Here’s part two of listener Q&A from last week. I’ll try to make this a regular thing every few months. Seems that answering direct questions is something that people are finding very helpful to hear!
“Will things ever feel normal again?”
You will! Right now you are still afraid of how you feel and what you think. As you do the work required to un-learn that fear, as you create a new relationship with your anxiety, your body and your mind, you will no longer view thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations as threats. When you no longer see threats, you do not have to scan for them all the time. You will find that you experience periods where you are totally disinterested in anxiety and how you feel. Over time those will get longer lasting and will come more frequently. This is how “normal” returns to your life.
“How do I handle the memory of panic when it still scares me?”
“Are flashbacks common with anxiety?”
“Will catastrophic thoughts ever fully go away?”
“How to deal with stuck thoughts about death?”
These are all questions about thoughts, emotions and memory. While the specific content may vary, the approach is the same in all cases. Learning new reactions to thoughts, memories, and emotions are the key. Learning through experience that you can navigate these normal human experiences without being terrified of them and calling them disasters will change things for you. The magic happens when you start eliminating the phobic, irrational, fear based response to your memories and thoughts. Allow discomfort to come if need be, but accept that you are still capable of functioning even when afraid, uncomfortable and faced with uncertainty about ANY topic (including death). Thoughts about existence, or memories of bad experiences are not pleasant at times, but they are not nightmares either. This is something you can learn with work and practice.
“I am afraid to do exposures because I am afraid to embarrass my kids.”
- Even if your kids do get embarrassed, they will handle it. So will you. You can navigate that together, and it can even be a teaching experience for all of you.
- There is no way to engineer recovery – or life – so that everything is always perfect at all times. Your anxiety issues are already impacting your friends and family even in a small way so acknowledge and accept this rather than trying to engineer it away. If there is already an impact, then make it the most productive possible impact. Is it better for your kids to be embarrassed for 10 minutes, or do see you living a restricted life for 10 years?
- Your anxiety is making itself the center of the universe because that’s what it does. Assuming that how you feel or what you do will dramatically impact the kids (or anyone else), is an irrational prediction. There’s every chance that the kids won’t even notice what’s going on with you, or even care. Just because you feel badly doesn’t mean everyone around you will also experience that. Be careful about acting based on irrational catastrophic predictions of the future.
“Do we handle depression the same way? Floating and accepting?”
This is a big topic that requires its own episodes, but in a nutshell, we do not passively “float” through depression. When real depression robs you of your desire to engage with the world or those close to you, and when it makes it difficult for you to feed yourself or take care of yourself (for example), then that must be challenged. There is a reason why movement, action, exposure to sunlight, and interaction with other humans are such a big part of treating depression. We must never quietly sit and “accept” a clinically depressed state.
Please be careful, however, about confusing sadness or other “negative” emotional states with depression. Being sad, frustrated, or disappointed does not equal being depressed, nor are these emotions indicators of impeding depression.
This is particularly insidious in the way it fuels itself. You demand to sleep “enough” for two reasons:
- You think that too little sleep will harm you physically or mentally. You worry that you will damage your body and mind if you don’t sleep. You predict physical or mental illness as a result of too little sleep. This is is an irrational fear-driven distorted attempt to predict the future.
- You are terrified of your own body and how it feels sometimes. Being sleep deprived means feeling bad. This is normal. Literally millions of people in the US alone are sleep deprived right now. They just don’t sound an alarm because they have not learned to interpret physical sensations as danger.
Dealing with sleep anxiety is yet another exercise in learning to change reactions. When you are tired, you are tired. You can be tired and still be OK. Maybe not optimal, but still OK. Learning to drop all the thinking, fighting, bracing, and trying to save yourself is what will make a difference here.
“Can you tell us a bit of your story? How did you know you were making progress? When did I realize that anxiety was having such a big impact on my life? How did I get off meds?”
I’ve told my story of anxiety and recovery in a few places:
The Glowcast with Kendra Beavis
This episode of the podcast.
My first book – An Anxiety Story.
I knew anxiety was impacting my life in a problematic way when I started being afraid of places and tasks that I was never afraid of before. Simple things like being home alone or driving became difficult tasks. This was a clear tipoff that something was wrong! As far as making progress, some days I could not see progress. I just had to have faith that it was happening even when I couldn’t see or feel it. I knew things were getting better when I found myself doing things that I was previously avoiding at all costs, and when I started to experience periods where I was no longer thinking about anxiety or how I was feeling. Those were good moments! In terms of getting off meds, I made the choice to do it, then tapered according to the instructions from my doctor. He was wrong. I went too fast, and I had to deal with protracted “withdrawal” for the better part of a year or so. That was not a good experience but I did learn a tremendous amount as a result. Please – there is no need to rush off your meds. Go slow. There’s no such thing as “getting it out of your system” or “detoxing”. There’s no benefit to going faster. There is only potential benefit to going slower.
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