A Panic Attack / Depression is a Wake Up call

As someone who has been through Panic Attack’s – Matt’s story in this Fast Company issue resonated with me.

Matt thought he was doing pretty well until he went to bed on a Sunday night and woke up the next morning thinking he was having a heart attack. His heart was racing, he was sweating like he was in a Monty Python movie, and he was freaking out. He jumped in his car and drove himself to the doctor’s office. Not the best idea to drive a car when you think you are having a heart attack, of course, but he needed help.

After examining him, the doctor concluded that he wasn’t having a heart attack, rather he was having a severe panic attack. The doc told him to just go home and rest, and he should feel better in the morning. Well, that didn’t work, and it didn’t work the next day, week, or month. His life began to shut down. His parents had to move in with him. He couldn’t function, drive a car, eat, or sleep. At night, he couldn’t look out the windows because he thought the sky was falling. His “dream” life was literally crashing down. And, he had no idea what happened or how to fix it.

Fortunately, he was introduced to a therapist who changed his life. During one of his first visits she handed him Rick Warren’s book, Purpose Driven Life, and told him to read the first sentence, which says, “It’s not about you.” The sentence didn’t make any sense to Matt. Again, narcissism won the day. Then she told him that he would never feel better until he understood that concept.

That got his attention because it was like a final life raft, something to grab onto, something to help. Just four simple words were all he needed to read. They echoed in his head every minute of the day, partially from a place of gratitude and partially because he was unsure and confused. But, he was determined to put in the work and find the meaning.

She then prescribed a heavy dose of volunteering. Every Saturday morning at 9 a.m., Matt would go out and pick up litter, paint over graffiti, feed the homeless, etc. At first, he didn’t understand it, but one day it clicked. Saturday mornings were his favorite time of the week. They provided an opportunity to go out and serve others and it was “not about him.” It was the best he felt every week.

All I say to those who have experience Panic Attack/ Depression in their lives, is that it is undoubtedly a rude wake up call.

  • A wake up call that tells you that there is something fundamentally amiss in the way you are currently approaching life.
  • It is a call to wake up and acknowledge the reality of life.
  • It is a call to search and find your answers.
  • It is call to have faith in your own self. It is call to believe.
  • It is a call not to give up.
  • It is call that will take you to a beautiful journey,  however frustrating and however exhausting it is for now.
  • It is call that will take you to your highest goal.
  • It is a call that is begging you to go deep into your own self to find the answers to the question that are being posed.

And that answer comes only through the practices of being in touch with your deepest self.

My Master – HH Sri Sri Ravi Shankar – prescribes – Sadhana (spiritual practices such as Sudarshan Kriya, Meditation, Yoga), Seva (selfless volunteering) and Satsang (literally the company of truth)  as a way. And I can testify to the efficacy of this simple 3S rule. It worked for me and I am sure it will work for all.

[PS: I know how tough and challenging dealing with Panic Attacks and Depression is, been there, dealt with it for close to 13 years and came out of it a much stronger individual, this is no way to trivialize the challenges or to put the blame back on individual. Deal with it, follow what your therapist or medical practitioner prescribes. Believe in yourself. I believe a more lasting and permanent solution is found through the practices of meditation, Sudarshan Kriya and Yoga – give it a try]

Recommended Resources to deal with Panic Attacks, Anxiety and Depression.

Related Posts:

Part 1: The beginnings

Part 2: The Despair

Part 3: The magic of Sudarshan Kriya

Part 4: The loving eyes of god.

Part 5: The Wheel comes a full circle

This is the last in the series of posts, before I move to another topic.

Over a period of 13 years (’91-04) that I fought Panic Attacks, Anxiety, and Depression, I searched high and low for treatment and alternative remedies.  I tried everything that one can possibly find on the internet and  to deal with the situations as they unfolded, I would find some temporary relief and things would revert back to how they were earlier. However, as I mentioned earlier in my posts, real healing for me happened through the regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya and Meditation.

I thought I will share a few resources  – programs, books, music and doctors – that helped me immensely.

Undoubtedly I start with the Art of Living programs:

  • The Part 1 Program
  • The Advance Meditation Program and
  • Sahaj Samadhi Program

and the Satsangs as my only recommendation to get rid of Depression, Anxiety and Panic Attacks.

