HOW I LEARNED TO EXIST IN MY OWN MIND + BODY AGAIN

Amanda is a designer and vegan health advocate from Toronto. Here she shares about her journey to overcoming panic disorder, and finding herself along the way. 

In October 2011, I packed up five suitcases, five boxes, and moved across the country to Vancouver, BC. This was the scariest and most liberating experience and gift I have ever given to myself. It was an adventure of growth, independence and a huge leap into adulthood. A couple months before I set off on my new journey, I had decided it was time to ween myself off of the anxiety medication I had been taking daily for seven years. The medication definitely helped me out in some bad times mentally, but left me feeling like a completely numb zombie inside. I unfortunately missed out on so many incredible experiences and fun events throughout my 20’s due to my crippling panic disorder.

An average day was anywhere from two to nine panic attacks. Anything and everything left me in a state of panic, whether it was riding the subway, being at work, or eating in a restaurant. Often times I would have to remove myself from what I was doing and go home to isolation. I didn’t know how to exist in my own life and it was terrifying. Deciding to come off of the medication was even more scary. I was about to exist again as myself in my own life, with no crutch.

Weening myself off of Citalopram was quite the experience. The capsules had little tiny balls inside and I had to break them open and count how many of them I was ingesting and take less and less each day until I was back into a functioning state of “normality”. I experienced a couple months of “brain zaps” which felt completely horrific but worth the sacrifice to being medication free.

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Moving so shortly after this transition was probably not the best idea, but I wasn’t changing my mind. I left everyone and everything familiar behind. I needed to. After a five hour flight filled with what seemed like an ocean of tears, I had arrived in my new temporary home. I stayed with a family friend for the first month while I looked for an apartment and gathered some furniture. Every single day I went out and explored my new surroundings. They were beautiful and different but also overwhelming and terrifying.

I can very clearly remember being downtown one day and wandering around not knowing where I was. I started spinning around in circles and bawling my eyes out. I had no idea where I was and I was alone so that sent me into quite the state of panic. Luckily I kept a bottle of Larazapam with me at all times in case of emergency. I hated having to turn back to medication but it’s the only hope I had at feeling okay in that moment. I thought it was the end for me. When you can’t see even a second into the future and truly believe you are about to die, desperation kicks in and if there is a temporary cure at hand, you take it.

I remember breaking off little bits of the pills almost daily as my panic attacks were still happening in full force and I didn’t know how else to help myself. Due to the daily attacks and constant anxiety of being in an unfamiliar environment, I developed IBS. My body was barely absorbing any nutrients I was feeding it because nothing would stay in my stomach. And I mean nothing.

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After finding an apartment and settling into my new space, I was still having bad panic attacks with a side of IBS. I was so done with all the medication and wanted to give up the bottle of Larazapam I thought that I needed to get through these moments of panic. I decided it was time to look for help elsewhere. I needed to figure out how to feel okay naturally. How to control myself.

I started researching the link between eating processed foods filled with chemicals to anxiety and depression. Interesting. I was the girl drinking the sugar free Starbucks syrups daily and chugging bottles of crystal light water more often than not. When I thought about all the chemicals I was putting into my body on the daily things started to become very clear. I was literally feeding my body and my brain poison. No wonder I had no control.

I decided that day to say goodbye to chemicals and say hello to whole organic foods. I read every single package of every single item I purchased. I would sit on the floor in the grocery store and Google any ingredients I was unsure of to see what they actually were. What I found out was quite astounding. Buying organic become fun. I loved learning about all the nutrient dense foods that were readily available for me all these years, as well as learning about how terrible most shelf stable grocery items truly are.

I started to dig even further on the internet and discovered that yoga would be the perfect addition to my healing journey. I signed up to a studio at the end of my street. The first few classes were challenging for me to relax and allow myself to be present and remain calm in a room of strangers, and knowing I was locked inside for an entire hour. I did not allow myself to leave. I had waves of anxiety and panic, but I still refused to leave. I was in a safe place surrounded by beautiful welcoming souls and going to my unfamiliar apartment with no friends or family around to sit alone in solitude was not going to help me over come these feelings and grow.

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Unfortunately my new findings didn’t come soon enough because I soon became incredibly ill with the flu which ended up turning into a bad case of pneumonia. It wasn’t surprising that I became so sick since my stomach had been in such a bad state and nothing was staying inside of me. I was forced to take a month off of work to rest and heal, which led me to a bit of a financial crisis. I could no longer afford my rent and the rest of my life there. At this point I had been living in Vancouver for six months. I had found a job, an apartment, made new friends, adventured and explored. Was I ready to go home? Not really, but I had a hell of a lot of experiences within those months that I was so incredibly grateful for.

And again, I packed up my suitcases, my five boxes and sold all of the furniture I had purchased. I got on the plane and headed home. The moment I walked off the plane was the end of my panic attacks. To this day, five years later, I have still not had one. I didn’t realize at the time of moving that it was not only a journey to grow as an individual, but it was also a journey to heal. I can’t say what exactly cured me, as I think it was the entire experience as a whole. I only had myself to depend on, and that’s exactly what I did. I saved myself from myself and learned how to exist in my mind and body again.

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Opening and closing photo by Aneta Sofronova.

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