Another night out after a long week of working in a dark room, pushing things around and telling myself that ‘a monkey could do this job’ or that ‘I wasn’t good enough’. The stories. Damn, those self-deprecating stories.
BAM! I awoke with this sense of deep, intense nervousness; you know that ‘beer-fear’ feeling? Well it was that… on steroids. It didn’t leave; it didn’t leave for 2-3 years. It didn’t leave after I left the job, I travelled the world, I learned to skydive, I met new people or drove through a desert. Nope. There it was. Anxiety. Bubbling away, a constant reminder that ‘I was inadequate.’
It wasn’t until I began CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) that I received a knowledge bomb. My therapist, Dan, asked me what I was thinking about when the feelings intensified – I would get these firing sensations in my chest, face and/or hands – and I replied:
“I’m not thinking about anything, I feel it and then I think stuff”
He looked at me very calmly and said:
“That’s not how it works, your physiological symptoms are more likely to be a byproduct of what’s happening in your mind. You think and then you feel, not the other way around”
OH SHIT! That changed everything. I was no longer at the mercy of my feelings; I had to become aware of my thoughts. That, I could work on. And work on it I did. Every single day for 6 months without fail I recorded the thought every time I felt a pang. Over time this very simple exercise, alongside continued therapy, enabled me to begin to see what my mind was doing when I wasn’t paying attention and what thoughts were sending me down those deep spirals at such a rapid speed. I began to ask myself some questions each time I wrote one down:
Is this something I can control?
Does it serve me to worry about this?
Is this a good metric to value my life against?
Before bed every night I would revisit the list that I had speed typed on my phone throughout the day and spend a bit more time being curious about these thoughts. Were they real? Did that worry come true? Interesting, that one comes up every day – I’ll take that one to therapy next week.
Day 1: 30-50 notes (seriously.)
Month 2: 10-15 notes per day
Month 4: <5 notes per day
Month 5: a few notes a week
With this experience came insight. I gained the knowledge about how my mind tended to think and with this insight I was able to begin to challenge that mindset. Explore it by myself, with Dan or with my friends and family.
I do not believe anxiety is something you need to be ‘cured’ of. I believe it is a product of the society and environment we live in now with relentless social media comparisons, digital distractions permanently in front of our eyes, unrealistic expectations of life standards, success, beauty and everything in between. I also believe it is something you can overcome yourself with continuous work, curiosity, desire, intuition and professional help.
My motto at the start of this journey was:
‘I’m not good enough’
My motto one step ahead down the path is:
‘The things I avoid are the things I need the most’
Fear is a marker of where your next challenge lies. Lean into it.