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My Personal Journey with Anxiety


By Dave


Hello reader. 

I am telling you my personal story regarding anxiety because I hope you may find something useful within it. Although everyone is different, I have learnt from others stories and if you ‘get’ anything from this that will be great.

Here is the story of my journey so far.


The ‘good life’

In 2005 everything seemed to be going “right”:

  • I married my girlfriend of 5 years
  • I was as fit as I had ever been, playing soccer and cycling more than 200km a week.
  • Work was going well, I got a good pay rise and got the BMW

This was what life was about! People envied me; hell I envied myself!


The crash

2006 could not have been more different:

  • My wife left me
  • I injured my back, could not exercise and gained 30kg
  • I covered my boss’ job during her maternity leave (whilst still doing my own) and worked 70 plus stress-fuelled hours a week
  • I was generally down and depressed and tried to make myself feel good / worthy by starting apart time MBA
  • I had no spare time outside of work and study and became a recluse
  • I was generally stressed, carried tension in my body and always seemed tired and run down.
  • I thought I was having a heart attack one day when driving home from work and drove straight to A&E. That scared the hell out of me
  • I decided to take a 6-week holiday to relax. Two weeks in, my back flared up, I lost the feeling in my legs and had to fly home to seek medical attention. I have since learnt that my ‘back’ issues actually come from my hips. One day I will require a double hip replacement but in the mean time two arthroscopic operations are required

And my favourite…I was diagnosed as suffering with an “Anxiety Disorder”

How did I feel about having an Anxiety Disorder?

  • Utterly ashamed.
  • A total failure.
  • I thought I was going crazy.
  • The idea of having a “mental illness” was not a label that sat well with me.
  • I cried and cried and cried, for days.
  • There was no hope; the future held nothing for me.
  • Scared.
  • Alone.

Recovery

2007 is a year I put aside to get well. I am having 2 hip operations. One has happened already and the 2 nd is not far away. I wanted to recover from anxiety. On the ADAVIC web site recently I saw a thread asking what ‘recovery’ is; that’s a good question. For me that term has changed and continues to change. At the beginning of the year I wanted to fight and beat anxiety. I wanted to get rid of it and go back to how I was; that is what recovery meant to me at the time.

I wanted answers. What steps did I have to take? How do you recover from anxiety?

I have learnt that there is no single answer. Everyone’s recovery is different and it is not a ‘straight journey’; there is no series of steps. For me I have been on a whirlwind of a journey ‘jumping about’ in a manner that I find challenging. It is a journey where I have had to face some pretty uncomfortable truths about myself and continues to be a journey of self-discovery.

Below are some of my learnings on my journey so far:

 

Coping

At the height of my anxiety it was as much as I could do to cope with it on a daily basis. Coping was an important stage for me. Coping strategies included:

  • What to do at time of a panic attack
  • Learning how to ‘breathe’
  • Being careful with diet. Cutting out caffeine, alcohol and generally trying to eat well.
  • Being prescribed anti-depressants. There are many strong views of the use of medications and the decision to take them was not an easy one. I discussed this with my Doctor and other health care professionals before making the very hard choice to take them. For me personally it helped take the ‘edge’ of my anxiety at its worst and helped me cope and learn how to tackle the real underlying issues.

 

Learning

  • I believe it is key to understanding what anxiety is, how it works at a physical level and what causes it. Some sources I have found really useful are.
  • ADAVIC. Attending the support groups helped me realise I wasn’t alone and there were many others out there like me. I could share my experiences without feeling crazy. The forum was another great resource and the web site has a lot of useful information to improve knowledge.
  • Lectures. ADAVIC put on many good lectures. Dr Sally McLaren and Bev Aisbett’s lectures have been two great lectures.
  • The Internet. There are many good articles on the web (and some not so good ones) both from psychologists and sufferers alike. Albert Ellis identified 10 major beliefs, which tend to emerge commonly in people who live with anxiety. http://www.anxietynetwork.com.au/Treatment/Cognitive%20Therapy/treatment.htm
  • Books. There are many good books available. ADAVIC have some in their library and I found others from visiting libraries, bookshops and online stores.

Self-discovery

The above section on ‘learning’ is more about general understanding of anxiety and what causes it. To me the real learning is understanding the underlying root causes and self-beliefs. This is how I have approached my personal journey of self-discovery.

  • Psychology. Finding a psychologist that I can relate to has been invaluable. I shared everything, however ashamed or guilty I was of my thoughts, or scared that I was going crazy. I had thoughts that my psychologist was going to press the ‘red button’ under her desk as men rushed out with a straightjacket and tranquilliser and take me away to a padded cell in a speeding van.
  • Learning about my unhealthy self-beliefs. I strongly recommend the ’10 weeks to great self esteem course’ run by ADAVIC, which is based on a recovery strategy by Dr David Burns. My 2 strong unhealthy beliefs were (as defined by Albert Ellis):

1. I must be loved or liked and approved of by every person in my life.

2. I must be completely competent, make no mistakes and achieve all the time if I am to be considered worthwhile.

From doing the course I have now got the skills and challenge these unhealthy beliefs and replace them with kinder more realistic beliefs.

  • Learning why I have those beliefs, through honest reflection and discussions with my psychologist. It comes from understanding my childhood, my parents and their childhood.

Recovery is “change”

This may seem like an abstract definition but to me that is what recovery is about. You can learn about anxiety, the causes etc but unless you take action and change you cannot expect different results. To me many of the changes I have tried have been very challenging and hard. I love the statement made by Lucinda Bassett in her book “From Panic to Power”: “The anxiety of staying stagnant and feeling out of control is much worse than the anxiety of changing and challenging yourself”.

Some personal learnings regarding change are:

  • Trying to allow myself to be more ‘vulnerable’ with friends. I used to try and hide imperfections because I was ashamed of them. Now I acknowledge them and being honest with friends has been awesome. I was so scared of losing friends and being alienated for being a ‘looney’. I found that when I opened up to them they were understanding and sympathetic. I also found them opening up to me with all kinds of things; including several friends who have experienced anxiety and/or depression themselves. I am now closer with my friends and have a great weight off my shoulders.
  • A change in my view of anxiety. I no longer try and ‘beat it’ I try and accept it. That was really difficult for me and I still struggle with it.
  • Failure is part of recovery. Being patient is key to me, especially with my perfectionist tendencies. When making changes they feel very uncomfortable; I feel vulnerable and that in itself makes me anxious. But that’s OK!
  • To enjoy the journey. I no longer strive for an end goal. I live in the moment.
  • I have become interested in Eastern Philosophies and am reading about Buddhism. This doesn’t mean I am going to shave my head and join a monastery. I am enjoying learning about life strategies to achieve long-term happiness; where I find the western goals of materialism and reaching goals produce short-term happiness only.
  • Relaxation and meditation are key to my state of mind.
  • Learning to put myself first a bit more! Who knows one day I may even try a selfish act.

The Journey continues

So reader,

That is my journey so far. I know I have much more to discover. I know I will struggle, get anxious and go through some rough patches. I accept that and I’m not scared of it anymore. I know I have to continue to challenge myself with change; and this will be hard, sometimes seemingly impossible, often slow, but the rewards are immeasurable.

I would like to thank ADAVIC for all they have done to help me with my journey so far: from Anna; facilitators at support groups and courses; and all the anxiety and depression sufferers that share their experiences. Thank you all for your knowledge, support and friendship.

I hope you have enjoyed my story about my journey so far and I wish you well on you own journey.

 

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