by Tizz O'Toole

When my first panic attack happened, I thought I was having a heart attack.  I went to the ER. The doctor said my heart was fine.  I was 40-years old and healthy.  I had never heard the term panic attack.  So, I set out to learn more.  

One day I was taking my son to free golf lessons our community provided when I had another bad panic attack, the worst so far.  I had to pull over.  It took over two hours to drive the five miles home. Though I didn't know it then, panic disorder gets worse if you do not push back against it.  The less I went out, the worse it was when I did.  

In 2005 my oldest daughter sent me a book called Overcoming Panic.  She got her doctorate in psychology and lives in the UK with my granddaughters.  The book taught me so much that I wrote to the authors.  I asked if I could share it with my online friends. I had discovered that many people experience panic disorder.  I said I wanted to totally reproduce the book in a small group online. There were only about six of us.  I was thrilled when they agreed. 

I worked on getting at least one of my poetry collections published.  On Valentines Day, 2016, I published Elanthian Love Songs:  A Bard's Tale.  

My mom got sick in 2018 with lung cancer.  We've never been close, but I am her only child.  Panic still raged when I even attempted to go out my front door.  Yet, she needed me.

I wrote the poem, Transformation, about the day I faced my fear. The title is an homage to Bill Phillips' book Transformation. Over the years it has been one of my handbooks to healing, along with so many others. Transformation has 18 lessons which I did on repeat year after year, especially the lesson on forgiveness.

On the day I sent ADAA this poem, I was gifted insights that helped me have the courage to push the 'Submit' button."

The gateway to true
Transformation is called pain.
Just sitting with it

Over and over
And over and over again until
It has no power.

“It will not kill you,”
Eckhart Tolle assures us.
Instead, it cleanses.

Panache Desai says
“Painful emotions get trapped
and become disease.”

We run from these, and
Try to numb away the pain.
But Brené Brown says

“You can’t numb just one.
“Pain, joy, every emotion…
“You numb everything.”

But if you are brave;
If you can feel everything,
Every single time,

This is the pathway
Tolle explains, through the gate
Of transformation.

So, I decided
I would try this. For three weeks
I felt everything.

It was difficult.
Still, I persisted until
I felt a shifting

Inside my brain,
Like it was realigning,
Letting in the light.

Old, unused windows
Creaked open. Fresh air blew in,
All around my brain.

It gathered debris,
Dusted away doubts, polished
every window pane.

Then one fateful day,
I faced my dragon! It was
A suspension bridge.

All my life, I’ve had
Dreams — nightmares — about bridges.
They terrified me.

Now I had to drive
Across one — the Delaware
Memorial Bridge.

It connects me to
My family of origin.
I’m a “Jersey Girl.”

The night before I
faced my Dragon, I had three
bad panic attacks.

The worst was at dawn.
All is well, I soothed myself.
Until I could breathe.

Got up. Showered. Dressed.
Packed the car. Said my goodbyes.
"LAST GOODBYES!" Brain screamed.

"Shut the fuck up, Brain,"
I said. I started the car,
And began driving.

The bridge grew closer.
An odd calm descended. I
Just kept on driving.

I approached the bridge!
Heart pounded! Drove to the top!
Then, a miracle!

As though shedding
Work clothes and slipping into
My favorite pair

Of comfortable
Jeans, I felt my brain return,
Like a dear old friend.

It was my old brain
That loved to drive all over,
Loved zipping along,

Singing to a song
On the radio; laughing
When I messed it up,

It was like Real Me
Came home, booted out Fake Me,
Then put up her feet.

The journey begins
(Continues), and I am filled with
Incredible joy.

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After viewing my art and story, I want others to understand that we are not alone in this and…