What now?

It’s been six months since my last appearance here and truthfully, I didn’t think I’d ever get the urge to come back and continue to tell my story. October 2020 felt like the end to a burden that I had been facing for a long time. The physicality of anxiety plagued me for longer than anyone knew and now that I had the tools to get past it, I felt healed! A lot of my journey in my mental health had been about completely eradicating the issues. I took on my mental health in the way one would take on their physical health; sleep, rest, and do what you’re told, and you’ll feel better. I did that and the desired result came. I felt better, I was no longer terrified to move and function; I had everything that I thought I wanted out of the work I had done in my CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) therapy. What could possibly go wrong?

November 2020 began a journey into acceptance. An acceptance that this journey was no longer something I could fight away or wish away. My mental health would need to be tended to with the same love and consistency that I had shown for my physical health. Stress began to pile on and I had a setback that hit me like a freight train. I had a very disturbing dream which I now know was an intrusive thought. These disturbing thoughts and fears began to surface while waking and I was thrown back into the spiral that I thought I had escaped. The details of the dream and thoughts are something that I don’t feel comfortable sharing online. If you’ve had this type of thing happen, I’m sure you can assume that the gravity of these thoughts can be very jarring for anyone whether they have experience with this or not. I was forced to come face to face with the mental portion of my journey that I had long been avoiding. I lived my life very one-dimensional. If there was a problem, it was meant to be fixed and moved on from, but this wasn’t going to work out that way. 

CBT had taken me as far as it could. There was only so much I could rationalize before I had to go deeper. Emotions that I had been avoiding needed to be dealt with. A change in therapist was necessary. I found someone who specialized in psychodynamic and relational approaches. At first, I had no clue what that would mean for my new journey through therapy. It all seemed new and scary. I had done CBT so many times in years passed without really touching on the actual feelings and emotions that I was carrying (directly in my body I might add). Through this new approach, I was able to dig further and start to grow beyond just rationalization and realize that every emotion and feeling had its purpose and it was something I no longer needed to be afraid of feeling. There are no good or bad emotions/feelings, they just are. Each one holding its own individual message for me to listen to and embrace as needed. Am I perfect at this now? Absolutely not. I’m still struggling with the fact that I will always have some form of anxiety. I would love nothing more than to wish it away and never have to deal with it again. However, just like my physical health that I spent so many years obsessing over, I am going to have to give this the same level of care (maybe not obsession). 

So what now?

Well, I am down to seeing a therapist one time a week. It’s a new schedule and one I’m still getting used to. I am slowly realizing that sometimes putting down the self-help books, putting aside the therapy homework and just living for each day as it comes is needed. The bigger acceptance is, we’re all works in progress and I will never achieve some pinpointed level of perfection where work will no longer be needed. Change is good and it’s taken me 31 years to come to terms with it. I have spent the last year in fight or flight and I’m hoping to wind down to a place where I can still work on myself but take my life back to some of the passions I set aside to face this journey head on. I miss writing, I missed this blog, I have a novel that’s sitting in the vault that I’d love to get back to. I think the fresh perspective of not having my emotions on level 100 will take me back to the safety of writing again. Writing has always been my way of handling things. I would either take the time to write the words my brain was too shy to say, or I would create the worlds that my brain would daydream about. I am a creative being and I am very excited to play around with that again. 

