What would have happened if …

Mental illness or mental health?  What if I hadn’t recovered from agoraphobia?
A lifetime reflection

When life crippling fear has become a constant companion, it’s not difficult to imagine a future of limitation, negotiation and masquerade.  And a lifetime of mental ‘illness’.  What if I hadn’t recovered from the constraints of fear?  What if the hesitancy, the headaches, the churning, the avoidance and depression and all the hideous symptoms of anxiety had continued to rule my life?  This is what could have happened:

  • I would have remained something like a fearful child, tentative and incomplete in an adult world
  • I would have lived a ‘pretend’, superficial life, constantly on edge, negotiating dozens of everyday situations and avoiding events, missing out, lost and as lonely as an empty shell
  • I would have continued to spend a great deal of time, energy and cost visiting doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and more seeking some kind of holy grail to whisk away my distress
  • My husband’s life would have been compromised as my dependency on his constancy would have limited his life as well as my own
  • My children would have known only a shadow of their real mother
  • I would have missed so many opportunities to deeply share their lives – their growth, their education, their friends, their parties, their relationships, their weddings and the arrival of their children
  • I would have been an absentee grandmother as even to mind their babies for an hour would have been too emotionally and physically challenging
  • My relationship with my grandchildren would have been stunted and withdrawn
  • My love of music and the use of my voice would have been lost to me forever
  • With so little confidence in myself, any personal talents, abilities, strengths and innovations would have perished, stifling personal growth, self expression and enterprise
  • Close friendships could not have developed; companionship, shared experiences, deep and meaningfuls, late nights of laughter and fun would have been governed by the constraints of fear
  • Travel – any kind of travel – would never have taken place – so I would have been deprived of the experience of new places, local or otherwise –  and I would not have known a variety of destinations, cultures, histories and achievements
  • Health regimes, fresh air and fitness would have been restrained by fear
  • My enjoyment of driving would have been lost to me as distances and the roads and freeways to trace those distances would have remained beyond the scope of my personal sense of freedom
  • Most of all, an innate desire (long held since childhood) to offer care to others could never have been realized – all of which leads me to conclude that …

Agoraphobia, that compelling fear of leaving home or similar security, deserves far more than the diagnosis of a pathological condition.  Anxiety, depression and phobic reactions are living metaphors from which we can learn.

So what can we learn?  Agoraphobia, with all its symptoms, is the most compelling anxiety reaction and a good example to work with for any anxiety condition.  Think of an amalgam of negative beliefs, the fear of fear and far too much tension.  ‘Home’ means childhood, a time when beliefs are established, a time when basic anxieties are faced, a time when one learns to cope with life as best one can and a time when nervous tension is likely to become established as an unfortunate coping mechanism.

Healing is found by unravelling these three patterns one by one – starting with tension.  My saving grace as told in my book (In Stillness Conquer Fear), I constantly reiterate.  It directly relates to relaxation of tension in the body and most importantly, within the mind and is achieved through the practice of Stillness Meditation Therapy:

It brings ease.  But to gain from it we must commit to it.  Without commitment we cannot integrate it.  When we integrate it we own it. 
When we own it, it transforms us – at which time, perhaps, we may help to transform the lives of others.

Then, because we’re calmer, the distressing symptoms that are so greatly feared steadily fade in intensity and gradually become less and less frequent companions.  We become more cheerful, better friends, more attentive to life so that others change, too.

Finally, it’s time to change those old beliefs; time to abandon habits, and the negative emotions of guilt, anger, self doubt and more that keep us a prisoner of fear.  It’s time to truly grow up!

My book was first published in 1983 to give people hope.  When I first told my story, I typed it on an Olivetti portable and cut and pasted many pieces of paper to eventually become a book.  Whiteout didn’t exist.  The ease of the computer didn’t exist.  The internet didn’t exist and nor did the comfort and security of the mobile phone.  People knew little about anxiety and depression was a word reserved for special cases.  My book was an Australian first and I don’t know of another like it in any part of the world.

Since then anxiety and mental ‘illness’ have rocketed to public awareness; books abound and Google provides potential answers.  Today it’s become fashionable for movie stars and public figures to unburden their emotional selves and I like to think that my story inadvertently gave them the get-go.  But the average person prefers to keep their pain to themselves.  To be anxious seems just too humiliating for most as they lurch from treatment to treatment and hope to hope.

My hope in this blog about hope is that those who truly hear what I’m saying will find the courage to act on my advice.  Listen to me, talk to me, visit me.  I have enjoyed more than thirty years of ‘living calm’ and I aim to continue to do so for many more.  In those years amid much joy there have also been regular periods of stress.  But never again can stress bring me – or those who follow this path – undone.  Fear is trickery in the mind, sadness in the heart and pain within the soul.  Bring mind and heart and soul together, and begin to grow.

At the Stillness Meditation Therapy Centre, our commitment and aim is to help others achieve naturally the quality of life each deserves