As someone suffering an anxiety and panic disorder, all I’ve ever wanted was a quick fix. I didn’t want to take medication to mask any psychological issues, but that doesn’t take away the desire to take a magic pill to make anxiety go away, or flick a switch and just turn it off. In fact, in the beginning, I craved that quick fix but in my head I knew it wasn’t to be.
After a year of solid struggling, I began to realise that there was no such thing as a quick fix. Recovery from anxiety is a fight, sometimes a fight to the death, which is physically and mentally exhausting. The only way I know how to describe it to anyone who doesn’t suffer is ‘imagine facing your absolute biggest fear, every waking moment of your life, and often when you’re sleeping’.
In CBT you’re taught to face fears. That’s what we do. We fear things that shouldn’t be scary, but that doesn’t make them any less so. Challenges are what anxiety is made of, everything becomes a challenge. Going shopping, eating, sleeping, sometimes even breathing causes anxiety – so facing them and placing yourself in a challenging situation is tough, it’s terrifying, but for me it was life changing.
My fight began small. A lap of a small supermarket then out. The next time I went back in, this time I did 2 laps, and back out. I hated it, but felt so accomplished. Soon enough, with gradual steps I was able to go into this supermarket comfortably to buy lunch, or some supplies. It was ground breaking, I’d started small but over the space of a few weeks I’d managed to teach myself that small supermarkets aren’t something to be scared of.
Once I’d mastered this, I moved on to something else. Next was meetings at work. Because I was so terrified of passing out I’d do the whole meeting while reclined in my chair – looking like a right tool, but it’s what I needed to do. So the next step was to sit up. I did the whole meeting sat up. My heart was pounding, legs shaking but I forced myself through it, reassuring myself ‘this is just anxiety, this is just anxiety’. I got through, although really sweaty, I got through.
After I’d conquered each challenge I moved onto something new, pushing my boundaries. It was exhausting. I was constantly tired, both physically and mentally, from the tense muscles all over my body, the increased energy usage from panicking so much, the lack of sleep.
It was only after a full day of work including a trip to the supermarket, meetings and other stuff that I sat and thought to myself, ‘I haven’t been anxious all day’. A whole day without any anxiety. It was unheard of. Don’t get me wrong, the next day I was a mess again in certain areas, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that day, the day I hadn’t felt any anxiety.
I kept pushing myself, continued to work hard. Yes, there were so many set backs, so many relapses, multiple ‘I give in’ days, but the following day I just kept going.
Here I am, 4 years later. I have a lot of anxiety free days now. In fact most days are anxiety free except for the odd blip. My anxiety now shows in key events that I find particularly difficult, but through facing challenges I’ve taught my brain to question its own thoughts and fears and come up with solutions, not just blind panic.
It’s all about taking it one step at a time. Life isn’t a fairytale, which means sadly I can’t tell you that ‘everything will be OK tomorrow’. If I did, I’d be lying and that isn’t fair. What I can say is challenge what you think. Start small. Scared of going outside? Open the back door and stand there for 10 seconds with your eyes closed. Close the door and open your eyes. You did it. Scared of crowded supermarkets? Go to your local one, and stand in the first section and just wait. You’ll feel so anxious and scared, but stick with it. Give ourself 1 minute in there then leave. Once you’ve left, look back and know you did it.
Always push your boundaries. Don’t worry if you fail, struggle, cry, find it hard – that’s part and parcel of anxiety. The important thing to focus on is that you’re working hard for a better you.
Take anxiety one step at a time, that’s where you hold the most power to make a difference.