The Art of Living courses are held all over the world in over 150 countries, please check www.artofliving.org to find your nearest center. Please note, that the programs do not discourage you to stop your medication or treatment, however it is essential that you do disclose your medical history to the teacher before you start the program.

In Bangalore, The International Center on Kanakapura Road conducts a residential program every Friday, Sat and Sunday.

Meena and I teach the Art of Living Part 1 program in HRBR layout in Bangalore and would be very glad to have you on our programs. Should you want to reach out to me to discuss and talk, feel free to drop me a note.

Doctors in Bangalore/Hyderabad

Recommended below are some outstanding doctors who at some time or the other helped me in my journey.

Allopathic

Dr. Ramachandran Arcot – my family physician and a friend. Has a clinic next to Surana Medicals at Cox Town Circle, Bangalore. I remain indebted to him for having pulled me out of treatment from one of the worst psychiatrist in Bangalore and introducing me to Dr. Shyamala Vatsa.

Dr. Shyamala Vatsa: Consults at Hosmat Hospital, Bangalore. I have already written about her, one of the finest therapist  in town. A person with solid integrity, empathy and intelligence. She is one fine author as well.

Homeopaths:
Dr Annapurna Waghray – my cousin in Hyderabad, has her own clinic in Domalguda and practices at Sagar Homeo Center at Abids.  What do I write about her, she’s one of the finest homeopaths in town and I have lost the count of number of times I have troubled her with things small and big all times of day and night.

Dr. Sanath Kumar- homeopath, has a clinic at Nehru Road, Kammanahalli, Bangalore. Uses Bach Flower Remedy with great effect.

Sohum Medical Foundation: Has a center in HBR layout, Bangalore that dispenses free homeopathy medicines.

Ayurveda:

Nadi Pariksha at Art of Living Ashram, Bangalore. One of the regular things I do is to get a Nadi Pariksha done once every few months. An ancient way where the physician checks your pulse and tells what is wrong with the system. Very effective.

Dr. Jyothi Nair – one of the finest Ayurveda doctors in Bangalore. Very accurate with her diagnosis and very economical with her prescription. The only grouse I have is with the location of her clinic (Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, intersection of Queens Road and Cunningham Road, difficult to find a parking place) and timings (consults for about an hour or so around noon)

Dr. Seetharam Prasad – Chief Physician at Ayurveda Kutiram at HBR Layout. Recommend him for his high degree of empathy and listening skills plus the ayurvedic oil treatments are the best one can find in town.

Books
The books are transcriptions of talks and knowledge sessions given by Guruji. While I have read each and every book, a few that I recommend are:

1. God Loves Fun
2. Celebrating Love
3. Bang on the Door
4. Wisdom for the New Millennium
5. Punarnava
6. Narada Bhakti Sutras and
7. Ashtavakhra Gita

All available from store.artofliving.org

I have read several books on dealing with Anxiety, Depression etc, the only one that I recommend is:

Yoga for Depression by Amy Weintraub: Don’t get misled by the title, this is a superb book on Yoga. Has one complete chapter on Art of Living and how the practices help in treating depression and anxiety. An absolute must read for those looking for alternative treatment through Yoga and associated therapies.

Dr. Sven Sommer’s Little Book of Homeopathy. If you are in a mood for some self medication.

Music and Meditation CD’s

Chanting and Music have a significant impact on the nervous system and is known to uplift the spirit, unite minds, energize and stabilize the body by settling the emotional imbalances. The Satsang’s have had a significant impact on me and I will do a separate post on them in the future. For now, beautiful devotional songs, chants, meditation CD’s are available at store.artofliving.org

The wheel comes a full circle – Part 5

Related Posts:

Part 1: The beginnings

Part 2: The Despair

Part 3: The magic of Sudarshan Kriya

Part 4: The loving eyes of god.

On a routine visit to the ashram, in 2007, Guruji stopped near me and told me to “become a teacher” and those three words have taken my life onto a totally different path. A year down the line, I was blessed to teach the Art of Living courses.

