Dear Dr. Laura,
I'm a 51 year old woman, who always considered myself to be a strong and capable person. I never really understood how friends and acquaintances would have a phobia or fear of flying, or a fear of heights, etc. I've always loved the thrill of heights (skydiving), adventure (white water rafting), and basically trying anything new.
That changed 1 1/2 years ago on a vacation to the Bahamas, where I experienced a near drowning incident. I was snorkeling with my husband and a group of people (we were on a trip to swim with the dolphins in the ocean), when I found myself in a position where I was alone, and lost all of my strength and couldn't swim back to the boat. After waving the distress signal, the chartered boat staff saw me but didn't take my distress signal seriously. That's when I began to truly worry about my safety, and panic set in! I thrashed about in the water, couldn't get my breath, and thought I was going to drown. The crew eventually rescued me. I was distraught, but being a strong person, I "got over it", and continued on with the vacation. We came back from vacation, and I told no one. In the last 1 1/2 years, I put the incident behind me and told myself to move on ... not so easy to do!
In the past year, I slowly began to experience small anxious moments, particularly in small spaces. And it came to a head when we went bobsledding at the Olympic site in Vancouver. The actual bobsledding didn't bother me, rather it was the tight space we were in. At that moment in the bobsled, everything came crashing around me emotionally and I experienced a full panic attack. I was embarrassed, but mostly scared for my mental condition. What was happening to me???
I immediately sought counseling, and was told I was essentially trying to "hold a beach ball under the water" for the last 1 1/2 years, by not acknowledging and dealing with the drowning event. In the last couple of months, I have told my family and friends about what I'm going through, I have informed my family doctor and my naturopath, and I'm in regular counseling to slowly recover from this new condition. And I have an amazingly supportive husband who is my rock! It's a slow process, but I've learned one MUST acknowledge what happened, get help and support, and focus on how strong one can be during a crisis (and not how victimized we may feel). I am drawing on the strength of others around me to help me realize that one unfortunate moment in my life does not define me. It has made me realize asking for help is okay, and I can turn this around with persistence and time.
Thank you for letting me tell my story. I hope it may help someone else!