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Agoraphobia Story: Finding A Purpose Greater Than Fear
Since I recovered from panic disorder and agoraphobia, people often ask me what the major turning point in my recovery was. There were many turning points, but if I had to choose just one, I would pick the night I made a deal with God in one of my darkest hours of fear. Thatís because it changed the orientation of my life.
I wasnít sure if you can really make a deal with God, but I didnít care. In complete and utter desperation, I prayed to God that if I could be freed from suffering and have my normal life back, I would use whatever abilities God gave me in the service of other people. I told God that if I were made well, my purpose in life would be to help others in times of suffering. Though I didnít know it then, this change in purpose made all the difference.
To that point my life had all been about me. My life had been about doing whatever I needed to do to achieve everything I wanted for myself. Though I hadnít realized it, the purpose I had given myself actually created fear Ė fear of failure.
When my life was all about meeting my personal goals, fear of failure always loomed in the back of my mind. I lived with the anxiety that I may not reach my goals or get what I want out of life Ė and then what would my life have meant? Constantly striving, fulfillment and satisfaction always seemed to be far away in the future.
In making this promise to God that I would live to do good for others, I let go of the anxiety over reaching my personal goals and found a new sense of purpose in giving to others. This new sense of purpose offers meaning and satisfaction along the way. I have since found that when the purpose of my life is to do good for others, I have a purpose greater than fear, including the fear of failing.
The need for purpose is one of the most basic human needs. A strong sense of meaning can be powerful in overcoming a fearful situation. German psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, wrote about this in his book, Manís Search for Meaning.
Dr. Frankl had the unique experience of living through the horrors of the Nazi death camps of World War II. Approximately one in twenty-six of Franklís fellow prisoners survived. From observation and interview, Frankl discovered that the main difference between those who lived and those who died was a deep sense of meaning or purpose in life.
Simply put, the men who lived were the ones who had the strongest reasons to live. The disproportionate survival of men who practiced religious faith intrigued Frankl greatly. He watched spiritual men of inferior constitution outlive more robust prison-mates. As a result, Frankl emerged from the prison camps firmly convinced that a sense of meaning or purpose in life is as vital to our existence as food, water or clothing.
I first read about Franklís experience when I had agoraphobia. When I read about his experience I related to the men in the Nazi death camps because I felt like I was in prison also, only my prison was a psychological one instead of a physical one.
Agoraphobia had turned my own home into a prison. The difference between my prison and a Nazi death camp was that I had a lot more control over my release. My prison was of my own making.
I decided that if a strong sense of meaning and purpose in life could sustain a man through the horrors of a Nazi death camp, then certainly a sense of meaning and purpose in life could carry me through to the other side of panic disorder and agoraphobia. I just needed a purpose in life that was greater than my fear, especially my fear of failure.
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