When I was in my early twenties, I awoke in a hotel room in Biloxi Beach, Mississippi with a pain in my stomach and a sense that I was in danger. The next several hours of my life were some of the worst to date. It is difficult to describe without mentioning some pretty gruesome details. Let’s just say that when you eat bad shrimp you could potentially die. Thanks to the medical staff of an emergency room in Biloxi Beach that was not my fate.
Somewhere between my temporary inability to walk and multiple spells of unconsciousness, it became very nearly impossible for me to control my own breathing. A man who stood beside my bed coached me through the confusion and panic. It wasn’t long before I could breathe steadily again. And, eventually I was well enough to return to the hotel, rest on the ride home, and recuperate for two weeks on the farm where I grew up.
For years, if you asked me the reason for my panic attack, I would have lumped it together with the other results of eating spoiled shrimp. “Yeah, I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit upright. I had no idea if I was urinating or not. I constantly vomited. And sure, the breathing thing happened too. It was all on account of the food poisoning!” There was never a reason for me to question that this one piece of the whole experience actually had nothing to do with being sick. Never, that is, until I joined Northside Fitness. (http://www.northsidefit.com)
Dustin Andrews, at Northside Fitness, is an exceptional trainer. The workouts are always a challenge to say the least. He explains diet and exercise in a language that I think everyone can understand. His examples are relatable and he gives motivating feedback. He is good at his job. The point of this post is not to recommend a trainer to you, though he certainly deserves the endorsement. Regardless of everything Northside Fitness has to offer, I was resistant to the workouts. For weeks, the night before each class, anxiety and dread would grow inside of me. I kept asking myself, “What is that all about?”
One Tuesday, I was the only gym member to show up to class. Dustin started leading me through the workout and within minutes I worked up a sweat and my breath quickened. The more I inhaled and exhaled, the more intense my breathing became. Fifteen minutes of exercise was enough to bring all of my anxiety to the surface. The experience became an emotional one. Dustin was patient while I explained that I did not believe my breathing would go back to normal. I told him about the pain and the panic of that night in Biloxi Beach. So many feelings rushed in. I remembered being young and on that road trip. I was living my life in the closet and full of fear. Loneliness and judgment followed me everywhere. The overwhelming thought of dying that alone and empty created so much panic in me. I was desperate to live, not because my life was so great. It was the hope for a future where I might be free and exactly me that was worth the fight.
Dustin assured me that my breathing would slow. He talked to me about taking breaks between sets and not pushing for the last repetition that sends my breath over the edge. I just listened and did what Dustin told me to do regardless of the fear and so many other emotions that swirled inside of me. And, I finished the workout. It wasn’t until our post-exercise talk that I realized Dustin was simply asking me to trust him. He was telling me to let go, to rely on him, and to put my faith in the process. Ever since that day, I look forward to going to Northside Fitness and get excited before every class. The panic, fear and loneliness of my past are again in the rearview mirror.
Trust is a vital part of the therapeutic process. Whenever a client comes into my office, I know there is a profound, possibly painful and most certainly scary reason. All of the tools and resources I have used in my own life to grow through fear and pain are inside of me waiting for each client to learn and use. I have every confidence in the gifts of life that have been given to me. I am in this profession to pass them along passionately to anyone willing to engage me in therapeutic connection. And, I take for granted the courage necessary for such a vulnerable and often raw experience.
I want to take this chance to say what I might not say enough. Tell me what you need. I will do my best to always hear you. When you are stuck and growth seems too tough or impossible, I will strive to be patient and understanding. If something isn’t working or I am not making sense, then we can slow down and figure it out together. If you do not give up, then I won’t either. I am flawed. I don’t have all of the answers. But, I trust this process even when it feels like a struggle. My hope for you is for a future where you might be free and be exactly you. Trust me, it is worth the fight.