The Monster Inside

23 and losing my mind. Afraid of my own heartbeat, 10 pm and the witching hour. I was no longer in control; my life had completely spun out and I was losing all touch with reality. The pulse of my existence was beating in rapid succession. Gasping for breath. There I was standing on top of a mountain toeing the line between life and certain death. The wind was engulfing me as if to say, “Jump. It won’t hurt, you are weightless”. I was stirring, continuously looking over the edge hoping to catch a glimpse of a better life. The truth was this, it was darkness and at 23 I was sleeping with the light on.

I don’t even know how it started or where it came from, it was just there, and I was scared as hell. My safe place had become the inside of the emergency waiting room. My life had become but mounds of medical bills, letters from doctors and progressive treatments.


I would catch myself counting down the minutes to 10PM, it seemed to be a sort of trigger for me. 9:50:01, :02, :03…tick-tock, “Our Father, Who art in heaven Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” 9:53:04, :05, :06.. My plea was always the same, “God grant me the strength to make it through the night and please, I beg of you, free me from this monster within”. Tick-tock-tick-tock, like a throbbing migraine headache; the pounding, the sensitivity to noise, the fear had bolded, highlighted and underlined the sound of that clock. Tick.. it’s a reminder of the minutes passing by. “Why am I still awake?! God, can you hear me?!” Terrified of the 10PM trigger I became addicted to Benadryl. I was desperate and willing to try most anything for relief from this mind, this beautiful, ferocious mind.

On my bad days, I suffered with shortness of breath, dizzy spells, heart palpitations, and a fear of everything on the other side of the front door. I gave up caffeine, chocolate, alcohol and any article of clothing I may have been wearing during an attack. They were potential triggers and I just couldn’t risk it. A fear so captivating that I gave up all I knew, I gave up on life itself. With a certain fate consumed by the heaviness of uncertainty, I tried yet again to change the course.

In 2003, I met a man, a man that said all the right things, he even took me out for ice cream on our first date. It seemed serendipitous that we met online yet grew up in the same small town. His brother and my best friend were childhood sweethearts. Had the stars aligned? Within a few short weeks we were married. He suggested I leave my job to work for his father with the goal that we would take over the family business. We sold my corvette, a car I worked so hard for, to open a savings account so we could start a family. I was leading a charmed life. About two months in I suggested we get matching tattoos – perhaps tempting fate. As I look down upon my forearm, running my fingers over what was once a blank canvas, now rests the lasting effects of grief and fear. That’s when I discovered that charmed life I thought I was leading was a more like an unknowing perdition. I was sleeping with a stranger, I man I hadn’t met before. We bounced from house to house, nothing was ever good enough; not me, not the dog and not our life. He had a secret stash of photos from his past hidden in the drawer of his nightstand, he kept a separate house in Los Gatos for those long nights at work. Before I knew it one day turned to two before he would stumble in the door smelling of cheap perfume, such a cliché. He would pick a fight with me, his way of justifying his indiscretions. I was on a volatile, twisting drunken enraged road of emotional abuse. I was trapped, I had nothing of my own, my identity was gone. As quickly as our marriage started it ended just the same, I remember that night well. He said he had enough and that I better be home when he got there. Uneasy, I decided to take the dog for a walk to clear my head or maybe to escape. It was cold and damp, the waves crashing and the darkness, it seemed my only friend. The dog, sensing a storm that was coming. I remember thinking what if he sees me? Where will we hide? Oh god, he told me to be home when he got there. Before we could make it to the front door, he pulled in the driveway, friend in tow, he enjoyed the humiliation. Without warning he packed up his belongings, took the car and drove off. He didn’t hit the brakes and he sure as hell didn’t look back. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had already drained our bank accounts. I was penniless and abandoned left with my dog, my clothes and what little self-worth I had left. What was I really hoping for?! I clung so hard to the idea that if someone “loved” me hard then suddenly, like magic, I would be cured. What I didn’t factor in at the time was how broken I would be as a woman coming out of that marriage.

When love didn’t work I opted for the next extreme, isolation. I packed my bags and headed to Reno in search of a new beginning. Yet another disastrous decision. The isolation from the flawed life I knew to this. Not even wild horses could drag me away, although I had hoped they would. Like a piece of meat lured out the desert and then devoured by a pack of hungry coyotes. I had hit bottom and was no longer able to relate to anyone. My struggles seemed trivial to most. “Take a deep breath!” “Relax!” “Is it really that bad?” The answer appears easy but I can’t breathe – I’m gasping for breath. Relax?! What if my heart stops beating or slows down too much? No, it’s not that bad, its worse!

Wild Horses

I tried psychotherapy, psychiatry, and I even met with a neurologist. I became a freak show behind closed doors; electrodes attached to my head through a funny little helmet-thingy. Challenging my brain with the most basic of functions; math, reading, writing and sounds. I was desperate to find a stillness, a calm vibration. And then the official diagnosis which had become the basis for the rest of my life. “Lisa suffers from a severe case of panic disorder sometimes with agoraphobia. Lisa experiences virtually every symptom among the criteria for panic attack, especially fear of losing control, going crazy, and dying. On numerous occasions, she has also experienced symptoms of agoraphobia, which have made it impossible for her to leave her home. For any person experiencing this disorder, it would be virtually impossible to be in a critical setting and participate in high stress activity or duty. If pushed, this would create an extreme risk of suicide”.


