It was 7:05 a.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, 1997. I was anchoring a public radio newscast in Newark, New Jersey, as I’d done every weekday morning for months, when the music host left the studio to grab more CDs. Alone with the microphone and a million listeners, I became aware of a sinister thought. It said that I was in danger of blurting out something outrageous over the air.
Alarmed, I pushed down the thought and kept reading, “Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Safir say New York City’s all set for tomorrow’s big parade…” Inside, I was battling a rising tide of fear that set my heart racing and squeezed the breath from my lungs. Finally, my voice failed me and the host took over, apologizing to the audience for “technical difficulties.” I gulped enough air to proclaim that something was caught in my throat, but that was a lie. I was having a panic attack.
Somehow I managed to get through the rest of my shift and hide my condition from coworkers. Terrified of what was happening to me, I went straight to my doctor, who put me on anti-anxiety meds. Terrified of becoming addicted to medication, I cut out caffeine, increased my yoga practice, and booked sessions with hypnotherapists, massage therapists, and homeopaths. Eventually I found my way to a psychotherapist who held my hand on the journey of recovery and healing that I was apparently beginning.
The panic attack didn’t cause my departure from radio news; it hastened it. I’d spent nearly a decade in public radio, producing and reporting for local and national programs. My favorite moments on the job were those spent interviewing fascinating people, retelling their stories, and hearing from inspired listeners. I loved the work, until I found that the kinds of stories I increasingly wanted to cover were not the stories that my editors wanted to assign. As my own personal recovery work was pointing me toward hopefulness and healing, I could no longer muster enthusiasm for city hall corruption, drug war updates and presidential sex scandals. When I quit my news anchor job in the fall of 1998, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were dominating the headlines.
In the year following the panic attack, I’d binged on self-help books, personal growth workshops, and audio recordings by spiritual teachers and motivational gurus. I’d committed to therapy and joined the 12-Step world to heal childhood wounds and addictive patterns that no longer served me. My life began to feel saner and, when I finally quit my job with none other in sight, I did so because I trusted that I’d be okay. I had no kids, no debt, good health and cheap rent. I could afford to take risks, and I was rewarded for them. My resignation letter was barely out of the printer before I had two exciting and lucrative freelance jobs to sustain me for several months.
About a month after leaving my job I met a psychic. His name was JT and he worked out at my gym. We struck up a conversation on the treadmills one day and he offered to give me a free reading. Being someone with no plans for the future, I accepted. Among other predictions, JT told me, “You will teach one day in your purpose way.” While I was more interested in knowing when I’d meet my soul mate, his odd words gave me some hope.
The following summer, jobless and still clueless about my next career move, I bought a car, sublet my apartment, and headed to the Kripalu yoga center in western Massachusetts for a work exchange program. The idea of spending the summer chopping vegetables and doing yoga in the Berkshires held much more appeal than temping or waitressing in hot and steamy Manhattan. I went to Kripalu for three months and stayed for two years. During that time I met people who spoke my language of recovery, emotional healing, spiritual seeking and transformation. I danced, drummed, sang and chanted with fellow seekers and free spirits who quickly became my new tribe. I learned about holistic health, complementary medicine and Eastern spiritual practices, soaking up knowledge like a human sponge from world-renowned teachers and alternative healers. It was like being in grad school, minus the tuition and research papers.
I became certified to teach yoga while living at Kripalu and I began to lead others in the transformational practice that was changing the way I related to my body and my self. I also started guiding groups of people in creative recovery workshops based on The Artist’s Way, the book and course I was working through when I had my panic attack on the air. Finally, I started to write about my journey, publishing essays and recording radio commentaries about the lessons I was learning. When I left the yoga center to seek my fortune in Boston, I had new words to describe myself: writer and teacher.
Ten years into this new career, I understand what JT the psychic was talking about. I now teach people how to connect with and trust their bodies, their spirits, their truths and their desires. My work feels like play, and it's profoundly meaningful. I can accompany my students and readers on a path of recovery and self-discovery because I’ve been steadily walking my own. The media projects I now accept as a writer and editor are those that inspire people to positive action, personal empowerment, social responsibility and greater wellbeing. I’m still a communicator at heart and words are still the tools of my trade, but I now use my talents to speak and write helpful and hopeful messages that ring true for me.
While I wouldn’t have chosen a panic attack to launch my reinvention, I’ve come to understand that I lost my voice all those years ago in order to find it, and use it, on purpose.