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We need to learn to develop the necessary cognitive skills which will enable us to sustain long term recovery.
Self Help - Beginning Again by Bronwyn Fox

Where and how do we start the recovery process ?

Many of the various therapies we try are more reactive than pro-active. Many of them inadvertently support and keep us in a passive role, rather than actively involving us in the recovery process. Without this involvement we do not gain confidence in our selves and our ability to recover.

Where do we start the recovery process ? We first need to look at our perceptions about ourselves and our recovery. Everyone wants to recover, but our perceptions can hold us back even before we begin.

What if the doctor has made a mistake

We may be so caught up in our fear, panic, anxiety, and possibly depression, that it is difficult for us to concentrate on the most simplest of tasks. We may feel completely overwhelmed by our experience, and everything we try to do to help ourselves, does not bring us relief. While we listen to what our doctor /therapist or other people say to us, we struggle to 'hear' what they are saying. Or we may 'hear' for a moment or so, but we become caught up again in the fear, panic and anxiety. It is usually at this crisis stage, that we do not believe our doctor or their diagnosis that there is nothing physically wrong with us. We think that they have made a mistake and we fight and struggle 24 x 7 against what we think may happen to us, could happen to us, as a result of a mistake in diagnosis. It is at this stage some people may use medication.

Whether we use medication or not, we need to be able to learn as much as we can about our anxiety disorder. This in turn can enable us to begin to accept that we do have an anxiety disorder, rather than being engulfed in thinking the doctor has made a mistake. And from this point we can begin to learn to develop the necessary cognitive skills which will enable us to sustain long term recovery.

This is not me, I am not like this

Over the years we have received many emails from people that ask the question, "How can this be happening to me? This is not me, I am not like this." The emails say what most of us know ; that we are the strong ones in the family, the one that everyone comes to when they have a problem, that we are successful in our jobs or careers, that we can be extroverted, the life of the party, have what we feel is strong / healthy self esteem. The emails talk about telling family members or friends about being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and how everyone says : "Not you ! You are too strong a person to have that." Which in turn only only fuels our fears.

We are strong, too strong for our own good ! One day something 'has to give' and we develop panic attacks and/or anxiety. While we may or may not believe the diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, we can fight the diagnosis. We fight the stigma and shame of actually having one." This is not me. I am not like this ?". We don't realise that most people with panic disorder think and feel the same way. Because they too, are too strong for their own good.

Learning to understand all the reasons that has bought us to this point in our lives, learning to accept ourselves and our anxiety disorder, breaks down our own individual thoughts and feelings of shame and gives us a starting point from which we can work through to recovery.

I have tried so many times to recover, I couldn't bear it if I did try again and failed.

The fear of 'failing' in any new attempt to recover can be overwhelming. Particularly so when we have done everything we could to recover, but have found recovery elusive. As discussed above, many of the therapies we have tried, do not enable us to recover in the long term. It is not that we have 'failed', it is more a 'failure' of therapies that do not give us the skills we need to recover. Rather than blaming ourselves and "beating" ourselves up, we need to understand and accept the reasons why various therapies have not worked effectively for us. With this knowledge, we will be in a position to be able to make more informed decisions about other treatment options.

I have had the disorder for so long, I can't recover now.

Not with this perception, no ! How can we recover when we are defeating ourselves before we start ? We may start a recovery program but the ongoing thoughts, 'this is a waste of time, I am not going to recover', will guarantee that we won't !" It doesn't matter how long we have had our disorder. If we are prepared to be open to, and accepting of the idea that recovery is possible, and we are prepared to work through the process, then we can.

I want to recover, but I have never met anyone who has.

When we have had an disorder for a number of years, we can come to accept that yes this is me, I have an anxiety disorder and - this is my lot in life! We begin to identify ourselves through the prism of our disorder and through the prism of the systemic belief we will never recover. We can attend our local anxiety disorder support group, surf the internet, drop into chat rooms or discussion boards where we meet other people who also have been struggling to recover. It is comforting to know that we are not alone, and we can develop friendships with other people with an anxiety disorder. But the encompassing beliefs that this is as 'good as it gets', keeps us trapped.

In joining any group, either through the local community or via the internet, it is beneficial to be with other people who are actively working through to recovery rather than accepting the status quo. And there are groups, including our own, whose focus is on recovery, rather than "this is as good as it gets".

I can't get off my medication. As soon as I withdraw it all comes back again

This can be a big factor for many people. Most people we have met through our web site do not want to take medication at all. And most people taking medication look to the day when they can withdraw from their medication. Unfortunately there may be withdrawal symptoms when people begin to taper down from their medication and many people do go back onto their normal dose of medication as a result. This can be very discouraging and it can appear that we have no alternative but to remain on medication for the rest of our lives. But this is not so.

Part of the recovery process for many of us, does mean there will come a time when we do want to discontinue our medication. Accepting that we may experience withdrawal effects is part of the overall recovery process. As research shows, very slow withdrawal from medication, combined with cognitive behavioural therapy, can be very effective.

How do we start the recovery process ?

The way that we think and the way that we perceive our individual experience of our anxiety disorder does impact on our overall ability to recover. So where do we start ? We start by recognising how we think and feel about recovery. Of course we want to recover, but is the way we think about recovery holding us back, sabotaging us before we start ? It may be.

How do we start the recovery process ? By beginning again and with skilful compassionate action, self acceptance and self responsibility. Quoting from 'Working Through Panic', "Skilful compassionate action is the life raft, and self responsibility and self acceptance are the powers that can take us to full recovery and beyond. Not just to freedom from our disorder, but also to the freedom and security of being ourselves.' (1)

(1) 'Working Through Panic' by Bronwyn Fox. Copyright Pearson Education Australia October 2001

Please note - 'Working Through Panic' has been incorporated into the Third Edition of 'Power over Panic', Penguin Books, 2010.