We are all afraid or fearful of something, but dealing or coping with the situation is crucial. Also, I am not worried that I will die from an enemy’s hand, but I was scared for a good portion of my existence.
A phobia, by definition, is an irrational fear of something that’s not likely to cause harm. This can be either physical harm or emotional harm.
From the time I entered college in September 1976, I had various levels of fear, anxiety and panic that controlled my entire being. Somehow four years later, in May of 1980, I graduated with a 2.99 GPA. My situation worsened from late 1980–1982 as I was severely frightened of leaving my mom’s house.
These anxiety occurrences were happening too frequently and turned into a severe problem for everyone. Of course, my dad dying on 23rd November 1981 was a significant event in my life and made matters more complicated. However, for a couple of months after, I felt better, but my fears returned worse than before by mid-January. My safety zone was reduced to a mile and a half from mom’s home in every direction.
It seemed like when I was getting close to the breaking point, my anxiety got higher and higher, I began to sweat, my heartbeat harder and more complex, and my head and heart were ready to explode into many pieces. Boom, it just went off. No one heard that awful noise or my body reactions to what just occurred.
One day, a person sitting next to me at the bus stop advised me to calm down and support me. No, not literally, did the boom transpire, but the feelings of this were so intense and genuine to me. At that time, that was the feeling I had and would repeatedly repeat in many situations and was with me very often.
If there was a silver lining in all this, I somehow mustered enough strength, and I could walk to a local library, my doctor’s office, and I had a park at the edge of my mile and a half. There, I sometimes sat for many hours and reflected and wrote poetry or short pieces on my vast multitude of experiences.
Finally, after several months of these torturous ordeals, I went to find help. Also, fortunately within a half-mile was a mental health clinic where I applied for individual therapy and a psychiatrist. By early 1982, the clinic assigned me to a day treatment program five days a week, where I would reluctantly go. Over time, I got involved by talking with other people with myriad issues and getting assistance with my problems.
In addition, in a couple of months, a phobia group was going to start, and it was recommended by my treatment team that I join. A couple of weeks before the start, they changed the location to a spot about 3.2 miles from home, and I could and would not go. About ten days before the first session, they switched the group back to my nearby clinic and within that critical mile and a half, so I hemmed and hawed, but I attended every session.
Over several months, I got help from others in my day treatment, the groups I attended, and my therapy. In my phobia group, I learned to lessen my fears and what I can do to change my irrational thinking process to something more pleasant and move ahead. Also, I had one on one support from someone who succeeded in challenging their phobias.
See, peers can help others. During that entire year, I learned to get out of my safety zone, and a year afterwards, I was able to go back to work part-time and start to progress in many areas of my life.
These are my beginnings using the mental health system and having support to help me in my journey for mental wellness. In the early 1980s, we were not called peer specialists; however, we worked hard, and we were beginning to be recognised as an integral of the mental health movement.
As I liked to say, for the most part, every journey begins with a single step. Peer specialists have aided me in my journey, too. It is hard to believe it is 40 years after this story happened, and still, my journey continues.
Howard Diamond is a certified peer specialist in New York.