I am sharing an article written by a client who talks about her journey with anxiety and how she found peace. Enjoy!~ Debbie
I’ve battled anxiety for many years. The emotional and mental distress that I have experienced has kept me from living life fully, and at times has stopped me from making decisions, has crippled my confidence, and even distorted my thinking. It wasn’t until these past couple of years, when my struggles almost paralyzed me, that I learned the most about myself and about managing and overcoming the monster of anxiety and fear.
In the midst of the battle, it is easy to lose hope of ever getting well. I didn’t feel ‘normal’ and doubted anyone would be able to understand or relate to what was (sometimes secretly) taking place inside my head. The loneliness and hopelessness I felt made me realize the importance to share my experience, and most importantly, the lessons I learned on my way to recovery.
I want to encourage everyone who reads this and is struggling with some form of anxiety. There are many people and tools available out there to help gain a healthy mind. There are people that care and that are interested in helping, and there are many others that have walked our journey and are now enjoying mental peace and stability.
The most important lesson I learned is that healing only comes with hard work, discipline, commitment, and a daily choice to embrace change. I had to learn to let go and change the thoughts, behaviors and language I came to believe were normal part of me but that in reality were the same thoughts, behaviors and language that had brought me to the pit of anxiety. Certainly, there is not a “one size fits all” approach to managing anxiety disorders, but my hope is that my experience and the steps I took can bring hope and perhaps encouragement to those seeking healing.
“Healing comes from taking responsibility: to realize that it is you – and no one else – that creates your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions.” —Peter Shepherd
There are many reasons why we would choose not to (or refuse) to seek counseling. For instance, I know people that feel that seeking help is a sign a weakness, or that they can “figure things out” on their own.
Before this spout with anxiety, I had been through counseling before, and I had been feeling well. When I started struggling again, I tried to “brush it off” and justify and rationalize my state of anxiety. However, I quickly started to sink deeper into what I call “the dark place” in my mind. The anxiety was starting to get out of control, and my counselor was quick to point out the path I was taking and the need for us to work through it.
I learned that while in an anxiety spike, I would “get in my head”. Blinded to reality my irrational thinking took place. It was crucial for me to have someone that identified my irrational thought patterns, and taught me how to become self-aware of these so that I could make a change.
This is certainly a process. It took many months of my counselor repeating the same things numerous times before I was able to “get out of my head”, listen to what she was saying, and finally understand what I was doing enough to change my thinking patterns. My counselor helped open me eyes to the reality that I have created in my mind as a result of the anxiety.
A mental health professional will work with you to identify irrational thoughts, destructive behaviors, and give you the best tools for you to build new, healthier, and real patterns of thinking.
It is not my intention to dismiss the fact that some anxiety disorders can be a result of different physiological conditions that should be treated with medication. For me, medication served to stabilize my emotions so that I could then approach my anxiety objectively, and be able to then make changes in my behavior. I would not have had the experience of a successful recovery without the combination of medication and therapy. It was not easy for me to accept the need for medication, but weighing my options, the benefits of short term treatment far outweighed the consequences of a drawn out battle with anxiety.
For a while I chose not to share any of my struggles with anyone aside from my counselor. I thought that nobody would understand what I was experiencing, I felt embarrassed, and I was afraid of being labeled as crazy. Many times I chose to struggle alone as I did not want to let anyone into “my world”. Not having a support system in place delayed my healing progress.
I believe wholeheartedly that a critical component to healing is creating a network of people that can walk alongside of you through this journey. I am extremely grateful for the people that took the time to care for me, listen, ground me and encourage me. In the process of choosing who to trust, I learned quickly that not everyone is going to “get it” and that is ok. I chose my support system carefully. They were mature adults that in one way or another had similar experiences, were like-minded, and were also able to listen without harsh judgment but with strong constructive counsel.
Finding out who are those we can trust with these sensitive issues can be a hard lesson, but it also frees you to establish a long-lasting network of love, and that is incredibly rewarding!
Staying physically active was a vital part of healing. I’m not talking about just exercise, I am talking about doing anything other than sitting down and giving in to my anxious thoughts.
To me, getting out would be as simple as going out into the backyard and feel the sun on my skin, or driving to the beach to people watch, or taking a walk. Other times, I forced myself to go to the gym and “sweat it out”! At times while jogging on the treadmill tears would fall, but that was ok as I figured it was a form of emotional cleansing.
By choosing to move and get out I experienced rest from my thoughts. Shifting my focus, if only for a short time, felt refreshing, and little by little, helped me change my perspective and behavior.
When my counselor named the type of anxiety I was struggling with, I immediately started to do my research. I dug deep online and I was overwhelmed by the amount of information I found. There are online support groups, blogs, articles, and professional organizations dedicated to the research and study of anxiety disorders. Doing my own research helped me understand that I was not ‘crazy’, and that I was not alone. Reading others stories as well as other medical professionals speak on the subject (especially on recovery) gave me hope, and a ‘place’ to go when I needed an extra dose of encouragement.
Talking about my struggles didn’t come easy at times. Actually, a lot of times I was afraid to verbalize my thoughts and feelings, so I would chose to bottle it up until my next counseling session. However, I’m a person that processes thoughts better in writing, so I started to journal and what happened was interesting. As I wrote and read my own words I started to become aware of the faultiness in my thoughts. It felt as if I was reading someone else’s story. I would share some of what I had written with my counselor and she would ask questions that challenged me to change my rhetoric and my thoughts. I kept some of my journal entries, and every time I read them now I am reminded of how far I have come, and where I don’t want to return again.
These are MY lessons learned. These are some of the steps I took that led me to manage my anxiety and live a healthier life. The last thing I will share is that I learned that anxiety can be a life long struggle. The fact that I am experiencing peace and respite from anxiety doesn’t mean that it will not creep back again someday. The difference is that I am better equipped now to not only face the struggle but to identify when I am adopting destructive behaviors, language and thinking patterns early enough to make the changes I need to make.
I encourage you to consider trying some of these steps, but most of all, I encourage you to explore and find what works for you. The worst thing you can do is not to take a step, whatever that may be, don’t stay where you are. To not take action, is to decide not to heal. Make a decision today to commit to yourself, embrace change, and seek a pathway to healing.