Author’s Note: Writing this post was hard for me, because it made me relive what happened to me last summer that shook my world and turned it upside down.  Yet, in sharing this, I am letting go of the past and looking towards the bright future.  In sharing this post, I hope it helps anyone who has personally dealt with or knows someone who has experienced something similar.  It is quite a read in length, but sets the tone for my blog as a whole.  It is the basis of why I am who I am today.

Panic attacks:  I have had mini ones throughout my life before; however, the frequency was minimal: maybe once or twice a year.  To what I can recall, they happened when maybe I was very upset, scared and/or felt helpless.  And so, with these extreme feelings, they came on.  Yes, I went through the motions –shortness of breath, hands freezing up– but they subsided within a couple of minutes.

When I met my husband, he didn’t know this happened to me.  It’s not something I would exactly bring up and mention (it was a bit embarrassing).  But, he ended up learning what it was all about that one fall day (we were still dating at the time).  We ended up arguing about something and I ended up having an attack  —  I felt too overwhelmed.  Panicked himself, he rushed me to the ER and it was there that he learned that I needed to be calmed down and that I just had a panic attack.  And so he calmed me down.  The following year, someone in my family was rushed to the ER for something and there I was, panicking outside of the hospital, because I didn’t know how to take it.  And, again, my husband helped calm me down.  Of course I thought this was scary, but with a frequency of once a year, I didn’t really pay much mind to it.  I thought it was just a fluke I had and off I went to continue living my life.

Fast forward through live events, moments that have made me feel uncomfortable, ideas other people had about me that I let get to me, and me pretending to be someone I wasn’t.  Yes, fast forward to last summer when I was sitting at work and had the hiccups.

I had them for about 2 hours (seriously, they would not go away).  But it was okay and I sucked it up.  At the end of the day, I boarded the train home and sat in-between two people.  However, the car was packed.  It was hot.  I had people breathing down on me.  And I still had the hiccups.

Trying to lessen their [the hiccups’] annoyance, I tried to hold my breath and, when they came, tried to quiet them down.  I knew that my body jumping was annoying the people all around me, not to mention the little whimpers of “hic-cup,”  so I kept trying harder and harder until I felt that I was short of air.  Everything started to close up, I felt like I needed oxygen.  Desperately, I got up, pushed some people to the side, squeezed my way through, and ran to the end of the car and called my husband:

“I can’t breathe!” I said.  “I can’t move, it is too crowded, this train keeps moving, I cannot get off, I am going to pass out!”
“Calm down, you will be okay,” he then said.

And so, there I was, breathing, in a panic, not knowing what to do.  Finally, the train doors opened up, and I ran straight out of there and into a local drug store that had some air conditioning.  Once inside, I walked up and down the aisles; my mind was racing and I was so afraid of passing out that I called my husband again and told him that he needed to pick me up as soon as possible.  I then proceeded to call my father, who tried to calm me down and told me to go into the bathroom and splash water on my face and then the crown of my head.  He could sense the panic in my voice and then said that he was going to come and pick me up from the pharmacy.  I dunked my head into a pool of water I made in the bathroom sink.  I looked like I just came out of the shower.  But I didn’t care.  I didn’t know how to care.  I didn’t know what was going on.

*Takes a moment to take a deep breath*  Just writing about this is making me anxious, but I’m breathing (something I learned) and it’s all going away.  In….and out…..  Okay, I can continue this story.

While I waited for someone to arrive to pick me up, I drank about three bottles of water to hydrate myself.  Finally, my husband came.  When I saw him, I was relieved, but needed a distraction.  I ran inside the car and demanded he make out with me to calm me down (my mind was not processing correctly).  The making out didn’t work.  My hands quickly became so numb.  My fingers started to contour into permanent bends at angles I didn’t even know existed!  My shortness of breath sent a panic signal to my body, so now all of my blood and oxygen was rushing to my core, a body’s response to preserve the internal organs.  And all I could remember was that I was extremely thirsty, extremely scared, and extremely not myself anymore.

My family ended up taking me home.  The elevator in my building complex wasn’t working, so my dad ended up carrying me up two floors via the stairs, and then my husband for the remaining three floors.  They plopped me in front of the air conditioner and tried to get me to calm down.  I eventually did so about three hours later and everyone went home.  But there I was, no longer pale as a ghost, but scared.