The first student who had enrolled in my course was a lady who was suffering from severe panic attacks and had quit her job. Three months after attending the program she sent me a message that she is doing absolutely fine and her panic attack and depressions have since then stopped and she has gone back to work. When Dr. Vatsa recommended a patient of hers to attend the program, I knew that the wheel has come full circle!

I had told Guruji, a couple of years back that let my life be His message! Today I am fortunate and blessed to be living that life. A large part of the credit goes to Meena for pushing me to practice the Kriya regularly in the early days, and being readily available to take care of the family and kids, allowing me the space to do several advance courses and long TTCs and most importantly for demonstrating that faith, surrender and devotion has to be total in this long and arduous journey.

The most rewarding thing is that when one is able to share the spiritual journey and the path with one’s loved ones. While every one’s spiritual journey may be very individualistic, it nevertheless helps to have a supportive companion and for me, the best part is to be able to share this journey with Meena who is also an Art of Living teacher.

Today we both are fortunate, delighted and grateful to share the joy of Sudarshan Kriya, Meditation, Satsang and the Grace of a Master.

The loving eyes of god – part 4

Related Posts:

Part 1: The beginnings

Part 2: The Despair

Part 3: The magic of Sudarshan Kriya

It just so happened that the time we visited Ashram coincided with the time Guruji (Sri Sri RaviShankar) was meeting visitors. Despite being very spiritual in nature, I was very skeptical about this whole Guru business.

Not knowing what to expect, I entered the place – Narayana Hall – only to find a short person in an all white dress, with his back towards me surrounded by some 20-30 people, all trying to converse with him a the same time.

He turned around, looked at me deeply in my eyes and asked “Are you happy?”. His eyes  reflected such deep intensity, love and compassion as if I had seen them before….. and then it struck me, that I was seeing the same sense of compassion and care  that I had seen in my Part 1 teacher – Kavita’s eyes. I couldn’t answer him then, that I wasn’t happy and my life was almost a wreck! I remember mumbling a muffled yes and for no apparent reason, I found tears flowing down my eyes. Something changed that day. For lack of better words, all I can say is that I peeped into the eyes of God!

After a few months after that visit, on a whim, I decided to do the Art of Living Part 2 course and that course changed my life forever! The experience of deep meditation, the silence and the lilting satsangs was awesome! My practices deepened and we took home the Satsang with us which continues to date.

Slowly, but gradually I became regular with the practices of Sudarshan Kriya, yoga and meditation and then one day as I was meditating, I experienced the panic and anxiety attack engulfing me, this time, instead of feeling nervous, fidgety and pacing up and down or popping in a tranquilizer, I sat there just observing the sensations and feelings of fear and anxiety, as they arose in the body, and a remarkable thing happened, the sensations, just melted away, leaving me with a sense of profound peace and tranquility.

Several times I had read and heard Guruji talking about fear – and he says:

“The symptoms (of fear) are an intense sensation in the body, it trembles and the breath is ragged and there is a feeling that the ground is lose under your feet. There is a feeling of contraction. There is a tendency to hold onto something. There is a feeling of non belongingness. There is a sense of void. These are all the feelings and an intense sensation between the navel and the throat region. This is fear.

We can connect this sensation which is so intense to a particular event or a particular thing. This is where we perpetuate it. Suppose, we think the fear is because of heights, then we are anchoring this sensation or linking it with a particular situation. Trying to get rid of the situation does not eliminate fear, there is only one way to eliminate it and that is awareness. When you become aware of it, or if you are ready to experience it intensely and just accept it. You will find that fear flips over and becomes love”

I used to think this made no sense at all. He doesn’t know what fear is and when a panic attack hits home, there is no way on earth that one could even stand still, and the sensations in the body are so highly pronounced that forget about observing you are not even in a state of mind to think rationally……. he talks of fear flipping over and becoming love and here I was seeing that it flips and becomes depression. Every attack used to send me into a state of melancholy and depression.

But that experience of observing the panic attack in meditation changed it all. How true the Master was!

The Art of Living Part 2 courses helped me in deepening my meditation and bringing a sense of awareness towards my body-mind complex that has been of immense help in my journey. Christian mysticism, talks of dark night of soul, I felt as If I have emerged from this period.

