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  Tuesday January 27th, 2015    

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Let there be light! (02/08/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

I was shocked as I read about the reactions of some of the people who, blind from birth, at last were thrust into the vast galaxy of "sight." Why had I always assumed that such a turn of events could not be anything but elation?

In truth, some are terrified, choosing to close their new eyes against unimaginable sizes, brightness, and velocities. I read of one boy who begged to be returned to an asylum, which had been his comfortable space for years. Others are overwhelmed by distance, the scope of human sight, and shocked that every human face is distinctly different. One young lady was amazed with her hands and spent hours studying them.

I know well the impact of light and of complete darkness. Nighttime, thankfully, has gradually become peaceful, restful, and even welcomed to me once again. When darkness once turned on me, my relationship with sunset and the dead of night became strained and debilitating. The first episode, when I was in my late thirties, was diagnosed as a "panic attack," which accelerated, going on and on for days.

Because I didn't understand what had happened to me, I reverted into a trembling, desperate stranger to myself. Medication brings relief, but the necessary element of overcoming is an understanding of panic attacks. The first experience was triggered by a thunderstorm, one night when the electricity went off over the entire town of Lewiston. I woke with a jolt by a crack of lightning.

My eyes couldn't adjust to the blackest darkness I'd ever known. I thought I'd gone blind! Heart racing, a gripping stomachache, cold sweats, and the sensation that I was being suffocated by the walls closing in on me, I flew out of bed. Shaking and gasping, I fumbled for a flashlight, then a candle, anything. But even with a glow of candlelight opening my space, the panic echoed through me and wouldn't be calmed.

After pacing for the rest of the night, I rushed to the local clinic in the morning. Lucky for me, Dr. Morris understood the condition. Many doctors don't have a clue. With a prescription of Xanix, I became able to handle what my body was putting me through. Panic attacks don't always have an obvious cause; mind was likely a chemical imbalance in my body, along with too much coffee (I drink tea now.)

I have had several episodes of panic attacks, but none as traumatic as the first. I often tried to explain to my family by saying, "I feel like a prisoner in my own body. No space that I can flee to seems big enough." Struggling to pull myself out of the doom and gloom of that first panic experience, I had to face an enemy I had no control over - it gets dark every single night.

For some time, my panic attacks turned into a phobia. A "phobia" is an unrealistic fear of something. It turns into an obsession as one becomes consumed with dread. People who suffer from anxiety disorders appear to function perfectly normal. Through group therapy, proper medication, and facing "fears" head-on, sufferers can revert back to normalcy and peace of mind. (I can go to bed now without a light on!)

An informative and rehabilitating book by Jerilyn Ross, M.A., president of the "Anxiety Disorders Association of America" and director of a facility for sufferers, located in Washington, D.C., "Triumph Over Fear," c 1994, is an eye-opening read. Realistically, conditions such as clinical anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias cannot be "wished away." Help is needed!

"Let there be light!" I saw it at the end of the tunnel, as a child, hallucinating with a high fever from pneumonia. It was surely "the peace that passeth understanding," something I've not experienced since. But I was sent back to the land of the living...maybe someday why will become apparent.

"Let there be light!" Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which leaves many people depleted and depressed in the winter months, can be corrected by daily doses of indoor light, twenty times brighter than the average. Light therapy is being used to help people with psoriasis, schizophrenia, and even some forms of cancer.

My last panic attack, in 2002, the night before an MRI, was brief and didn't get the best of me...I won! I often repeat the mantra that carried me through my darkest hours:

This too shall pass...this too shall pass...this too shall pass...and it always does...with support and guidance. 


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