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Priscilla Warner
Priscilla Warner

Is It Better to Look Good or To Feel Good?

Is It Better to Look Good or Feel Good?

Now that I'm able to eat potato chips and desserts again, I'm wondering if I'll ever lose another pound.

I appeared live on The Today Show a couple of weeks ago, and that was incentive enough for me to clean up my act nutritionally. But now that I don't have to worry about how many chins I have, I'm focusing more on my insides than my outsides.

I'm remembering the words of Billy Crystal's Saturday Night Live character, the talk show host who claimed "It's Better to Look Good than to Feel Good."

But I want to do both; I want to look good and I want to feel good.

For years, I was unable to do that; my insides and outside didn't match each other.

In photos of me as a teenager, I look happy and well adjusted. A pretty face shines out at the world, and the fact that I carried a flask of vodka and pills with me everywhere to ward off panic attacks didn't show up on camera.

Photos of me as a child show a sad, troubled little girl, although no memories of my childhood supported that theory until I began EMDR therapy and processed the anxious, confused role I played in my family when I was growing up.

If you'd met me when I was rising through the ranks of advertising agencies, pitching exciting, creative concepts to clients and partying with my co-workers all night, you'd never know that I felt like a fraud every time the door to a conference room closed, and I had to not only sell a product but the image of myself as a composed professional as well.

And when I walked down the aisle as a happy bride, no one assembled could tell I'd been crying my eyes out before the ceremony, afraid to leave the home I'd grown up in to stroll into the back yard tent where my happy husband was waiting to exchange vows with me so that we could start an exciting life together.

Six million Americans struggle with a panic disorder,

and millions more suffer from other anxiety disorders. Often these people appear to the rest of the world as though they're doing just fine. They hold down jobs, raise families, vote, socialize, and seem to conduct business as usual.

I was one of those people for forty years.

I might have appeared a little nervous at times, and I sometimes told people how nervous I was, jokingly, to break the icy fear that encased me before I had to perform, whether at work or a dinner party, where I assumed that all of the "normal" people arrayed in front of me were as happy as I was scared.

I was nervous the night before I was to appear live on The Today Show as a formerly-anxious-person-now-cured-of-anxiety. I meditated longer than usual. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I meditated again.

At dawn, I took a tiny dose of Klonopin, a fraction of the dose I'd taken before speaking publicly in the past.

And then I picked out my wardrobe, ate some oatmeal, and was driven into New York City, enabling me to meditate for another half an hour.

At the studio, two lovely women did my hair and makeup, sprucing up my outsides.

I tried to focus on my insides, which were anxious.

And I discovered that they were actually excited.

For years, I often confused the feelings of excitement and anxiety. One was good and the other was bad. One seemed normal and the other seemed abnormal.

But now that I've attained a level of inner peace that I never thought was attainable, I'm able to accept and understand that excitement and anxiety can coexist in my body and brain. Along with fear, doubt, sadness, and joy.

A rush of adrenaline won't always escalate to panic. A torrent of tears won't last forever.

And a live appearance on national television can be exhilarating, frightening and exciting all at the same time.

As I sat down on the couch of the brightly lit set, I felt my body settle in, as it had done for so many Somatic Experience and EMDR therapy sessions. I placed my hands in my lap, as I'd done hundreds of times while I developed my meditation practice. I took a deep, satisfying breath, as I'd been taught to do by so many teachers and healers.

And when I caught a glimpse of myself in a studio monitor, I thought to myself, just as Billy Crystal's character used to say, "You look mahvelous!"

About the Author
Priscilla Warner

Priscilla Warner co-authored The New York Times bestselling memoir The Faith Club and the forthcoming Learning to Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life.

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