As for the fate of this blog, I really can’t say what a definite timeline would look like for posting. I’m leaning toward more letting this go and letting it serve as an archive of my journey but I also know how inspiration works and sometimes keeping my mouth shut is utterly impossible. I want to help others. It’s another passion of mine and after the experiences I’ve had in the last year, I want to use my new voice and hopefully reach people who don’t feel like they have their own. I am blessed with health insurance for therapy, I am blessed with a steady income, and most of all I’m blessed with a steady support system to nudge me along when I need it. I know that it’s not everyone’s fate and I hope that by sharing my story, I can reach as many people as I can. Being inside of your thoughts isn’t always a creative means. Sometimes it’s downright scary and if I can pay it forward by being a source of comfort in some way, I want to. Next to writing, helping others is something that I love to do. I’ve gotten myself into some new non-profit work this year that I’m very thankful for. I’ve begun writing letters for The Letter Project, a faith-based nonprofit organization that writes letters to women of all ages whose family members or themselves ask for extra encouragement. I’ve written letters to people in the U.S. and beyond and I have received my own bundle of encouragement that I will cherish forever. I am also participating in a local community program where I will have virtual (for the time being) visits with a senior citizen very soon. I want to be of service to others in any way that I can and I am very excited to be a part of this program and hopefully forged a bond with someone who can use the friend just like I could at times in my life. 

To those who got to the bottom of this post, I thank you. Anyone who’s ever taken the time to read what I have to say is very special to me and I hope that I can continue to tell my story in some way and share with you all down the road. Please feel free to leave a comment on how you’re doing. I’d love to hear from you.

Teachable moments.

I have been MIA for most of 2020. Words on the year just felt like it didn’t cut it. Expressing myself became impossible but I have finally hit the point where I’m able to talk about it, able to embrace myself and my world despite how uncomfortable it can be. I have been working from home in my new normal and the lack of routine has been jarring but the toss up out of my consistent routine turned out to be exactly the thing I needed to learn the most about myself.

I’ve talked about anxiety on this platform and explained my journey within the disorder. I’ve seen anxiety before but I have never seen anxiety of this magnitude. In late August, I hit my version of rock bottom. A low I’ve never touched before. I had a panic attack in what felt completely out of the blue. It was a normal summer day, I was home alone and I was working and cleaning up my house. I just finished cleaning my bathroom and went to put a fan in my bedroom window when the short walk between rooms left me with my heart pounding and in a sweat. I had never felt such a visceral fear like that. I was able to calm myself and wrote it off as lack of water and eating in the heat. I tried to bounce back but only found myself falling further.

I began to obsessively google my symptoms anytime I felt a pain, ache, or random feeling. My anxiety was taking control of my daily life and became the only thing I could think about it. In September, I visited the primary care doctor for the second time this year with concern I drummed up from another google search, and ended up having another panic attack in the office. My heart rate was 122 upon sitting down to be checked and all I could remember was feeling like something was very wrong in that moment despite nothing being wrong. The doctor ruled out any ailments and I was told I had General Anxiety Disorder. I had already found therapy but it was now needed more than I realized.

The entire month of September, I was in a rut. My anxiety started to increase depression symptoms and I hit lows I’ve never seen. I would go to bed anxious, or not sleep at all. I would wake up anxious and spend the entire day trying to run away from whatever panic attack would come my way. I cried more in the month than I have in my entire life. I was navigating not only the scary physical symptoms I was convinced were going to kill me but now the emotions of it all. I was convinced I was stressing everyone out and I was a burden to everybody around me. This episode was so disruptive, how could I not be? There were days I’d keep my Mom on Facetime all day long because I was terrified to be alone. Anxiety was no longer about just simple fear but very what like realistic scenarios that were trying to break me.

Health anxiety had always been an issue for me and one I was embarassed about. I was always the hypochondriac in the group, the one with the unreasonable fears and the overactive imagination. I hated speaking about these feelings but now I was forced to deal with them and other feelings I had buried. The year began with family struggles directly after getting married and went straight into Covid only 2 months after that. There was no break for me and as my therapist explains, the turkey that is me popped and I needed to take the issues out of the oven and address them all. Silly little analogy but it was the truth.

