Lora* sat ramrod straight, knees crossed, her right foot bouncing, as she told me her emotional concerns during our first counseling session.
"I don't understand what's happening to me," this mother of two said. "I wasn't stressed out when my heart started racing. I was just driving, unable to catch my breath."
Her blue eyes watered up and her neck flushed. Lora's symptoms characterize a common mental health problem—a panic disorder. As I listened, Lora confessed her family and her home consumed her time. Even on weekends, her husband orchestrated the family's activities.
"Lora," I said, "tell me what you do in your free time. What activities do you enjoy?"
She flipped her blond hair off her angular shoulders, laughed lightly, and asked, "What free time?"
"The quiet times you take for solitude? Hobbies? Pleasures? Or just plain having fun with a friend?" I pushed.
She didn't answer. Instead, she shifted her feet and smoothed her skirt over her lap.
"Why don't you just describe yourself to me, then," I urged. "Who are you?"
The woman's eyes reddened; her lips tightened. She studied the pattern on my rug. But her silence answered my question with a shout. She didn't know who she was. She'd failed to find—or to keep—her sense of self.
After she shared more information—mostly about her overwhelmed feelings, I offered my thoughts. "I believe your panic attacks stem from your not knowing who you are. You may be feeling this sense of panic, of being out of control, because you've lost yourself." I assured Lora she was similar to other clients who struggle with anxiety and depression. "You've buried yourself in the midst of your multiple roles. Your desire to please others has concealed your sense of Self. You and I need to help you answer this important question, "Who am I?"1