Well here is the post I promised. I do read almost every post on here as I have to moderate the blog by myself. But I do take on board what people are saying and then adjust my next post accordingly. I can’t post every week, otherwise, it would dilute the quality and I would mostly end up repeating myself. The best way to know what to post is by what people are saying as a collective bunch. I know some ask for specific posts, but I have to do it for everyone and I felt today’s post would help the majority.
Today’s post is more on my recovery and the journey towards my goal of living anxiety free. Firstly maybe I should not say goal, it was more a dream, as at the height of my suffering as I saw no way out, I truly did not. I thought this was me forever, nothing was working, in fact, I was getting worse. To be honest I didn’t even know why I was suffering from anxiety.
The first stage for me was not a visit to the doctor, he was only concerned with giving me pills. My first rung on the ladder was to find out why I felt like I did, a pill would never do this, I wanted answers. Eventually, through research and reading and eventually finding someone who understood the subject, I found a lot of these answers.
Just to have an explanation and to realise that I was not alone, was enough for me to change a cycle. A cycle of self-pity, complete bewilderment and constant worry and fear of what was wrong with me. This is the very reason I was so bad, so lost and felt so terrible. My mind and body were about as tired and emotionally spent as it could be and all I did was worry, fight and pound it with questions daily, no wonder I was getting worse, but what choice did I have, when I had no answers?
I felt I had to work it out for myself, to fight it and hope it went away. I look back at the hole I was in and get angry that I did not find the answers sooner, that no one could tell me anything. This would have saved so much suffering. Through my darkest days I lost my job and many friends, more than that I lost who I was.
So the first stage was understanding, once I had the knowledge I could slow down on the worry, not be so bewildered and realise that I needed to step back and give my mind and body a rest and not fight through each day. Yes, I still felt awful, my body was so sensitised and tired, but for once I felt some relief and hope.
Understanding is always the first step, this is why in my book I don’t just say do this or do that, I explain why you feel like you do and what keeps you in this cycle. Many people email me after reading the information on my site or through reading the book and burst into tears with relief that they have finally been given some answers and also a realisation that they are not alone. They have also finally been given an explanation as to why they feel like they do and that they can recover.
So because I now had plenty of knowledge of what was wrong with me, I then believed I could get better, I never lost this belief once I had some answers. The next stage for me was working out what was right the right way forward and what was not, a lot through trial and error and once one thing made sense, then other things would also.
I realised very early on that I had fallen into a lot of bad habits. Avoidance being one of them and that hiding away was not the way forward and that I would no longer be bluffed by how I was feeling. I knew that normal living would eventually bring back normal feelings. I remember the first thing I did was join a Thai Chi class. I must have put off going 10 times in the week before I went. The thought of going into a room of strangers, feeling dreadful, anxious, panicky, strange, all the symptoms I felt at the time terrified me.
But I could either hide away or take the first step to a new start. So I went, and yes I felt awful at times, but something happened, I got into the class and for a minute or two forgot about how I felt and just got on. I finished the class and went home elated. I had floated past all the negative suggestions not to go. This is what happens, in a healthy body, feeling fear means to fight or flight, it is telling you that you are in danger, take your choice. It could be a snarling dog that you meet and the option to escape is a good one.
Well going to a Thai Chi class there is nothing to fear, no need to run, apart from your instinct brought on by anxiety, fleeing is not needed in that situation. This was why I knew I had to ignore the instinct to avoid. I had to just go and take what comes, what was the worst thing that could happen anyway? So I then began to go everywhere at will. I went socialising with friends, feeling awful and strange. I remember going swimming and feeling as though I was not there, thinking, that’s fine, the more I do it the more normal I will feel. Once you do things time and time again then feelings dampen, your body does not react to certain situations anymore, once you go through certain situations many times you build up a strength, an insulation if you like, places just don’t hold any fear anymore.
So this was my second stage of recovery. Begining to live my life again, without anxiety ruling what I did and the decisions I made. This was very important to me and in time I felt so much more comfortable wherever I went. I always dealt with me and not the situation I was in and if I felt awful then so be it, if I felt great even better. I sometimes felt overwhelmed in the early stages and wanted to run or go home and take the easy route out, but I never did and this is where the real victories came. I did it, I felt really awful, overwhelmed and I stayed, I now know I can handle anything, it was just a feeling, this is what these times taught me.
To sum up, I would have bad weeks, good weeks, great days out, days when I felt awful, but I did everything at will and never let anxiety rule what I did and did not do, this made so much difference to my life. I am not saying it is easy at times, but I knew how important it was. To feel more normal, I had to pack as much normal living in as possible.
