Excerpt from ‘The Art of Living’

“Not surprisingly, you are having panic attacks” Dr. Lori Leyden told me. “This is because we all need to feel our feelings and be true to them. They must not be ignored or they will surface in other ways. I suspect that you have not felt safe enough to allow yourself to do this — especially if others are being emotional around you, not listening or creating a safe place for you. Consequently you feel trapped, so you’ve stuffed your feelings down — down pretty deep, so you would not have to feel them, so they are now surfacing in this frightening way.”

“This is why at times you can’t breathe, why you start gagging and your heart rapidly beats and you feel like you are going to die. The more you can’t breathe, the more frightened you become and the worse the panic attack becomes, which makes it even harder to breathe, which then frightens you more. It’s a vicious cycle that must be stopped. But working together, we can break it Sandi.”

“Your body is saying that it is terrified, despite how stoic you may outwardly be being. Our bodies never lie to us and often they know things before we ourselves do.”

“But we have much work to do, if you are willing. And I have to tell you, it won’t be easy because you are going to have to walk through the fire. There’s no other way around it. There are no shortcuts that work. You are going to have to feel your feelings, no matter how scary they may be. It’s the only way to diffuse them. If you’re willing to do some hard but rewarding work Sandi, it will be more than worth it.”

“Panic attacks?! This is all new to me. Wait a minute! Let me first make sure I understand: Because I’ve been so terrified, and those I’ve turned to for help are getting so emotional around me, I have not been able to even admit to myself how frightened I really am, but my body is saying that I have to face and feel my feelings now because it just can’t take all this stress anymore. What my body is expressing – by having these attacks – is that it’s reached the maximum amount of stress that it can handle? But wait! I do feel my feelings. I do get mad. The tumor has given me a pretty bad temper. Isn’t being angry feeling my feelings and expressing them?”

“Actually Sandi, anger is a way that people often use to avoid having to accept that they are feeling fear”. This is why it’s best that people not respond to anyone who is angry, but to set boundaries and walk away calmly saying “We can discuss this when you calm down.”

“You think my anger may be something I hide behind because I’m so scared? Interesting….. Actually, it does make sense, now that I think about it. So you think that feeling my feelings will also help me not get so angry too. Having to learn how to live with this time-bomb in my head again — this second time round has been a whole lot tougher than the first time I had to live with this. I have to admit. I think my body may be freaking out over this. This second time’s been tough.”

‘I’ve been trying my best to work with the doctors up at Massachusetts General Hospital. I told you that my original doctor died, didn’t I? This is upsetting in itself but now, I’m starting to lose confidence in those who replaced him and I don’t know where else to go because Mass. General is the only place that does this, so where else could I go? I am finally off the steroids which were one of the worse things I’ve ever experienced, so at least that’s behind me. I’m ready to do whatever I have to do to just get better. Getting better is all I want. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I’m ready to walk through fire if I have to.

“Then you’re going to have to keep the focus on you Sandi and not on others or their problems. You must keep the focus on your body and what it needs. You’re going to have to learn to practice being very mindful and to speak up for yourself and stop thinking that others are somehow more worthy than you. Where did you learn to think like this? Who taught you that your feelings and needs are less important than theirs?”