“You won’t be cured today, so don’t expect to be, don’t fight for that, don’t be frustrated by that. Instead remember YOU ARE LIVING. You are enjoying moments every day. You can live alongside this thing. And remember to shrink all those fears down, they aren’t as big as anxiety makes them seem.”
I wrote and scheduled it around a year ago when I was struggling with an anxiety relapse that was threatening to send me back down the rabbit hole. It followed a pretty intense revelation that as long as I was wondering if I would struggle with anxiety again I would, quite obviously, never be free from it.
In the immediate months after Caterpillar’s birth I was quite clearly suffering from some clinical form of anxiety/depression, as evidenced by insomnia, lack of appetite, panic attacks and derealisation. Six to nine months after I was diagnosed and begun treatment those things were almost entirely gone. I was clinically “well”.
However, what was left was a draining, depressing and apparently endless shadow of the illness itself. A constant presence in my mind. An uncontrollable need to analyse my every move. An obsession with being better.
To me, better meant never having to think about anxiety again. Better meant not allowing myself to feel negative emotions in case they threw me in a pit of despair. Better meant going a whole day without once thinking of what I’d been through or feeling upset about it. Better meant forgetting it had ever happened.
I could no more forget I’d experienced PND than I could forget I’d had a child or that I was married. It was a huge experience that is now ingrained into who I am, for better or worse. And constantly starting each day saying “I must get rid of this, I must stop myself worrying about how I feel today” was completely detrimental to genuine contentment. And I believe it was this thinking that eventually led to the relapse of my more serious anxiety symptoms.
The principle of “get comfortable being uncomfortable” and living life alongside your symptoms in order to get past them is one of the main ways I’d gotten as far as I had (find out more on this technique from Paul David’s book and website) but, although I’d successfully learnt how to use it to control panic attacks and intrusive thoughts, I had somehow neglected to apply the same technique to longer term recovery.
When you are experiencing an anxiety attack the more you analyse and obsess over every symptom the worst it becomes, and the deeper you fall, but if you can force yourself to get on with something and allow that awful feeling to exist in the background the panic slowly begins to subside.
Last year I decided to apply the same idea to my life in general and my daily worries about my mental health. Instead of focusing each morning on making this the day I recovered for good I instead focused on finding small joys in those days even if the fears still ran like a computer virus programme in the background. I put the above prompt into my phone so I wouldn’t be tempted to follow my old patterns.
Unsurprisingly this technique worked for me, but it takes a great deal of practice of course. These days I hardly ever click open the note, I usually quickly hit ignore in my haste to get on with the rest of my day and check Twitter! But subconsciously that “Read Me” is a reminder to find the joy I can in each day and to not spend more time and effort than is necessary on the negative emotions and bad moods.
Severe anxiety and depression require treatment and the aftermath of going through an episode can stay with you, but if you feed that shadow with worries, analysis and investigation it will grow. When you stop trying to recover it comes anyway, naturally, sneaking up on you like a lovely fresh breeze.