17 March to 30 March – Panic attack in Hairdressers – Overwhelming obsessional thoughts on road trip

17 Mar 2017

Hello Robin,

I’m so sorry to trouble you AGAIN but I wonder if you could answer this phenomena?!

With my new found knowledge, I booked myself a hair appointment.  I haven’t been avoiding the hairdressers since I’ve had anxiety but I now realise, from reading all your literature, that I have been perpetuating my anxiety by adopting behaviour tactics in the past to “get me through”, and this was a revelation to me as I couldn’t understand why my anxiety was persisting despite trying to continue with my life.  I used to book the last appointment when I knew no one else would be coming to the hairdressers, and I’m writing a book so I’d take my laptop so that I could absorb myself in writing thus diverting any panic feelings.

So I know what I’ve been doing wrong.  Off to the hairdressers I went, albeit in trepidation.  I hadn’t been there many minutes before I suddenly felt I wasn’t breathing.  I couldn’t FEEL I was breathing, I couldn’t SEE I was breathing and though I KNOW I can’t stop breathing, I was sure I was about to DIE!!  I felt all my breathing operations had shut down.  It was awful.  Oh, Robin how ridiculous is that?  How childish and immature to think that – but the feelings were so powerful and overwhelming. 

I remember hearing you talk about new symptoms arising and I became confused as to what was happening to me as normally in a panic, your heart rate increases and you become breathless – but I didn’t do any of that. In fact, quite the opposite!   My breathing was virtually non-existent and I began checking it constantly. I knew if I started to talk I would have to breath, so I began a conversation but then my ears started to ring –  loudly – and I was sure I was about to pass out!!  I remember reading in Dr. Weekes’ book that the precursor to fainting is ringing in the ears!!!

Question is, was all that still just ANXIETY??  Please, if you have time to advise, that would be lovely.  Do I treat “not breathing” and “ringing in the ears” exactly the same, i.e. Understand that it is just the fight and flight working overtime to keep me safe and that though it thought it was doing its job, it really wasn’t needed?  I could hear your voice encouraging me NOT to leave and I didn’t but what a mess I made of the whole episode!  Instead of going towards it all, I mentally RAN and did stupid safety behaviours like fiddling with things in my pocket!!!

I’m sorry to trouble you like this, Robin.  I do promise, I will not make a habit of contacting you every time I have a scary symptom because I am so familiar with most of them and know what they are – but this breathing phenomena really did scare me.  Thank you, so much.

D

18 Mar 2017

Hi D

Sorry for the late reply

Firstly you may want to look at this page

http://cbt4panic.org/symptoms/

Then you wont need to wonder anymore if it’s anxiety

The easiest way to figure this out is ask yourself – ‘If I hadn’t gone to the hairdressers what is the likelihood that this breathing symptom would have happened?’

I’m sure you will realise that it ONLY happened because you went into a situation where you were worried you might have ‘any’ horrible symptom

so the logic is – you didn’t have an out of the blue real dangerous symptom

you had a panic symptom triggered by being in a situation where you were fearful of having panic

had you stayed at home probably you wouldn’t have had the symptom

Can you see what I mean – if it was an ACTUAL REAL health related problem it would have happened whether you were at home or not – but you KNOW deep down that it ONLY happened because of the situation

I’m not saying you should stay at home 🙂 – you know I’m not saying that – I’m just showing you the scientific conclusion that this was TOTALLY a panic related symptom

so once you accept that you can then work with it like any other symptom – same thing different feeling thats all

feeling like you cant breath and ringing in the ears is just standard stuff with panic – it’s ALL just exaggerated bodily reactions to perceived threat and it can all get triggered from the tiniest physical sensation or tiniest thought

You couldn’t tell me a symptom I haven’t heard of – trust me 🙂

I’ll make an uncanny prediction 🙂  I bet when you got out of the situation – or finally got to somewhere you felt ‘safe’ your breathing miraculously returned to ‘normal’ – although probably its a new fear for you now so you are constantly checking in to see if you are still able to breath

🙂

I know all the tricks the body pulls – I have had them ALL 🙂

Back to the study

do the worksheets

do the practice

you need to REALLY REALLY REALLY understand this like a scientist – not just in a hopeful way – but in an ‘ah HA!’ way

you need to TOTALLY see the truth of what is happening and the only way to do that is to go over the information again and again and again and then PROVE it – do the worksheets EVERY time you have panic – learn the coping skills – then learn about planned exposure

this will NOT just resolve itself without doing the practice

but WITH the practice it will DEFINITELY resolve itself

in time 🙂

18 Mar 2017

Hello Robin,

Thank you once again for replying.  Please don’t feel you have to apologise for anything.  It is I who should be apologising to you for taking up so much of your time.  You have my word from now on that I won’t trouble you again because I know what I have to do and I know what all my symptoms are all about, AND THANKS TO YOU I HAVE ANSWERS AS TO WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING TO ME, and as you say, that knowledge is so powerful.  I am utterly, humbly so grateful to you and your steadfast, sensible explanations. 

