Friday, May 20, 2016

An Anxiety Update

Elindebol, Sweden [1 633px × 2 439px]       



  A little over a year ago, I made an appointment with a doctor to get back on medication for my anxiety. I was finally talking to a guy who I had liked for almost a year and I knew that if I wanted it to amount to anything more, I would have to get my anxiety under control. I didn't want to get back on medication, but I was desperate and didn't know what else to do. I could barely hang out with him without getting out-of-body anxiety, I had gotten physically ill multiple times before seeing him, and the first time we got coffee sent me into a three-day panic attack where I wound up in urgent care. So I went, because I couldn't ruin this relationship before it even started, and was prescribed an anti-depressant that I had been on years before. The difference between being on medication years ago and trying to get on medication now was that my anxiety had yet to evolve into being afraid of taking medication. Back when I was 22, I was open to any medication that might help, but at 27 and a few less-than-favorable experiences with medications under my belt, the fear of the side effects gave me more anxiety than not being on it at all. The week spent trying to get back on it was so awful that I couldn't get myself to even wait the two weeks for it to regulate. I had to find another way.

Rewind to October 2014, to my three-day panic attack followed by weeks of uncomfortable residual anxiety that made it hard to sleep and would leave me restless and awake at 3 in the morning. Laying in bed, flipping through the channels on the TV, I see a program called "Attacking Anxiety and Depression". I normally would never think about stopping on an infomercial, but I really had nothing better to do, and I was curious as to what could possibly "attack" the situation I had found myself in. During the next hour I hear different people speak about how well this program has worked for them, and a woman with a soothing, reassuring voice explaining how different my life could be. That was enough for me, by the end of the program I had ordered it. (Reading reviews later on, I noticed that the majority of bad reviews I had read about the program was not about the program itself, but about the company that sent out the product through the infomercial. I actually didn't order it through the infomercial, but through Amazon here.) It arrived a couple days later, I opened the box, looked through the workbook and CD's, put it all back in the box, and for the life of me I don't know why, but put the box next to my desk and never touched it again.

Fast forward to April 2015, after spending a week trying to get back on medication that I couldn't get myself to take, the day I decide to stop taking them I tell myself that I will start doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy instead, or maybe that program I bought and never did. I really don't think my anxiety is a chemical imbalance that requires medication (meaning a daily anti-depressant. I was taking Xanax as needed). Being too anxious to go see a therapist for CBT, I decided to try the program instead. So I got the box back out and pulled out the CD's and workbook and started the program. It's a 15-week program that has a CD you listen to for each week, as well as a relaxation CD you do every day that involves breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided meditation. Lucinda Bassett, the woman with the soothing, reassuring voice is the one who started the program and who you listen to through out all the CD's, as well as other people who have taken the program and have recovered, as if you are listening in on a group therapy session. Even a medical physician is on a few of the CD's to explain the physical aspects of anxiety which I found helpful. It has a workbook that accompanies what you learn each week and carry-along flashcards that have key points from that week's lesson. The program doesn't tell you anything different than what is probably written in a ton of other books (including The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook that I would also work in while doing the program) but how it's presented. Lucinda talks about her own experiences with anxiety, and brings people in who also talk about their's (and what helped them), which gives you a type of reassurance of knowing you're not the only one who has gone through it. They talk about specific symptoms, or unusual ways of thinking or even avoidance behaviors that make you think "holy crap, me too!" And you realize that you aren't crazy, nor are you going crazy, all of these things are normal effects of anxiety.

Don't get me wrong, it is not a magic pill and it is not a quick-fix. It is work. It is retraining your mind to think differently. It's pushing yourself to recognize and stop patterns and to be compassionate with yourself. It isn't easy, but it's doable. But you must put in the effort. The first few weeks were high and low; you question if it's really working, if it's even worth doing. But as the weeks went on I started to see changes. By week 10 I was feeling so good that I started to forget to do the next week's lesson. I was no longer having daily anxiety or feeling spacey at work. It was a 180 degree change. (There were even a few occasions where my mom texted me asking what the name of the program was because she had seen such a change in me she wanted to recommend it to some co-workers that she thought could also benefit from it.) By the time September rolled around the guy and I had become official. Sometimes I would think, "Wow, I'm actually in a relationship. And I'm going out and doing things... a year ago I wouldn't even think this was possible." It was exciting. But unfortunately, sometimes life (and relationships) have a way of bringing its own anxiety, and when you start to neglect what you've learned, you can fall back into negative thinking and patterns. But like the program taught me, you might still get some anxiety in life, but that does not mean you have lost your progress. You never really go back to square one, you're just presented with another opportunity to learn and grow. It's funny that the thing that brought me to this program in the first place, the anxiety of the beginning of a relationship, is bringing me back to it, except this time for the anxiety of that relationship ending. But I'm going to start the program again this week, and revisit everything that helped me the first time, and remind myself that change is possible, and sometimes even necessary. I just wanted to share what has helped me so much in my journey to recovery, because one of the most shocking things I've learned while dealing with anxiety and panic attacks is just how many others deal with it too.

Some other things that have also helped me tremendously that I must mention: "At Last a Life" By Paul David as well as his website Anxiety No More. Claire Weeke's "Hope and Help for Your Nerves" that I kept in my purse and took with me everywhere I went. She really does have a way of making you feel like everything is going to be okay, and it helped me so much to take it out and read it whenever I was anywhere I had to wait and was alone with my thoughts, like waiting rooms or before appointments. And I'm currently in the process of reading Lucinda Bassett's "From Panic to Power" to see how similar it is to her program, so I could recommend that to people since the program is rather pricey. But honestly, I think there is something about listening to her speak so reassuringly and hearing others speak about their experiences that really helped me. And the workbook helps put techniques into practice.

Everyone's different, and what works for me might not work for everyone, but I can only write and recommend based off of my own experience. I hope this helps anyone that might be searching for relief from anxiety. Or at least show you another option.

*Photo via Imgur and pretty much what I picture during guided meditation ;)


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