Welcome to what I hope turns out to be a very interesting and informative August blog. I have put a great deal of thought into this piece as I have written it as I am going along to show you how I deal with situations that may still throw me a curved ball, even though I would consider myself 99.9% in remission of symptoms and have been for many years now.
Within this blog my main aim is to show you just how good the Amygdala is in remembering to trigger a fear response in situations that you may not have had the opportunity to tackle during your remission and recovery. Even myself (And I do consider myself to have been 99.9% panic free for many years, has some situations that I have not had the opportunity to tackle regularly to remove the fear totally. The Amygdala is so good at it's job that you can bet even years later that it won't forget that you trained it to think that this was in fact a life or death situation.
I am hoping a minute by minute insight is helpful to you all in your own continued recoveries, I'm also hoping to get across the thoughts and feelings that it is normal to go through as you tackle situations head on that may give you anxiety, and for those who are yet to brave going back into situations they fear, hopefully an insight of what may occur, hopefully removing any anticipation anxiety that you may be feeling.
Through understanding and continued application, my own symptoms have been well in remission for a good number of years now. Yes, I am a normal person and so will have the odd low mood or bad day just like the next person. This is not anxiety this is normal, no one is ecstatically happy 100% of the time, fluctuations in hormone, mood and daily events drive mood up and down regardless of whether you are suffering anxiety or not.
For me, during the height of my own suffering my own Fear Monster and the fear of my feelings drove me to limit my life to the point of being able to enter no situation, visit any place or spend time with any person aside from my very close family whom I lived with. So in effect by listening to my Fear Monster and in following my natural instinct to protect myself from his lies and fear that was not dangerous, I managed to train my Amygdala to react with a full blown fearful force in almost every situation I went into and I fell into complete isolation from family, friends, work and any situation or place that you can think of.
Eventually I suffered house bound Agoraphobia and was then faced with the enormous task of retraining my own Amygdala in every place, situation and with every person just to begin to claw any sort of quality of life back.
I sure that you will all know that the process of retraining your Amygdala is not an easy one. This is because we must feel the fear of activation of panic or fearful feelings (That we have unknowing taught it to provide us with), and then react in a different way to tell it that actually we got it wrong and this is not a life threatening situation after all and does not need a fight or flight response.
This requires us to feel the one thing that we have always dreaded and the reason for even being stuck in the panic cycle- FEAR. It's not easy but is the only way out.
Anyway to cut a very long story short, that is what I did, everyday situations soon became easy and fear free once again, until daily life became as it was before.
However the Amygdala is very powerful and even if you felt fear in a situation and reacted but then didn't re enter that same situation for 20 years it would still remember that you told it that, that particular situation was dangerous and it would still activate your panic (In fact ever situation ever until all are re trained).
This means is that people will always have some situations that they rarely enter into and so regardless of how many years they have been in remission from their general anxiety, they would still have bits to overcome as those rarer situations arise.
For me one of these rare situations was distant travel and flying. Even though I go abroad every year now it is only once per year and so I never get the chance to do it often enough for the fear to diminish completely as it would if flying was something I did on a regular basis.
This blog is written as I was due to fly home, with no safety nets at all (Such as alcohol, tablets or avoidance) just me verses the anxiety and my confused Amygdala!
I thought whilst going through this "re-training" it would be useful for my followers to have insight into how I tackle things personally.
Rule one, I never let my fear dominate me ever. I live my life and take it with me and I look forward to the opportunity to "lift my own bar" and develop more. I keep my sights firmly on the end goal and visualise the person that I want to be. Always. Avoidance to me is not an option, I am too experienced in this to begin to avoid as I know it gets me nowhere.
In general I am not scared of flying, this fear I know comes from my subconscious and so I know it will come as I have not had time to tackle it enough.
So here goes...
There was always a number of tricky fear aspects for me when it comes to flying, meaning that the fear is made up of different things I fear. Classically for a previous Agoraphobic, I never liked the loss of control I feel when I am told when to board and how long I must stay there. I don't like being shut in and the fact that I cannot get off if I feel fearful. My classical feeling was to worry that if the fear comes when I am there, I may not be able to contain it and will shame myself in front of others, I am also a distance from home (which was my classic safety zone) once I have reached my destination and would face another plane journey to get back to what was my place of safety. The duration of the flight told me how long I may need to feel fearful for, but that said even my bags being taken from me at check in or going on the one way journey through security and not being able to return once through where once enough to activate my fear.