There it was, laid out before me. The monster now had a name, or two in my case. With a heaviness I sat, still, the only noise was the sound of my heart pounding and the faintness of the doctor’s voice in the background. It was in that moment that I had abandoned all hope that I would find the calm vibration that I had so desperately craved. I was on a journey that I didn’t understand, one that seemed fraught with peril, uncertainty and its share of fear.

My mind racing, I couldn’t help but to wonder if I had become what my own mother had feared the most – was I my father’s daughter?

As I reflect on the time since my diagnosis I have learned that I may never grow out of this illness. The “monster” may stay dormant for years, and then there will come a day when it creeps back in and reminds me its lurking in the darkness.

It took attending Storytelling Camp on Bainbridge Island with Team RWB to realize that this thing I had been trying to run from all these years, this thing that I let rob me of so many of life’s great adventures was now what connected me to the others. In a room where I was once a stranger, I had a family – an empathetic, loyal family that loved me, monster and all.

An Eagle Never Flies Alone

Something unexpected happened when I applied for Team RWB Storytelling Camp in Seattle. When I got the acceptance email, I panicked – sheer unadulterated panic. How was I going to go to an island in the middle of nowhere with what I perceived complete strangers?! Although we share the same mission I was petrified. To top it off I had to fly, alone and without my security blanket aka husband. As the days approached, I became more and more agitated, stricken with fear. How is an introvert going to survive this trip and share her story? What is my story?! What have I done?!

The morning of the trip arrived and there I was frozen in fear in the passenger seat looking over at the Southwest curbside check-in counter. As I exit the car, I glance over at my husband and the crying commences. Why did I apply for this?! As he speeds away (to know him is to love him) from the curb he shouts, “Babe, this is living!” I will spare you the remaining saga of the two, turned four, hours that followed in the airport. What I will say is I hadn’t flown solo since pre-911 and I was at one point during my sob-fest reminded that I wouldn’t be allowed on the plane if I didn’t pull it together.


Fast forward two days and I find myself with a handful of strangers exploring Pikes Place in Seattle. I am trying my best to be “normal” and easy going when deep down I am trying to analyze every aspect of this journey. Secretly praying that someone would pull out a neatly charted timeline of events, struggling to contain the controlling, methodical side of my personality.

We board the ferry to the island and the rain starts trickling down, rolling off my skin and calming my nerves. The smell of fresh rain, inhale – hold 2 – 3 – 4, exhale.


As we dock on Bainbridge Island the windows, like magic, roll down in this mystical minivan. Who knew minivans were so cool?! The radio volume turns up, Journey is playing, Don’t Stop Believin’, the soon to be anthem of the weekend. We arrive at the resort and decide to take a self-guided tour until registration opens 45 minutes later. Two of our pack decided to hang back while the remaining group decides to carry on. I’m in what appears to be a movie set of sorts, it was the ultimate fantasy for this desert rat. As if on cue mist filled the walking path, deer were all around us and the lake, oh that lake. The beauty was unlike anything my dry, desert-colored glasses had seen.


We came across a fork in the path; cemetery trail or… I didn’t even have to look, the “OR” was the only option. We talked about music and the scenery. There was a mention of Bon Ivor, I pause to take out my phone and queue up Holocene, it seemed all too perfect for this setting. We turned a corner and there it was, in all its glory. The suspension bridge, my body trembling and tears filling my eyes and simultaneously streaming down my face. “I can’t!” Our gracious leader informs me, “Oh no, you can.  We got you!”  We debate this for a few minutes before Dawn skips out on the bridge as if to say, “look at me, look at me”. There goes 1, which leaves 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 of us left. Counting slowly trying to do basic math, trying to reason with myself over the next 50 or so yards. Amanda grabs my hand and says, “hold on tight, and don’t look down”. Without instruction Roderick and Abbey stand behind me, the walk begins. One foot precisely placed in front of the other. To be fair I had all but given up bridges since the earthquake of 89. (I’m sure by now you are sensing the trend). With each step on that bridge I had to trust in faith, more importantly complete strangers who were willing to risk their lives, yes, I thought I was going to perish, to help me conquer what I deemed more impossible then travel by plane. In the end, knowing I had Eagles in front of me and behind me, that we were in it together, changed everything for me. In that moment when I thought to myself if God wanted to punish me and the bridge collapsed it went down with these strangers too and that just wasn’t going to happen.


Looking back, I didn’t realize how pivotal the bridge experience was for all of us. Maybe, just maybe, there was reason to live, I thought. There was “value” in the vulnerability. That moment was meant for the 5 of us that day.


There were many key moments during Storytelling Camp that changed the course of my life, brought me closer to my path. My progress from a place so deeply rooted in self-hatred to where I am finding myself today, a place of acceptance and forgiveness, most importantly a place where I can look in the mirror and be okay with the person I am becoming. This process is uncomfortable but it is my time to take off what the Japanese would consider my first face; to quit pretending to be strong and happy just to save face in a social media driven society.

Whether you call on people from other Team RWB Chapters or here locally one testament is true, our members and leaders, they will never let you go through this thing called life alone. If you find yourself in need, please reach out. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is not a sign of weakness rather it is the true showing of courage. I have a deeply rooted family today because of it. If you take anything from my experience I hope you learn that Eagles, they never fly alone.