*Taking another deep inhale in here*

The following day (and the next couple of weeks were just horrible).  I demanded my husband stay home from work because I could not be alone (think hardcore tears, bloodshot eyes, and lots of screaming).  I was afraid of being alone.  Better yet, it had seemed that I scared myself so much, that I was afraid of leaving my apartment.  I could not face stepping foot into the hallway.  I would cry and run back into the apartment.  My husband practiced with me for hours on end taking one, two, three steps away from the door and then walking down one, two, and then three steps down one staircase.  I was afraid of the outside world.  I was afraid of this thing happening to me again.  I cannot begin to tell you how many attempts I made trying to leave my building complex.  I had to take off from work for about two weeks.  I needed to be driven into work when I could finally walk outside, and then escorted for the remaining days of summer.  It took about another month for me to finally be able to walk around the block.  I did not know who I was anymore.  I seriously had something wrong with me at that point.  I could not believe how my world was flipped upside down with that one incident.

And that was the problem.  I thought of it was a one-time thing that changed my whole life.  But it wasn’t.  Truth be told, all those mini panic attacks and fears I had were all warning signs.  I just always chose to ignore them.  I always told myself that it was something that would pass and that it didn’t define me.  I made it part of my life, this discomfort.  Which was so wrong of me.  Because I neglected myself.  I never made the time to take care of myself and learn to let go.  I always had to be an independent person and live up to other people’s expectations.  I could never let them down – oh, no.  I had to be ‘perfect.’  And through all of this, all of the lying to my own self and not speaking up for who I was and what I wanted to do, led me to this giant explosion and state of panic that I wish I never, ever, have to go through again.

And so I let my guards down.  I opened up to who I was inside.  I started to see a therapist.  I sought valuable advice from those very close to me. I decided to take control of my life.  And I am who you see before you today.  I took up yoga and think it’s amazing because it forced me to slow down and listen to my body, mind, and soul.  It has opened up a sense of greater clarity that I never saw inside of myself before.  It has made me start this blog to track my progression.  I am not one hundred percent ‘healed’ yet, but I am slowly getting there.  The panic attack last summer made me afraid of the heat (but I got through some of that fear (yay!) which you can read about here), it made me fear moving fast and making my heart beat fast because it reminded me of the attack (which you can read about here), and it also made me afraid of traveling far distances away from home.  I can no longer see myself getting on a plane because I am afraid (I loved to fly, I was on at least 4-6 flights a year!).  But, I know that one day I will get there.  (I will post about my Washington, D.C. trip in my next post, because it was emotional trip that helped me see that I am progressing).

Point is, if you see the warning signs, don’t ignore them.  Yes, the past is the past.  But we shouldn’t ignore it.  Instead, we have to learn from it.  We need to live in the present and build ourselves up for success in the future.  Which will be an amazing life of less anxiety.  I made a promise to myself that I would give myself a chance and take care of me first and foremost.  I still have daily headaches and things to take care of (think responsibilities), but I am learning how to take it easy and organize it all.  How to live life to its fullest.  Because we only have one life to live on this beautiful planet.  And it’s only up to us to make it better for ourselves.  The hard work comes from deep inside of ourselves and the benefits.. oh the benefits.. they will set you free.

My giant panic attack last summer was a real eye-opening event.  I was putting a lot of stress on myself throughout the years in terms of body, mind, and soul.  So much that they all finally retaliated.  I wish this experience on no one, but what I do wish is that we all take care of ourselves.  Be brave with me.  See the warning signs, and see that we are worth it.  See that a good life is a happy, balanced one.  We will all get there.  It takes time.  And in the end, we will all laugh and enjoy life together.

Don’t worry about annoying someone else with the hiccups, because at the end of the day, they are happening to you.  Take care of you.  Take care of your life.

August 2013 – weeks after my giant panic attack. I was comfortable being outside again.. my husband captured me doing a twirl.
August 2013 – weeks after my giant panic attack. I was comfortable being outside again.. my husband captured me doing a twirl.

Loren.

