“I just want my old self back!”
When wrestling with an anxiety disorder, the current state of suffering can sometimes warp the accuracy of our memory. We remember being “anxiety free” before things went south, but often this is not true.
There’s a chance that you did have anxiety before you had anxiety! Most members of the community would look at this statement sideways, insisting that they were anxiety free before the wheels fell off. But you likely did experience anxiety in the past. You just experienced in a different way.
I used to think that I was entirely anxiety free and never nervous before I developed panic disorder. For many years I insisted that I was armor-plated and never ever anxious in my past. I was wrong in this assertion. I have very clear memories of experiencing what I now know was derealization when I was a kid. I just didn’t worry about it and wasn’t afraid of it back then. I had no idea what it was or what to call it. It would come, then go, and I never gave it a second thought.
I can also look back and remember having a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach in the years between my first and second bouts with disordered anxiety and depression. It was uncomfortable. So much so that I even saw a doctor once. The feeling that my stomach was sinking and feeling extremely cavernous was … an anxiety symptom! I just didn’t know that and didn’t react to it as if it was an emergency.
Anxiety is a normal, natural part of being human. ALL humans experience anxiety.
The difference between the old you and current you is that you were not labeling anxiety like you do now, and you did not react to it the way you do now. When you experienced anxious moments in the past, each one was a standalone event, you did not worry about it between events, and you likely just called it “stress”, or called it nothing at all.
Some members of the community have experienced anxiety for so long that they just formed the belief that this is the natural state for humans. That may have just been how you felt naturally for a long time before things got worse and the anxiety became more severe and morphed into a disordered state.
It can be really helpful to recognize that old you also experienced anxiety. Seeing how the thing you call a disaster now existed then without being called a disaster can help point you in the right direction recovery-wise. If your sole focus now is trying to stop, treat, or minimize your “horrible” anxiety, coming to grips with the idea that only your current interpretation makes it horrible can change the game.
Same experience. Different reaction. Different interpretation. Different outcome. These are important concepts!
You may be tempted to declare that it’s not the same experience because your anxiety is so much worse now. I understand that, but I would suggest taking a few minutes to consider that the reaction and interpretation creates that “worse” condition. Understanding the role we play in turning small fires into raging infernos can help us get un-stuck when we think we have nowhere to go with our anxiety.
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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)