Facing Fears


Before she could help her mom, Deborah had to help herself.

My childhood was chaotic, to say the least. I come from a family that has a deep-rooted history of mental illness and substance abuse.

I have family members—on both sides—who have tried to commit suicide and family members who have succeeded. My own father committed suicide when I was 14, and my mother, who suffers from bipolar disorder, didn’t handle it well. She threw me and my brother out of the house when we were in high school.

Thankfully, we were taken in by a family, and it was a completely different environment from the one we’d come from. Seeing how these parents raised their children served me well when I eventually married and had kids of my own. 

But even as I grew up and became a mother myself, I never really dealt with the trauma from my childhood. As a result, I had bouts of anxiety, and at certain points, panic attacks. I spent years trying to unpack my feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment toward my mother.

It wasn’t until I was in my fifties, when I received an emotional phone call, that I made a breakthrough.

A Rocky Road

My relationship with my mother has pretty much always been close to nonexistent. I once ran into her in a store as an adult and that was the first time she’d met any of her grandchildren.

I remember going to the doctor and saying… give me something to “Fix this.” I didn’t want to talk about the issues I was having with my mother or how they made me feel. I didn’t want to discuss my anxiety or panic attacks; I just wanted a pill that would make everything better.

Of course, there was no magic pill that would make my problems disappear.

I also tried working with different therapists, but those experiences left a bad taste in my mouth. One therapist gave me a reading assignment; I was to read this book and come back the next week to talk about the first chapter. But I remember seeing that same book on my mother’s bookshelf when I was growing up. I know she read it, and it didn’t help, and here I was, paying this doctor a lot of money (that I could barely afford) to tell me to read it. That was a deal-breaker for me.

But there were things I tried that did definitely help, like exercise. I also got into building vision boards, journaling, reading, learning how to be a better parent, and basically trying to find my way through my trauma. It took a lot of work, but I got to a point where the panic attacks stopped. In fact, I went years without experiencing one.

Then, I got “the phone call”. It was from my brother. He told me that our mother had been kicked out of her living situation and was now homeless with nowhere to go. What’s more, she had dementia and was refusing medical attention.

Even though we hadn’t had a relationship with our mother for many years, my brother and I decided we would try to help.

But I knew I needed to help myself first.

That phone call brought out all the feelings of frustration, anger, and sadness that I’d worked so hard to keep at bay over the years, and the panic attacks started again. I said to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.” I had to figure things out and put myself in a good position mentally, emotionally, and physically before I could handle the situation with my mother.

Steps That Add Up

I decided to give therapy another try. Apparently, the third time’s the charm. I found an incredible woman and had a very different experience. It made me appreciate why people go to therapy. She helped me figure out how to talk to someone who has a mental illness and is dealing with dementia, which made me more confident about having a conversation with my mother.

At the same time, I started learning more about health and wellness. One of my goals was to get off antidepressants. In my experience, they blunt your emotions and sap you of any sexual desire. Then, they switch your medications to see if they can find one that doesn’t have those side effects, and it turns into a vicious cycle of going on and off different types of medications. It was miserable, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. I so much wanted to find natural ways to help heal my body, whether through the food I eat, through nutritional support, the exercises I do, and whatever else was out there and shown to work. 

I have a good friend with an amazing wealth of knowledge about health and wellness. One of things she suggested I add to my routine was to take the herb ashwagandha to help with my anxious feelings. So I looked online, and found AshwaMag. I knew that calming the anxious feelings would help with my sleep. And if I could sleep better, I would be more emotionally prepared and energized to tackle the situation with my mother. 

I started taking AshwaMag. As promised, it helped me handle stress better and relax, which, in turn, helped me sleep. As I started feeling less anxious during the day and sleeping better at night, I now could do more things to manage stress, like getting up in the morning and hitting the gym regularly. There were days when I would have to break things into small commitments, like putting on gym clothes first thing in the morning, even if I only did 10 minutes of exercise. 

It was this one little step that led to another step, which led to another, and eventually, led to more joy across the board. 

This isn’t to say the situation with my mother was smooth sailing—not by a long shot. I did the right things, like taking AshwaMag, to support myself, but I still had to face the thing that was making me sad and anxious. Facing my mother brought back feelings from childhood, feelings of wishing she could be someone she wasn’t and would never be. It also added drama to my life. 

My brother and I had a tough time trying to intervene. In the end, our mother refused our help, and we had to come to grips with that. It’s easy to carry guilt in those situations, so we had to accept her choice and know that we did everything we could.

Taking Power From Panic

Even though things didn’t go the way we’d hoped, I’m incredibly proud of the way my brother and I handled the situation with our mother. We faced it head-on, and that experience brought us closer.

It also changed how I view my emotions. It’s life. Stress and anxiety are inevitable at times, but now, when I start to feel panicky, I don’t see it as something to fear. I know it’s a signal that something in my life is falling out of alignment, and I need to pause and get my house in order. When I was younger, I would spiral when those anxious feelings crept in. Today, I view it as a gift… it’s wonderful that our bodies are so brilliant and intuitive that they have this mechanism to stop us and say, “Hey, you need to take care of yourself.”

When you reframe it, it takes away much of the power behind a panic attack. It doesn’t mean it will immediately go away, but taking the panic as a signal to pay attention can keep it from escalating or sticking around long.

I‘ve learned that really bad things can and often do happen at different points in our lives, but instead of letting them overwhelm and consume us, we can look at them as opportunities to get stronger. There are many things one can try instead of giving up, for me it was things like exercise, dietary and nutritional changes, meditation and other CBT techniques. Find out what works for you, and use it when life goes hard.