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Brooklyn native, Latina, and founder of Enlightened by Bravery, an adventure/travel and wellness blog that focuses on drawing inspiration from adventures around the world back into your life // iPhoneographer // Francophile

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  1. Hi, this is a long ways out considering it is now 2019 but I would just like to share a similar experience. Just recently maybe about a month ago, I experienced my first ever, real life panic attack. I had all the worry signs beforehand for YEARS now that I think about it. But, just like you I let them pass considering they wouldn’t lead to anything serious. Anyway, when the panic attack happened out of nowhere in the middle of an average work day, I was so scared. I was alone with no friends or family nearby (besides the people at my work) because I was away for an internship. All alone I faced the before, during and after of this attack. Yes I went to the hospital because I felt like I was maybe going to die. But that’s what panic attacks feel like I guess.
    But to get to my point, I too was enlightened. Since that day I’ve stopped smoking e-cigs; knowing and realizing how much they effected not just my physical health but my mental too. I am much more keen and precise with my decision making, it feels almost as if I know the answer or can easily figure out a solution to any problem or question. I know exactly what I like and what I don’t like, what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at. It just feels like my mind has opened up to a whole new level of reasoning and understanding that people who haven’t experience something similar to this just can’t and won’t ever understand or feel! The after effects so far seem only to be positive for me which is so strange since panic attacks, I thought, were meant to harm not help?
    That’s my story, shared with only a few of my closest friends but a story I wish to share with more people one day. Your story is inspiring and relatable to more people than you can imagine. Thank you and do feel free to contact me if you ever read this.

    1. Hi, Nick! Thank you so much for taking your time to read the post and for leaving such an inspiring comment!! True, this was published back in 2014, but the reason why I published it online was so that it can live on forever– and I am so beyond happy and elated that it has resonated with you (literally, your comment has made my day). Your story has warmed my heart as I can sense the strength you have. This is beautiful; you truly were enlightened and continue to be so with your bravery every day. The answers to any problem or question comes from you being *you*, the clarity you now see inside yourself. Not afraid to live. Not afraid to say what you mean. To give yourself the love and attention you deserve. You love yourself and that is incredibly beautiful. I’ve come to the conclusion that having anxiety is a blessing in disguise, because it allows us to be super alert to things that we may have passed up in the past as being “nothing”; but, actually, it is everything. Noticing just one little habit or thing that we used to do, and changing it (with small, baby steps), on a daily basis leads to big, amazing changes. It leads to a more fulfilled life, the one that we want. Congratulations to you and this beautiful new sense of clarity! It is incredibly freeing! I encourage you to continue the positive practices you have been doing (I know you will) and to continue being gentle with yourself. Remember, every day is an opportunity to learn. Every day is an opportunity to grow. Constant positive personal growth is, what I find, the key to leading a happy, anxiety-free life. Thank you for sharing with me your story. Thank you for opening up. You are amazing. And you’ve inspired *me*. Happy, happy, HAPPY new year!! :).

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T.

Two New Zealand Star Experiences That Drove My Love For Astronomy

Bright. Plentiful. Stars are just everywhere. Unfortunately, growing up in New York City meant that I really didn’t get to see all the stars that exist in our night sky. The highest I ever counted was about nine from my dining room window, though I am pretty sure that five of those ‘stars’ were actually airplanes because stars don’t usually blink red and white right near John F. Kennedy Airport, right? No, no they don’t.

Living in New Zealand, though, that number went from “nine” to nine-hundred (and quite possibly to nine-thousand) fairly quickly. I felt comfortable with the first one hundred, but the more they appeared at night, the more scared I started to become. I had, what you would call “astraphobia,” the fear of stars and space. And the feeling was real. It was like I was a cavewoman and someone lit a torch in front of me for the first time. You can’t process it. You feel threatened. You feel like you don’t know what to believe. Camping in the middle of farmlands and mountains and being surrounded by pitch dark and little lights in the sky was just scary.

So what did I do? I ignored them. I prayed to the heavens above for super cloudy days and urged my husband to park under a tree or something so I wouldn’t see them. Basically, I tried to not see them for months. I pushed my feelings to the side and continued onward. Suppression was working.

After three months of traveling around, we found ourselves camping overnight at Lake Pukaki in the South Island. And that’s when I had to face the music. And then some. I was making dinner inside the campervan when my husband called my name in a frantic, excited holler from outside: “Loren! You, MUST SEE THIS!”

I knew that he was looking at the sky. But there was a part of me that really wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So I put my spatula down and slowly crept of out of the van to join him outside. He had a warm smile on his face and, with his index finger, pointed up to the night sky. Staring at him, I shook my head “no.” I didn’t want to see anything; yet, part of me did want to see something. I needed to at least peek. So I clenched my hands over his, took a quick gulp, and slowly gazed my eyes up towards the sky.

And there they were. THOUSANDS of STARS. If not millions.

I freaked out.

