Claire Weekes was born in Sydney in 1903 to musician Ralph Weekes and his wife, Fanny. Claire was the eldest of their four children, and her natural intelligence and love of learning led her to the University of Sydney, where she studied zoology.

She excelled in her studies, and was about to become the first woman to earn a doctorate from the university, when she started to cough. It was 1927. Her illness became nightmarish – she lost weight, her skin changed colour. And the doctors’ diagnosis was heartbreaking: tuberculosis.

Claire knew that TB was a potential death sentence, and had to be managed carefully - her survival depended on it. She was told she had to rest: no study, no exertion of any kind.

Getting sicker and sicker, she would often lie in bed at night, and anxiety about her health would hit. In the darkness, she could feel her heart beating in her chest. Her breathing would get shallow, and she would feel dizzy, unable to catch her breath.

She hated this panic. She hated the way the room seemed to get smaller, her heartbeat louder. It was excruciating, lying in bed, night after night, unable to escape this fear. The panic simply overwhelmed her. It was scarier than the TB itself.

Then, she got better. The doctors had been wrong: it wasn't TB after all, just a bad case of tonsillitis. She went on to complete her doctorate, and then went onto London to complete a Rockefeller Fellowship. But she always remembered the fear and the panic that came upon her, night after night.

After her time in London, she arrived back in Sydney to find that there were no jobs in Zoology. She drifted a while - musical studies, writing, working as a travel agent. Eventually though, she went back to science, making the decision to study medicine. She became a General Practitioner in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney in 1952, finding a great deal of satisfaction in helping her growing list of patients.

Many of her patients came to her with the symptoms of anxiety. They talked to her about their breathlessness, their heart palpitations, and she recognised herself in their stories. It made her reflect on her own period of panic, all those years ago, when anxiety almost overcame her.

She remembered that the anxiety itself overwhelmed the diagnosis of tuberculosis.

And through this reflection, and her careful listening to her patients, she began to think about anxiety and its treatment in a new way. While anxiety had always been seen as psychological, with its roots in emotional trauma, Claire began to see that it was more practical to look at the physical symptoms of panic such shaking hands, sweaty palms, shallow breathing.

And yes, she said, these symptoms get in the way of life. Yes, they are painful to experience. But they actually tell you that you're a human being. Instead of fighting them, resisting them, what if her patients could be taught to face their anxiety, rather than force it away?

Claire endured a certain coldness from much of the psychiatric establishment, who thought her methods were nothing more than homespun ideas. When she began speaking and writing about what she called nervous illness, Freud was all the rage, and sufferers often spent thousands of hours (and dollars) on psychotherapy – talking about their childhood relationships and experiences. But Claire pushed forward, believing that concentrating on the anxiety and what it did to her patients, was getting results.

As she became more and more sure that her method for treating anxiety really could change the lives of sufferers, she realised she needed to reach a bigger audience. She went on to write several books to help many people who had once thought there was nothing they could do but live with the painful anxiety they had endured.

Her books include Self-Help for Your Nerves (1962), Peace from Nervous Suffering (1972), Agoraphobia: Simple, Effective Treatment (1977) and More Help for Your Nerves (1984).

The audio recordings have helped many as they enjoy the feeling of her speaking directly to them.

1989, Claire wrote her last book The Latest Help for Your Nerves after recovering from a brain aneurysm. She was 84. It is the culmination of her life's work.

Today her method is highly regarded and saves and changes the lives of many grateful, nervously ill people worldwide.

Claire was appointed MBE in December 1978, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980s. Her work on the treatment of anxiety is still cited in many books on the subject today.

Claire Weekes died in 1990, but her method for dealing with anxiety lives on through her work, and through the countless people she has helped.

“Strength is not born from strength. Strength can be born only from weakness. So be glad of your weaknesses now; they are the beginning of your strength.”

- DR CLAIRE WEEKES

COPYRIGHT 2022 CLAIRE WEEKES PUBLICATIONS