You have taught me more in less than three weeks than any other medical/NHS person has taught me in three years.  THANK YOU, ROBIN.  Today, during a “wobble” I did not run, I relaxed the best I could, I did my flash cards and instead of screwing my face up in fear, I SMILED, and it worked,!! I can see this faint light at the end of the tunnel…

Thank you so much, Robin, ” for being there”.  I will not let you down. I will exactly what you have asked of me and I have such hope now. I cannot believe how your words and literature have helped me.  Thank you a thousand times.

Have a peaceful weekend.

My warmest wishes,

D

Hi D

Dont worry if you need any further clarification about symptoms

To begin with that can help with the overall understanding

If you kept seeking reassurance over years then that would be different

but I accept that most people need to ask for help a few times to begin with

as long as you are putting in the practice 🙂

Keep me up to date

30 Mar 2017

Hello Robin,

I hope this email finds you well.

I wonder if I may just give you a little update on my progress and also ask you a quick question please?  I’m quite sure you don’t have the time to respond to everyone’s progress report, so I will make mine brief.  I’m sorry to take up your time.

I have been doing quite well recently and am really understanding the concept of flight and fight and how I have been feeding it. Your information is so enlightening and informative and has absolutely helped me greatly.  I also understand Miss-Interpretation and Mr Catastrophe which has helped me tremendously.  Thank you.

Last week I travelled to London from my home in East Yorkshire to view my daughter’s new office.  I was going to make an excuse not to go – I even had my excuse well planned!!! – but having read all your information, I knew I could make the journey.  And I did.  And I had a good time.  And I was pleased with myself.  In fact, I forgot all about my anxiety and I remember thinking, “if Robin could see me now, he’d say there was nothing wrong with me!”  I travelled down to London in the semi dark, so the sky was not a major problem to me – I couldn’t see it!! 

However, on the return journey, which was in the bright sunlight, my thoughts and fears overwhelmed me. The sky was vast, I worried about how the world first started etc etc…. Everything I had learned went out the window.  I felt so scared, frightened and sad and my stomach was churning like mad. 

Then I remembered an email you had previously sent me explaining my mind (as well as my body) was on high alert and looking for danger and I read it and re-read.  I contemplated sleeping in my car until it got dark before continuing my journey,  but after reading your email,  I understood what was happening to me and so I planned myself a route using country roads and I headed for home.  I managed to overcome the sky fear.  Thank you.   

I thought I was out of the woods – well maybe just on the edge – but for NO REASON this morning, I have woken up terrified.  Terrified of the sky.  Terrified of why we are all here.  Mornings are my very worst time.  They really are.  Usually at moments like this, thanks to you  I am now able to tell myself, everything is ok, I don’t need looking after,  there is no danger and I smile and carry on as best I can.  But today, I feel so deflated. 

I have read that once people understand the concept of the flight and fight, it is so easy to overcome anxiety.  Well I DO UNDERSTAND, but it is as if my mind is determined to drag me back and frighten me with scary thoughts.  Robin, how can I become unafraid of the sky and all my stupid, silly, scary thoughts, now that I have already thought them and made them a permanent fear?  

I’m worried I will NEVER be able to look outside and not even notice the sky – like I used to.  I used to so enjoy being outside with not a care  in the world.  Am I different from you and all your clients?  I feel I am.

I’m sorry.  I’ve written far too much, and I realise this email is seeking reassurance.  Basically, am I on the right track by understanding that my thoughts are there to try to keep me safe, that they are there because they think they are keeping me alert but I am misinterpreting them?

Sorry for going on so long.  Thank you, Robin.  Thank you.

D

Hi D

The fact that you can still be so triggered and terrified is simply showing you that you still have a lot of fear

and that is no problem

Fear of the fear is the main problem – so you don’t have to wonder why this is happening or if it will ever go away etc

you just keep studying and practicing WITH the fear until it no longer is so fearful – only THEN will it ‘go away’

You need to get to the point where you no more fear the abstract scary thoughts about the sky or life or whatever – than you would fear having hiccups or indigestion or a headache

Just relax and freely be open and honest with yourself and agree that you still have a LOT of fear about these things – which is why you still get ‘panicky’ – the fear kicks in – the fight or flight kicks in and off you go

Thats fine – very common – very normal for someone with anxiety and panic – not very nice but still commonplace

The more ‘desperately’ you want to become ‘unafraid’ of the sky etc the more you trigger fight or flight – its just a big puzzle

You wouldn’t write to me (I dont think) and say ‘How do I become unafraid of hiccups’ – because you dont have fear about hiccups

can you see what I mean?