I felt absolutely small.

WAIT, is THAT THE MILKY WAY?!

Who am I?

What is life?

I cannot.

I quickly pulled myself away and ran inside the van to cry. It wasn’t necessarily the stars I was crying about this time, but more so the beauty of the night sky. WOW!! The beauty was overwhelming. But then it suddenly made sense: all this time I was avoiding them because, for the first time in my life, I felt outnumbered; it was a feeling I didn’t think was possible to have, let alone brought on by nature.

My hands were shaking, but it was such a beautiful sight that I knew I had to go back out there and accept that I was just this small human on this big, beautiful earth and that we are just floating around in this universe.

That night, I didn’t leave the van, but instead let all the feelings come. I journaled while my husband fell fast asleep. The enormity and beauty left me curious. Now or never. So I opened our window, slipped up on the windowsill and spent the night looking up, becoming friends with the stars.

Twinkling. Plentiful. Bright.

I was never going to be bigger than them. Their presence was overwhelming, but being overwhelmed is a temporary feeling. This was a sign from the universe to learn more. The stars were trying to show me more.

So I went seeking more.

 

1) Tekapo Stargazing and Hot Pools

location: Tekapo, South Island, New Zealand

 

While down in the south island, I found out two things: (1) we were in the Mackenzie Region, near Tekapo, which is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve and (2) there are only eight Dark Sky Reserves in the world and this one just so happens to be the most southern, darkest place on the globe. Crazy!

We researched a bit and came across the Tekapo Star Gazing experience. I was falling more and more in love with the stars every night– they were fascinating to me now!– so, naturally, we booked the tour and my goodness what an awesome time!

You start off by boarding a courtesy van late in the evening (the darker the better!) and they take you to Tekapo Springs. Once you’re off, some hot cocoa/tea is there to warm you up before you head outside to the main deck. Your guides point to the stars above you with a laser (it’s pretty cool that it reaches infinity!) and explain to you the constellations they are a part of. With our own naked eye we were able to see: the milky way, another galaxy (yeah, seriously), venus, jupiter and thousands upon thousands of stars.

My little heart was just so full!

If that wasn’t enough, there were two telescopes that we were able to use! We saw Jupiter up close and its moons, as well as that other galaxy up close– apparently you can only see it from the southern hemisphere. *swoon*

After our tour of the stars outside on deck, we all went into the changing rooms to put on our bathing suits (togs) and entered a 38ºC (100.4ºF) hot pool. Floating beds were handed to us and, as we laid on them, staring up to the night sky, our guides told us stories of constellations, Maori legends, and answered any questions we had about astronomy.

I didn’t want the evening to end. It was peaceful, magical and it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen elsewhere in my travels before!

travel tip: make sure to look at the weather. Stargazing is best when the night is clear (not many clouds) and the moon isn’t visible (less light). I love Accuweather’s ‘Astronomy’ predictor for this!

 

 

2) Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Center

location: Mt. Cook, South Island, New Zealand

Don’t know if you know, but Sir Edmund Hillary was from New Zealand and, with Nepalese mountaineer, Tenzing Norgay, they were the first men to climb Mount Everest– ever!

This alpine center is actually located right next to Mt. Cook, the mountain that Sir Edmund Hillary trained on for many years, in order to build up his mountaineering skills and stamina to take on Everest!

Part of the Hermitage Hotel, the Alpine Center is “the world’s only theatre with 2D, 3D and a Digital Dome Planetarium, contained within the same space.” What I fell in love with, though, was their 360º Digital Dome Planetarium. You pay about $20 and you have unlimited entrance to the shows they play in the theatre all day! From the big bang, black holes, to what we are doing today to continue learning more about the stars and planets in our skies, you will learn so much in a fun, educational way. Your entrance ticket also allows you to watch various 2D documentaries, along with a 3D short film giving you the inside scoop of Mount Cook. The best part? When you come out, you are in the mountains and, if you wanted to go hike into the Mt. Cook area you just learned about, the Hooker Valley Track is a beautiful way to bring everything into reality.

I learned so much that day and kept all of the fun facts in mind as we kept traveling through the beautiful night skies of the South Island.

travel tip: make a day out of it! get to the theatre in the morning when it opens, start watching presentations for a few hours, treat yourself to a buffet lunch in the hotel, then go out trekking into the Hooker Valley Track for a view of Mt. Cook!

