Once upon a time there was a woman, (I’ll call Jo) who was suffering from panic attacks. They occasionally happened at work, or in the early morning before she got to work. She said the panic attacks came out of the blue; she never knew when one was going to strike her. She would be sitting at her desk at work and suddenly get a wave of panic so intense she would have to grab onto her desk so she wouldn’t run out the door. The attacks were happening more often and she dreaded the next one. She claimed that her job was not the issue – it wasn’t difficult, just boring. Her main focus was how to manage the panic attacks. Her doctor prescribed some Ativan and referred her for counseling.
Panic attacks seem to occur ‘out of the blue’ but they really don’t. They are like a tidal waves, they rise up, crest and subside. The therapy started with helping her handle the panic attacks by breathing through them. This helped her feel less out of control. Then focus shifted to increasing her awareness of herself. She was so focused on trying to avoid a panic attack that she had lost contact with herself. She was focused on the symptom, not the cause of the symptom.
Her office job was a problem for her. She was not just bored, she was bored to tears. She had a dream of getting a degree in biology so she could teach, but she considered doing that out of the question. She couldn’t afford it.
Work was not the only problem. She and her husband were totally renovating their home and they were having lots of arguments about it. Money was tight and she needed her income. Quitting work was not an option.
As Jo got more in touch with herself, she realized the precursors to the panic attacks. Gradually she became so aware that she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck go up the closer she got to work. She no longer could deny how intolerable her job was.
Jo finally told her husband how unbearable her job was. To her surprise, he understood. Once the renovations were completed, they remortgaged, finding the money needed for her to go to university.
Sometimes people are distracted by the symptoms, which gets in the way of finding the cause. Other times, focusing on the symptoms helps them avoid what they do not want to face. People are often convinced there is no solution (which is occasionally true) so they bury their heads. But usually once they are clear what is causing the problem, they find a solution. Once the cause is identified, even though it may be difficult, appropriate changes can be made. Change is what is needed.
With care and concern,
Once upon a time a man who could no longer function at work. He was severely depressed on permanent disability. He said for years he would get up in the morning, put on his ‘Monkey Suit’ and go to work. Then one morning, after a particularly bad day the day before, he could not get out of bed. “I just could not face putting on my ‘Monkey Suit’ one more time.
He had all the symptoms of severe depression: no energy, sad all the time, lost confidence in himself, lack of interest in anything, felt flat or numb, felt like a failure, felt like he was being punished, highly critical of himself, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, thoughts of suicide, difficulty making the smallest decisions, highly irritable, difficulty concentrating, very pessimistic about his future and total loss of interest in sex.
He stayed at home and did nothing. He would stay up late at night and into the early hours playing video games or watching TV. That time of the night he felt no expectations, from himself or others, to be working. Also, he had time to himself as the rest of his family slept. Then he would sleep late in the mornings or nap in the afternoons. His doctor had referred him for therapy and finally, after six months, he went.
In therapy he talked about how he had never liked his work because it did not fit who he was. He had to act like someone else to be able to do it. He thought about changing careers but was not sure what he wanted to do. He got caught up in the usual phases of life and needed to earn a living to support his family. He felt trapped, so just kept on going – that is until he could no longer do it. His life was at a crossroads.
As he talked over many sessions, it became clear to me that he was very angry on some level, although he did not sound angry or act angry. He said he did not feel angry. I believed him. I knew he was out of touch with his own emotions. Every time he put on his ‘Monkey Suit’ he had to disconnect from himself and what he felt.
One day I gave him some homework. I suggested that he make a ‘bat’ out of newspaper – roll up a newspaper, wrap duct tape around it. Then find a place in his home where he could hit with the ‘bat’. I told him the ‘rules’ of doing attacking type motions.
When he came to the next session he looked different. His face had changed. He was animated. He told me what he’d done. He said he made five of the newspaper bats and took them down to his basement. He hit on a pole with each ‘bat’ until it was in shreds. He said after all 5 ‘bats’ were in shreds he lay in an exhausted heap on top of them. He had accessed his rage and channeled it onto the pole.
As a result, he came alive, reconnecting to his emotions. His emotions let him know what he liked and what he did not like. Gradually he started making changes. Over the next weeks and months he found a new meaning for his life which gave him direction. This led to a new career which was congruent with who he was as a person. No more “Monkey Suit’!
Sometimes, when we over ride our wants and needs, when we procrastinate in taking action to make the changes we need to make, our body shuts down and forces us to take stock.
With care and concern,