Over the years I went from refusing to fly to actually wanting to experience the world again once I started to get better, and I understood that in order to have and enjoy the new experiences I craved there was the small matter of facing any fear I had first in that area.
So a few years ago I threw caution to the wind and knowing the fear would come in that situation even though I felt remission in general life now, I booked a trip abroad with my family. Initially for the first few years I grabbed every safety behaviour or distraction that I could, figuring that if it got me flying again and got me there, then that was enough. I felt dreadful anticipation anxiety months before and when I got there I always had a backup plan such as a beer or enough in flight distractions to help everyone on the plane cope never mind just me!
I always managed and even though I knew I was not dealing with my fear as I had in general in the right way, flying for all the reasons above made dealing with the fear with no safety net much harder and so knowing it was a one off that is how I coped.
The anticipation got better over the years, however the root fear was always still there as I never dealt with it in the correct way.
This year I decided that had to change, it was one of the only fears left now and the new "In remission me" wanted to deal with anything life through at me now.
It is about asking yourself if you want to have the life experiences now and not allowing your anxiety to take that from you.
On my journey this year we flew at 8.30 in the morning and it was really too early to look like the only one drinking anyway!
So I felt the anticipation but worked through it, knowing that it was my choice ultimately to board or not and that the Fear Monster could throw his worst at me, but I could still chose to ignore him.
I boarded with just my pad, a pen to record my thoughts and an adult colouring book. The flight was going to be two hours and twenty five minutes in duration.
In reality classically anxiety goes up and down throughout the flight and really only peaks at the point of feeling like I am completely at the point of a panic attack once (lasts a few seconds).
A good proportion of the flight I am actually quite relaxed and feeling like I am really in control.
Each time I have a negative thought and feeling of fear, my thoughts are fearful and I want to act and react, however now I have experience of overcoming this and coping while it happens, I keep my end goal in mind and replace my anxious thoughts and feelings with calming ones.
I am aware the anxiety goes up and down and negative thoughts arise, I naturally replace with positive, arise again, replace with positive again and so on. I keep my eye on the time and keep going.
During moments of positivity, I picture myself triumphant at the end "check me out, no safely behaviours, facing lots of mini fears as well as the big fear of flying, how much confidence is this small period of time anxious going to give me?, I'm handling it, yes me, I'm doing it myself, I've come such a long way, I can do this"
It makes me happy, it's like the end moment of many years of struggle, tackling my final fear, suddenly the world is becoming a smaller more accessible place because I am making it that way, me.
Then a negative thought slips in and I change to coping mode, everything seems hopeless, "No I was wrong, I can't do it, this is too much, oh god I can feel it, it's coming, everyone's looking, what was that noise the plane made, I don't feel safe, I am a failure and a fraud!
I catch hold of myself:
"Hang on, I'm not falling for that Fear Monster!, I've no choice here, I'm on this plane and that is it, I have to cope, If I panic I panic there is no chance of getting off, someone would help, I'll be ok. No wait I'll help me, I can do this wow I only have half hour left, I AM doing it, me the biggest challenge to me and I'm doing it wow what a way to finish the battle, facing this myself"
That is an example of a typical internal dialogue when entering a situation that you know will cause anxiety. It is all just spaghetti and every time it takes you down, you can come back up. Not every moment will be fear filled, it's a case of working through it to the end goal that will make your world bigger and quality of life better.
It makes me happier to think that by me tackling my own anxiety I am helping others tackle theirs. This was the whole purpose of its just a feeling. I may be 99.9% in remission but I'm human too and there will always be some scary bits on the way to my own goals.
Stepping out of your comfort zone will always cause fear, but it is only by taking that step that you will grow and develop as a person and challenge and overcome your fears.
By staying in a comfort zone, you will always get what you always got and your life will never grow, you will never realise what you are capable of if you don't give yourself chance. We are all amazing human beings, capable of great things.
The hardest part is making the choice to change and being prepared to follow it through, but if you do find that courage I promise you will learn how false and weak fear actually is.
If I can do it, you can too. Let's do it together.
Anyone has the potential to recover from their anxiety, I refuse to believe otherwise.
I really hope that this blog gives you and insight in tackling anxiety.
Till the next time,