09/28/2013 11:20 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST

Give Up - Give In - Give It All You've Got . . . You Choose

In my book Repairing Rainbows: A True Story of Family, Tragedy and Choices, I recount the terrible time when I was thrust into a "tornado" of major loss. One minute I thought that maybe, just maybe, I was going to be okay and the next minute I was overcome with anguish. Paralyzed. Out of nowhere would come a fresh flood of terror. A panic attack. Like a time bomb, ticking away silently and then exploding with a loud boom.

Despite, or maybe in spite of, the sorrow, heartbreak and tremendous pain, I was determined to find happiness and joy again. I refused to succumb to a life of despair. I wanted to laugh and have fun.

I had to find something to make the panic and anxiety stop. I had no idea how to process or deal with such profound sadness, grief and anger. What I did know was that I did not want to give up, and I did not want to give in to the constant pain that was deep in my heart.

I discovered that the only thing that helped, even temporarily, was focusing on the things that made me feel better and gave me pleasure and joy. My "pain medication" or "emotional anesthetic" was to do whatever I could to keep busy, distracted and focused on helping others.

I felt so much better when I was spending time with happy, positive people, doing things for others, finding things for which to be grateful, and choosing positive thoughts.

I did not feel guilty about wanting to be happy; my mother had always told us that health and happiness were the most important things in life.

And so I forged ahead . . . with determination, courage, compassion and hope. No matter how hard it was - and it was hard - I was not going to give up on life.

Giving up was never a choice for me.

I chose a direction. I tried to find my way, doing what I had to do in order to survive, in order to find my "new normal."

I spent a lot of time imagining and daydreaming about better times, and about having happiness and joy in my life again.

When I reflect on those teen years, I realize that my life was comparable to Dorothy's in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her little dog Toto were caught in a violent and devastating twister which swept them away to a land beyond the rainbow - the land of Oz.

Everything was foreign and different in the land of Oz, thus rendering Dorothy's life unrecognizable. She was frightened and confused. I certainly can relate to those emotions and the feeling of an unrecognizable world.

Initially immobilized, Dorothy found the courage and determination to find her way home. Dorothy met and leaned on some wonderful people as she followed the Yellow Brick Road - the people who were caring, positive and sincere - Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, the Munchkins, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. They followed the Yellow Brick Road together, they supported and encouraged each other and together they dodged the "bad guys" - the Wicked Witch of the West and the Flying Monkeys - the ones who were mean and cruel.

Dorothy stayed focused and optimistic, and she held on to her hope with persistence and determination.

Like Dorothy, I intuitively knew and understood that the choices for the direction of my life . . . were mine.

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