At the end of October, I can tell you I am doing better. I still deal with anxiety but I am learning to accept that I can do that in a healthy way. Anxiety doesn’t just go away, it’s a common human emotion I’ve learned and not something that I need to run from. I write this actually grateful for my anxiety and the episode over the last two and a half months. What began as a burden became a teachable moment. A moment that reminded me of my strength, that it’s okay to be vulnerable, and that I needed to feel in a big way to fully understand my journey in mental health. Anxiety has a wide variety of ranges and most I’ve been fortunate to never experience. However, in the new experiences of 2020 I feel like I can better declare myself as a mental health advocate, I feel like I can use my journey to help others as well as myself. What I thought could kill me, actually made me stronger and not it wasn’t just the false sense of security stronger you get from reading a two second quote, it was actual strength within me.

I kicked anxiety’s ass. I did it once and I will do it as many times as I may need to along the way and I hope to help others do the same.

DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks (Review)

“The only way out is through.” That’s one of the many positive affirmations given to the reader in this book and it’s the one that stuck with me the most. Last year was probably one of the worst of my life professionally. I was in constant conflict with my managers, always having to look over my shoulder in professional settings and my anxiety was at all-time high. I saw a therapist for a little over six months but my insurance was no longer accepted at the facility. I was out of options and too anxious to try and get to know another therapist. That’s when I found DARE by Barry McDonagh. Social Media keeps me in touch with people from all parts of my life and a friend from high school was posting excerpts of the chapters of this book and I knew I had to read it. Everything on his Instagram stories felt like it was talking directly to me. After doing more research, I found out that author and founder of the program DARE, Barry McDonagh also suffered from debilitating anxiety. Knowing this made me feel less alone and less suspicious about opening my mind to his new suggestions. He had applied his program to his own anxiety and it had worked so I took a chance and hoped it would work for my own.

The book introduces something called the Dare Response, which is a new way to view your relationship with your anxiety. The key points of the response are defuse, allow, run toward, and engage. Defuse shows the mind that you are not in any real danger when you take on a blasé approach to anxiety, “Who cares”, “So what” are phrases that the author uses to allow anxiety to take on a smaller form rather than feel unstoppable. By using the act of diffusion, it replaces worry with power of the situation when anxiety makes you feel powerless. Allow is the means of letting the anxiety come as it wants to. Resistance can make anxiety seem bigger than it is. By allowing anxiety to just come and flow naturally through you, it takes away the fear of what could happen or what is happening to you. You have the control of the outcome. A funny line from this step’s section for me was when McDonagh says to sit down your anxiety and invite it in for tea. The visual created in my brain was exactly what I needed to see that I was in control of my anxiety and my anxiety didn’t control me. I was the one calling the shots and deciding what, when and where anxiety can appear. Run towards is the next step. McDonagh suggests that by running toward your anxiety you can change the perspective of it. He explains that fear and excitement are often the same and when the mind readjusts the feeling toward anxiety, it can reduce its power and change the way the brain views anxiety. A negative can quickly become a positive and instead of looking for the “boogeyman” over your shoulder, you can embrace the present world around you. The final step is to engage. Engage in something that takes up your full attention so the anxious feelings can no longer reel you back in. This felt like the most important step because it encouraged me to focus on my life and stay in the present versus stay in my head with the fearful anxiety. Furthermore, the book details ways to apply the response to several different aspects of anxiety such as panic attacks, health anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and fear of being abnormal. Each section details how to apply the response to the situation but also provides thoughtful insight on his experience with the situation or the experiences of others that he helped. I found several different scenarios relatable and have returned back to these chapters for guidance and help.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Self-help books aren’t for everyone but this method got me through a time in my life where I feared there would be no way out. Applying the DARE response to my life allowed me the confidence I needed to take back control of my anxious mind. While I still have issues with health anxiety from time to time, I have since gotten a new job and thanks to the DARE response I am able to contribute my experience with an open mind and heart to my position and have had a very successful three months at my firm because of that. I think any kind of positive outlet can help mental health issues and I would suggest this book to anyone who wants to reach with themselves and learn to navigate ways to better themselves.