At this point, I felt OK but was still left with a tired and sensitised body through what I had put it through previously, so yes I would still feel crap sometimes, but I felt 100% better than I once had. I had gone from having no good days to plenty of them. From feeling so odd and detached, that I questioned if I lived on this planet, to feeling far more normal than I had felt in ages.
I then joined a friend running each night, just a 50-minute run. When I first went I felt awfully unfit and unmotivated, but, no pain no gain. I wanted to get fit and bring something to be proud of into my life, again another focus, but me. I cannot express how much better I felt when I came back from these runs.
I felt great, exercise is by far the best way of burning off excess energy and not only that it really helped me think straight. I could think so clearly when I got back that I had another realisation, it was anxiety that created my anxious/irrational thoughts. Without this anxious energy present, the thoughts weren’t there, which proved that they were never real in the first place, they were just a symptom.
I was now so into this fitness that I took up cycling. I used to go with a group of friends and cycle all over my local county, sometimes for miles. I now had something else in my day. Instead of thinking about how I felt, I was planning my next bike ride or run. I was aiming to do a half marathon also and had so much going on that my whole life and focus was changing. I hardly cared about the few twinges of anxiety, the very slight feeling of strangeness, they became just a feeling in the background that really did not bother me. The exercise and looking after myself brought them to such a level that I hardly bothered or noticed, my days had another meaning and focus to them now.
I did eventually give up the running and cycling and have recently just got back into it. But I was just about recovered then, once recovery stopped being my goal, it just came to me, living my life is what truly cured me. I think people reach out too much for recovery and end feeling disappointed.
I first ran because I thought, ‘hey I will feel great when I get back’ and I would almost tune in to see how I felt, feeling disappointed if I did not feel great. I then realised I was again trying to do something about my anxiety, putting pressure on myself to feel a certain way.
So I changed my attitude and ran for me, to get fit and if it helped me feel better then great. This attitude helped me so much as I ran and forgot about myself. I was no longer running and then thinking about how much it would help me, this no longer had any bearing on it. I realised that I had to let recovery come to me and stop focusing everything I did on this goal.
I hope that makes sense and I would say that realisation was my final stage to recovery and the person I am now. You don’t have to go running and I understand it is impossible for certain people, but it was as much a new focus, as the exercise that helped me so much. So doing anything new, even if it is painting at home, gardening, a new hobby. Not to try to forget or distract yourself from anxiety, just to go back to normal living, to give up the full-time job to get better and to find a new focus naturally.
My own attention was on myself for a while and I still had the subject hovering in the background, but I understood I had thought about me and the subject for so long that this was now purely habit and that it was normal in the circumstances and through acceptance would fade in time.
This has been asked many times ‘How do I stop thinking of me and how I feel’ the answer is you don’t, brooding at home does not help and the reason I say find a new hobby and focus to your day.
Don’t try not to think about yourself, if the attention is on you then let it be, just don’t get frustrated with it. I had it for a while, but in time it dampened when I gave it no respect. As I say I had other things to bother with and not myself, to be honest, I got bored with the subject in the end. I had really developed a ‘whatever’ attitude, it had become inbuilt in me, I no longer cared.
I also think the support I had from my mother and partner was vital, someone I could trust and knew would not judge me or tell me to pull myself together. I think it is vital to anyone who is suffering from anxiety, that their partner supportive and doesn’t judge them or tell them to pull themselves together. The partner may not always understand, but if they can just give them the time and understanding they need, this would help reduce the stress on them to rush recovery and reduce any guilt they have about not being the person they feel they need to be.
To finish, I will say some people will relate to all of the above, some to parts of it, we are all different and I had a few stages to go through as I suffered so long and fell so deep. It is a lot easier to recover if you have not suffered for a long time, memory and habits are not so raw and people may not be as sensitised.
If you have suffered longer, then it may take longer to be back to your old self, but no matter how long you have suffered, just go for progress initially, don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to recover, this holds so many people back.
You also have a lot more information than I ever had, you have the support from others, that I so craved, but never received. As you see I went through a lot of bad times to become the person I am now. I had to do things I did not feel like doing. I used to lie in bed wanting and wishing it all away, but I knew deep down this would not happen, certain things were up to me.
I hope there is something above for everyone. It is not a full account by any means, just a brief account highlighting the most important stages of my recovery and how I came through them. I am not saying everyone will go through the stages I did, but I felt I needed to go through the stages, so people don’t feel they are missing something or that it was easy for me.
The truth is, that it was a very up and down affair, but so worth it to be the person I now am. My life is so different now and every day is a gift and that gift is there for everyone who keeps the faith. Anxiety and the symptoms that go with it are just feelings, never see it as anything else, it can only hold you back if you let it.