My clients often query something along the lines of, “Can I ask you a personal question…you have such a deep understanding of the nature of anxiety … have you ever had an anxiety disorder?.” In order to provide maximum attention to the concerns that bring my clients in to see me, I normally keep my reply to a brief, “yes, I too have struggled with anxiety at points in my life.”
Of course, there is a longer answer to that question. I remember all too clearly when I first began to experience anxiety symptoms. It was the summer of 1998. I had obtained a prestigious externship in New York City and was excited to spend the summer working and playing hard. One of the first few days of my externship, I began to feel strange, frightening sensations. I felt lightheaded, my hands felt cold and tingly, and I feared I might pass out or “lose control”. In addition, I experienced feelings I can now identify as depersonalization and derealization. At the time, I had no words to describe the “foggy” sensation that clouded my thinking and left me feeling disconnected from the outside world. I had no idea what was happening to me and I was terrified. I attempted to obtain relief and sought out the assistance of a few different mental health care providers. Unfortunately, none of the clinicians clearly stated to me that I was suffering from panic disorder and that this was in fact one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Instead I engaged in traditional talk therapy, which was interesting enough but did little to treat my panic disorder.
At that time, I was able to “white knuckle” my way past panic disorder and push myself forward despite the discomfort. One painful side effect of my undetected panic disorder was that I came to believe there was something wrong with me. That in some core way I was broken or lacking and that was why I was experiencing such disturbing sensations. If only I could time travel back to 1998. I would educate my young self on the physiology of panic disorder and explain to her in simple terms, why she was experiencing those disturbing symptoms. I would assure her that she is whole and of sound mind and in fact is brave and powerful. I would let her know that she has so much to look forward to, such as meeting her wonderful husband, raising three delightful (and often exhausting) children and a flourishing career as a clinical psychologist.
It was not until 2003 that I finally stumbled upon the efficacious treatment for panic disorder, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). At that time, I was working as a business consultant and contemplating obtaining a Ph.D. in Psychology. I decided to volunteer in a research lab to further clarify if a career move into psychology was appropriate for me. I saw a campus flyer for Professor Mike Telch’s Laboratory for the Study of Anxiety Disorders at the University of Texas and was fortunate in obtaining a research position . As a lab assistant, I was able to observe the provision of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for panic disorder. Two major realizations soon set in. First, I quickly came to understand that, no different from the research volunteers who were desperately seeking out treatment for panic disorder, I too was struggling with panic disorder and could benefit from CBT for anxiety. Second, the most appropriate professional fit for me was to become a psychologist and assist others in moving past their symptoms and living to their fullest potential.
My goal is for Light On Anxiety to expedite your journey to finding the most effective treatment to assist you in moving past your anxiety symptoms. As an anxiety expert (both personally and professionally), what I know is that it is possible to arrive at a place where you can experience an anxious thought or sensation as nothing more than a brain blip. You can get to a place where you are able to observe vs. get lost in the experience of anxiety. There truly is light at the end of the anxiety tunnel. These are not flippant words that I am sending out to my anonymous visitors through cyber space, but instead heartfelt and sincere sentiments that I am sharing with my anxious fellow travelers. Be well and kind to yourself.
With warmest regards,
Dr. Debra Kissen