Consequently, on a routine visit to Dr. Vatsa, I was told that I no longer needed the medication! I got off the medication in 2004 and since then, I had no reason to go back to the medication. The panic attacks and depression have become a thing of the past and life today has become joyful.

But today’s post is about Sri Sri RaviShankar, my dear Guruji –  every time I sit to write about him, words fail me. How do I describe my relationship with Him? How does one describe a relationship with a Guru? How does one describe a relationship with Divinity? In Indian tradition, the place given to a Guru is higher  than that of God! My family and I have been fortunate and very blessed to have experienced his extreme grace. No amount of gratitude would compensate for his blessings in our lives.

As Guruji said the other day:

“Kar kar ke jo paya woh kaudi ka hai,

Jo kripa se mila, who karodo ka”

( What you have got out of your own effort is so little,

but what you have got due to grace is worth billions)

Recall the Pranic healer I mentioned earlier? This was sometime before I stumbled upon the Art of Living programs, and one of the homeopaths, referred me to this gentleman in Indiranagar, who drew an image of a person with a long beard and said something to the effect of that you have the grace of this Guru and do not worry, nothing will happen. At that time I had not even seen Guruji. Today when I recall that incident, I think that in all probability, he had drawn Guruji’s picture.

What has definitely made a difference in my life is the regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya, Meditation and Yoga coupled with satsangs and Knowledge. The practices have brought a profound change in me and have added richness to life. More than the anything, they have helped establish a deep sense of connection with my own Self, and an unshakable faith in the Divine.

I shudder to think as to how my life would have been without the presence of Guruji and had I not stumbled upon the practices? It was as if He crafted these courses just for me to get me out of my problems.
Next: The wheel comes a full circle.

The Despair – Part 2

..Contd from the previous post

In spite of all that was happening to me on the very personal level, I graduated  from college in mid ‘92, got a great job and got engaged. Life was good, but by then the panic attacks had left a scar and deep down inside I was not my true self – there was fear, there was a sense of hesitancy. This gnawing perpetual worry at the back of my mind that the panic attacks would recur. Soon my worry would turn into a self fulfilling prophecy.

The panic attacks came back, this time much more stronger than what I  had experienced before and then started a 13 year long journey of excruciating torture. The panic attacks would come unannounced and I would start associating them with places or events and it become so bad, I would continue to be in a perpetual state of anxiousness.

I couldn’t stand being in crowded places, I couldn’t be at ease in closed places and neither could I stand being alone – that meant I started avoiding cinema’s, theaters, restaurants, shopping, going to any crowded place, traveling and so on. One day I had a such severe attack while driving to work, that I had to park the scooter in the side of the road and take an auto to work…and that was the last time I drove a scooter to work. Taking an auto back and forth to the office was out of question due to the limited income I had those days and taking a bus was out of question due to claustrophobia issues. I loved traveling and driving around and not being able to do what I loved left me in a state of despair.

In the midst of the gloom there used to be several good days at a stretch, where I would lead a perfectly normal life. In the summer of ‘93, I got married to Meena – a remarkable  person who has been tremendously encouraging and supportive of me all through the miserable period of my life. If it had not been for her constant support and love, I don’t think I would have been able to pull out of this despair.

The panic attacks led me into a state of acute fear and depression and I started on a merry go round trip of visiting doctors, not finding relief from one doctor, moving onto another, someone would recommend a specialist and I would go and see them….eventually moving onto alternative mode of treatments, and when nothing seemed to be working, I used to pray so very hard and so very often. There were days when I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep properly and/or would wake up in a sweat and would eventually drift to sleep clutching the Sai Charitra close to my heart.

At last count I had seen 25 doctors including cardiologists, neurosurgeons, three psychiatrists and two counsellors, homeopaths, pranic healers and even religious healers. Not to mention the endless cycle of clinical tests including ECG’s they would subject me to rule out any physical causes. The funny thing was no one doctor would trust the clinical reports that I had carried from my previous doctors visits and would invariably subject me to visit their favourite diagnostic labs.

I have lost the count of number of times I went through these procedures. The worst was when one of the cardiologist put me onto a 24 hour Holter monitor to record the heart’s rhythms to rule out a condition known as Mitral Valve Prolapse.

