We begin the recovery process where we are right now; as opposed to where we think we should be, or shouldn't be
Self Help - The Journey to Recovery by Bronwyn Fox
In Working through Panic, I describe the recovery process as 'peeling an onion' ! It can sting and bring tears to our eyes ! In the beginning stages, we are going to feel lost, confused, frightened, anxious and panicky. After all, we do have an anxiety disorder and so we can't expect anything else. We are also going to feel very unsure and distrusting of our ability to be able to recover. And we start from this point, thinking and feeling all of the above.
We begin to practice the mindfulness cognitive technique or another cognitive technique. While we can understand intellectually what we need to be doing, emotionally we keep getting caught up time and again in our thoughts and symptoms. This is where we need to be responsible for ourselves and become disciplined in either meditation or another relaxation technique and disciplined in practicing our cognitive skills. We need to keep bringing ourselves back to the cognitive technique no matter how many times our thoughts run away from us. No matter how many times we get caught up in our panic and anxiety. We are learning to take control of our thoughts and this is going to take time and practice.
At first using a mindfulness or other cognitive technique can seem like an intellectual exercise going no where, but if we persist we will begin to see results and the fog of our anxiety disorder will lift. This is the first break though and we feel the freedom and power that full recovery will bring.
Then without apparent warning, the fog of our disorder closes in around us again and we feel despair at ever recovering. Our new found confidence disappears into the mist of our panic and anxiety. This is our first set back. When I say "without apparent warning", at first we think we slip back into panic and anxiety for no reason. It just seems to happen ! But that is not the case. There is always a reason why we slip back, but in the beginning we are not aware of why we have.
This is where our anxiety, panic and our set backs can teach us. Why did we slip back ? What was happening at the time ? Was there a particular situation /stress ? How were we thinking about it ? Or it could be something so simple. Just one thought "I feel so good. I hope I don't get anxious/panic again". And this can be enough to trigger our panic and anxiety immediately !
We work through the set back using our cognitive skills. If we stay disciplined we break through again, and we feel the freedom and power of being anxiety / panic free. Then we slip back again into another set back. And if we use this set back also as teacher, we will learn more about our anxiety and panic and how we can ultimately defeat it.
In the beginning stages of recovery it does seem like we take a half a step forward to one step backwards. If we are practising self responsibility and staying disciplined, we will keep moving forward : One full step forward, a half step backwards and ultimately we keep moving forward without going back at all.
This is why I call recovery a 'process'. The process of recovery is an on evolving one, during which we continually learn about our panic and anxiety while developing and refining of our mindfulness cognitive skills. As we develop these skills, we work on our avoidance behaviour. This too is a learning experience. We learn why a practice session did not go as well as we would have liked and we learn what we can do to help ourselves overcome our avoidance behaviour permanently.
In the beginning of recovery we work on our 'loud' panic and anxiety thoughts. As our mindfulness cognitive skills develop, we become aware of the second and third layers of thoughts that trigger our anxiety and panic. And these thoughts show us the hidden issues behind our panic and anxiety.
These thoughts are anchored in our low self esteem. Our need to be liked and loved by everyone we meet, our need to take responsibility for other people, our lack of self acceptance. Our need to do everything perfectly, our ongoing thoughts and feelings of guilt, our unrealistic expectations we have of ourselves and others, our reluctance to say no. All of these and more, generate so much of our ongoing anxiety. And we work with these issues along with any past or current personal issues. In doing so, our self esteem, our confidence and trust in our selves develops.
It all sounds too hard doesn't it ? And from the perspective of where we are right now with our anxiety disorder, it does. But if we come back to what I said above about the process of recovery being an evolving one. When we are caught up in our disorder, it is very difficult to see the bigger picture.
The more we work through the recovery process, the more our perception of ourselves and our anxiety disorder opens up and changes. And in seeing this, the recovery process becomes a journey of exploration and of excitement, rather than something 'we hate having to do'.
The Epilogue in 'Working Through Panic' is an email from one of our group members in our original online support group. All contributing group members in 'Working through Panic' gave me their permission to use their emails in this book. This particular email is from Rossi and she talks about the process of recovery :
"...What am I learning from this process ? Wow, so many things that I might not otherwise have focused on, about myself and others, acceptance above all, gentleness and self observation. And the deep, deep joy I experience sometimes now when I am relaxed, present to the moment, in connection with someone or nature. Would I have known that depth of joy without the struggle I have had? Surely we don't achieve the deepest levels of love and joy without struggle of some kind in our life." (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.