These experiences have definitely made me much more interested in astronomy and have given me my next little fun thing to learn: how to shoot night sky photography. The world is absolutely beautiful and I learned, yet again, that embracing those curious matters in our minds leads to fascinating observations, discoveries, and, well, new loves.

Astronomy, continue teaching me your ways <3.

xx,

B.

Brave Series: Exploring New Zealand’s ‘White Island’– an ACTIVE marine volcano

According to Maori legend, White Island was formed when Maui first came in contact with fire, holding it in his hand, feeling the intense burn, diving deep into the sea and letting it go. What resulted was ‘White Island,’ New Zealand’s active marine volcano.

James Cook first saw it in 1769, it last erupted in 2001, and it rises about 1600 meters from the seafloor.  As scary as it sounds, there are actually tours that take you out there for the opportunity to experience it yourself. In an effort to overcome fear and give in to my curiosity and intrigue, we booked a tour to the mighty, natural formation. That’s right, we voluntarily went on an active volcano and into its inner crater– and it was cray.

I can honestly say that I’m not the same person I was when I last left New York City earlier this year, already. We all grow and development is natural, sure. But, I can tell you this: New Zealand has put my love of nature and understanding/intrigue natural disasters on a whole different different level.

Volcanoes are scary, yeah? Especially if they are active. But that fear inside of me, is a fire of its own, driven by a cloud of bravery that peeks over, dodging the flames and wanting to experience and understand more of the world’s offerings.

We booked a trip with White Island Tours and I honestly couldn’t sleep the two days beforehand; I was shaking in my bed sheets, worried that I was surely going to die.

I remember eating my last meal the night before: pad thai. And I remember putting on my shoes one last time that morning: hiking boots. Sure, it seems silly to some, but don’t we all go through things like this?

We checked-in around 9am that morning and departed Whakatane on a boat; destination: White Island. We passed rivers, islands, marine wildlife and, 80 minutes later, we saw her. I turned for a quick photo, thinking: “Gosh, I’m okay with just cruising, do we really need to land?” Fear was present, but there was no turning back.

We were handed life vests, hard hats and a gas mask. Anchored just a few meters away from the volcano, we got into a little inflatable raft and landed on the beach.

It was like we landed on another planet. Rocks, rubble, gas. It was all there. And the risk of disaster? Well, I appreciate that our tour guide brought up the obvious point and said that in the case of an emergency, either if the volcano were to erupt or a landslide should occur, that we should run and seek shelter behind a rock formation on the other side. Ouf!!!

My mind just couldn’t comprehend what was around me, what was happening. It was like an out-of-body experience. The only thing I knew, though, was that I was there. I was finally there.

With our tour guides leading the way, we safely walked on the volcano, avoiding ‘soft spots’ that were ready to burst should we have stepped on them and learned about all the minerals present: sulphur, iron, among others. We even learned about a mine that existed there and ceased its operation in the early 1900’s for sulphur & gypsum (a mineral you’ll find on the head of matches!), due to it being super hazardous, leading to an unfortunate event that took the lives of ten men and a few cats. One cat did, however, make it out alive and became somewhat famous in the nearby city after being rescued!

Our gas masks did come into play when we approached high levels of sulphur gases. When mixed with the saliva in your throat, it caused an irritation, causing you to cough. It dawned upon me, as my group all coughed together in a manner equal to that of an unsynchronized choir that we, as humans, are fragile. A natural gas can have this effect on us. It was honestly, pretty darn humbling.

As we approached the inner crater and saw the pool of super acidic water (a.k.a., where the eruption would occur), I wasn’t so scared anymore. Being vis-à-vis to the thing that caused me so much grief the nights prior was humbling. I let my guards down. I experienced a sense of calm. It was actually pretty darn cool.

Our tour ended shortly after and I was so bummed! I secretly wanted more. We boarded our rafts back to the boat. They gave us a light lunch and we spotted whales on the way back to Whakatane.

I was so proud that I conquered a fear and decided to go on such an excursion that led me to understand and experience more of Earth’s natural beauty; I would highly recommend the tour!!

I bought this Paua shell ring down in the South Island. Paua is native to New Zealand and it’s beautiful. The shell’s pattern in my ring below reminded me of a mountain. I feared mountains when I first arrived, but then I climbed a few. I also feared volcanoes, but I’ve now hiked on one and visited the inner crater of another. My ring will now represent mountains and volcanoes and the bravery to climb/visit them, head-on.

I love you, New Zealand.

xx,