Courtsey of Dr. Ramachandran – whom I will be ever thankful for, for recommending me to one of the finest doctors in town –  I ended up with Dr. Shyamala Vatsa – a brilliant doctor, psychiatrist, counsellor and author in Bangalore who was able to help me cope with the anxiety and panic attacks to a very large extent.

While all this was happening, life was going on at its own pace, I changed jobs, moved cities and travelled several times outside the country. However, travel by flight was a big nightmare. The feelings of claustrophobia, coupled with a general sense of anxiety had made it a routine that every time I would take a flight, I had to pop in a tranquilizer. What was a dream for many to hop on a flight and travel to the fancy cities of the west became a living nightmare for me.

I changed job and changed city and we moved to Chennai from Bangalore in Jan of 2000 and then a coincidence or synchronicity took me to a life changing event.

Next: The magic of….

A new series….

The beginnings… Part 1

To begin with, this is a very intimate and personal experience and I have been extremely apprehensive of putting this down on a blog for obvious reasons.  I have been deliberating over this for quite a few months and have decided to put it up out here for the simple reason that I will be doing an immense disservice to hundreds of thousands of people who suffer from some form or the other of anxiety, panic attack and depression, if I don’t share my experience.

I distinctly remember the day during the winter of 1991, I was in the second year of my post graduation, when my professor asked a question on a subject which I had been conversant with the past 3 years, I put up my hand to answer and when I wanted to respond, my mind went blank, my head started spinning and the heart started pounding furiously, and in no time I was soaking in my own sweat. I remember getting out of the class and taking a cycle-rickshaw back to the hostel, probably my first and only ride in a cycle rickshaw in the three years that I spent at the college campus in BIT Mesra. That was the first of the several panic and anxiety attacks I was going to have in my life.

The Wikipedia says that “Experiencing a panic attack has been said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of a person’s life.” and I tell you that the sentence does not capture the enormity of what it means to experience a panic attack.

Consequently when it reoccurred a second and a  third time, I tended to believe that it could be either due to general weakness or I may have inherited a heart condition from my family genes.

One of my helpful classmates, Sunil,  took me to the General hospital in Ranchi only to be prescribed a few vitamins and a tonic by the doctor. Being a thin, lanky, 6 feet tall,50 kg chap didn’t help either. The constant advice from everyone used to be, eat well and put on some weight the general idea and consensus was “ you are so thin and weak, put on some weight you will be fine”. To make matters worse a combination of  amoebic dysentery plus irritable bowel syndrome hit home and I was in a terrible shape, I had no clue as to what was happening.

Even worse was the fact that my college was 1300 kms away from my home – a 2 nights,  one day long journey from Hyderabad where the rest of the family was, and this was way before the cell phone and internet days (early 90’s). Even if one had to make a phone call, one had to walk all the way to the main campus building which was a kilometer away from the hostel or travel 20 odd kms to one of the STD booths in Ranchi city. Home sickness and a strange illness, made matters seem worse than they  were in this small town.

The frequency of the attacks increased – I reached home during the holidays a nervous wreck. When the panic attacks occurred, the instant reaction I used to have was to run away from the place. And  while I find them funny now, trust me, I would never ever wish that even my worst enemy (not that I have any) to be in this situation. How does one run away from a moving train? How does one get out a cinema theater in the middle of movie? or What does one do when one has a panic attack, right while driving a scooter in the middle of the road? or while sitting in a meeting at work?

A visit to the friendly neighbourhood doctor, resulted in me being prescribed – not the right word – he gave some 60 odd white tablets, with no names and asked me to take half of them every time I felt like I was having an attack! Till date, I don’t know whether it was a tranquilizer or a anti-hypertensive drug or even a placebo. One thing was sure, it didn’t work.

On the way back to Ranchi from Hyderabad, after the vacation, I boarded the train at Nampally and got down at Secunderabad due to another panic attack in the train. A classmate of mine who was to board the same train at Warangal was left wondering as to why I didn’t make it.

Finally after a couple of days my brother accompanied me all the way from Hyderabad to Ranchi to make sure I completed the journey, but not before suspecting that I was on drugs and that panic attacks are probably some kind of withdrawal symptoms!

I was somehow able to cope and manage the rest of the days at college. But I didn’t knew what lay in store for me next.