working in cycles.
After this cognisance I started to wonder: What if I turn this completely around? What if I start controlling my thoughts and rather direct them – as a ray – exactly to where I want. For example, into this book. And not just merely direct them – but also turn them on and off when I want to myself. Become the master of my thoughts.
Tame your mind. That’s the main idea of this book.
I realised that every one of us is dragging some burden behind us. In doing so, no one can help us. Everyone knows for him- or herself what this is. Until we start fighting against it, the thing will always have power and control. Therefore, we have to become aware in the first step and reconcile ourselves to it. Phobias, negative experiences and imperfection have become a part of us whether we want them or not. And yet…
We can change ourselves and start building a better and healthier future. Now, in this moment. As this moment is all we have.
I have fought my whole life against this phobia and in fact landed back at the beginning. On that meadow. Namely, this is me. I enjoy being somewhere outside, on a meadow, in nature and movement. Alone, or in the company of a small group of people. Each single moment is enough for my happiness. I’m oriented inwardly and don’t need external factors or a crowd of people who should provide me with additional stimulation.
Can I change? Certainly, as this book is exactly about that. I can programme and transform myself into whatever I want to be. The only limits imposed are those set on me by genetics. All other things I can change of my own will. However, there are certain features of mine that I don’t intend to change at the moment. They make me unique and interesting. What will happen sometime later, we shall see. Everything changes. At the moment, I’m working on myself as it’s written down in the following chapters. These are the ideas that have helped me a great deal. Will they help you, too?