From Panic to Purpose
November 3, 2011
by Kim Childs, CPPC
It was 7:05 a.m. on Thanksgiving eve, 1997. I was anchoring a public radio newscast in Newark, New Jersey, as I’d done every 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 told me that I was about to blurt something outrageous over the air.
I pushed down this thought and kept reading, “Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Safir say everything’s all set for tomorrow’s big parade in Manhattan…” 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 “Sorry, coughing fit,” 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 co-workers. Terrified of what was happening to me, I went straight to my doctor, who put me on anti-anxiety medication. 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, telling their stories, and hearing from inspired listeners. I loved the work, until I found that the kinds of stories I wanted to cover were not the ones my editors wanted to assign. As my 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 binged on self-help books, personal growth workshops, and audio recordings by spiritual teachers. I’d committed to therapy and joined the 12-Step world to heal the wounds of my traumatic childhood and the dysfunctional patterns that were no longer serving 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 when I had two exciting freelance offers to sustain me for several months.
I’d taken the leap, and the nets were appearing.
A month after leaving my job, I met a psychic named JT at the gym. We struck up a conversation on the treadmills one day and he offered to give me a free reading. Being someone with no clear plan 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, 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 in hot, 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 personal growth. I danced, drummed, cried and chanted with fellow seekers and free spirits who quickly became my new tribe. I learned about holistic health and Eastern spirituality, eagerly soaking up knowledge from world-renowned teachers and alternative healers.
Eventually, I became certified to teach Kripalu yoga and started leading 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 I was working through when I had my panic attack on the air. Finally, I started to write about my journey, publishing stories about the life 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. Several years later I added another title: Certified Life and Career Coach.
Today, I understand JT’s cryptic message. I see that I can accompany my clients and students on a path to more authentic and empowered living because I’ve been steadily walking my own. While words are still the tools of my trade, I now use them to speak and write helpful, hopeful messages from the heart.
My work feels like play, and it’s profoundly meaningful.
While I wouldn’t have chosen a panic attack to launch my reinvention all those years ago, I’ve come to understand that I once lost my voice in order to find it, and use it, on purpose.
Kim Childs is Boston-area certified life and career coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity, and midlife transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or video chat.