The sky is not the problem – or why we are all here

the problem is that you are terrified of HAVING those thoughts because they make you FEEL so frightened and panicky

and that just happened to be the theme you had running when you had your initial anxiety

I had many themes from thoughts to objects – I once had a massive panic attack when I was playing snooker – and after that I felt extreme panic if I was anywhere NEAR a snooker table – obviously snooker tables aren’t actually dangerous – but they TRIGGERED my panic

These thoughts TRIGGER your panic – so you live in TOTAL fear that you may have MORE of these thoughts – and because you are terrified of HAVING the thoughts they are bound to arise at some point – its just natural

so – you have to keep working on this puzzle

how to lose the fear of the thoughts without needing the thoughts to not be there or go away..

Basically you just do your best to accept – for now – that because you ARE scared of having these thoughts they IRONICALLY WILL arise – so accept that – its funny

Then study more – practice the coping strategies – and practice with the thoughts

Go over the Obsessional thoughts workbook – you can speed the process up with behavioural experiments – for instance DELIBERATELY think the thoughts – stop ‘hoping’ that they wont sneak up on you – stop looking over your shoulder to see if they are coming to get you

and then practice with the OBSERVER MODE

the thoughts WILL arise – because of your fear and focus on not wanting them

so when they arise LET THEM EXIST

as quickly and as gently as you can let go all over –  and spring into Observer Mode

YOU are not the fullness of the thoughts or else you couldn’t be saying ‘why the heck are these darned thoughts back again!”

There is YOU who knows what peace of mind is like (and you want it back)

and that YOU is watching the darned thoughts and reacting so much the thoughts seem to become ALL of what you are

So – let the thoughts exist and do what they want – they aren’t you

You step back from them and let them swirl about

HOLD yourself as the observer

as SOON as you have achieved the ‘separation’ and you can feel yourself as the observer – watching the thoughts and letting them be – then EXPAND your awareness to also take in your surroundings – NOT as distraction but as just returning to doing NORMAL stuff

There is no need to ‘desperately’ be the observer and try to wait it out like some storm

thats not acceptance

The thoughts come – you catch them taking over you – you step back – you let them be – then you let go all over – come BACK to ‘reality’ – GROUND yourself in your surroundings

You will be sucked back in with the fear then you step back – then back in then step back – it takes practice – give it time – do it gently

Dont be annoyed at your mind – there is not ‘bad’ mind or ‘bad’ thoughts out to get you – its just false alarms – mind on high alert for no real reason – just a mistake – be kind to yourself – to your mind – all is well – no problem – no danger

If you then find yourself worrying that this will all happen again and will never ‘go away’ – then practice with THOSE thoughts in exactly the same way

You ARE making progress

But EVERYONE who makes progress has MANY setbacks – these HAVE to happen so that you REALLY REALLY REALLY lose your fear

You will know when you have lost your fear

That will be when you know you can have the EXACT same thoughts but you will just KNOW that they wont scare you in the same way

That only happens with ACTUAL practice – NOT just by an intellectual understanding

so its very normal this happened – its common and par for the course

You are right on target

Give it more time

🙂

30 Mar 2017

Hello Robin,

Thank you so much for your wonderful, explicit and detailed reply.  I have truly never had this level of understanding and commitment from anyone and your willingness to answer my questions humbles me.  You must be so busy yet you found the time to help ME.  I’m so grateful.  I have such confidence in your work and your explanations give me such “power ” that I KNOW I CAN DO THIS AND GET BETTER. 

In fact, I feel I was too hasty in contacting you, because after I sent the email, I made myself go out but I did the exact opposite of what you teach – I went out trying to distract myself in hope that panic and all its associations WOULD NOT COME, so that I could return home and think “well, I went out and did my best”. 

Whilst out, I could hear your voice telling me I was doing it ALL WRONG!  So I mentally and physically relaxed, I stayed, I changed my attitude as best I could.  I took in my surroundings and for the first hour it was dreadful, but I didn’t want to let you down because you have been so kind to me.  SO, I knew if I was to give myself the best possible chance to conquer my anxiety, I had to do all the things you teach. 

So, I practised.  I kept telling myself I was safe and that my flight and fight was not required and I was so conscious of not adding more fuel to my adrenaline fire AND YOU KNOW WHAT – THE FEELINGS BEGAN TO DISSIPATE!!!  How wonderful is that…Thank you Robin.  Thank you so much.  You have provided me with such wonderful, sensible ammunition to conquer my anxiety.  I never, ever thought I would get my life back but I have such hope now and for that, truly,  THANK YOU.  I’m so sorry for contacting you but thank you so much for a reply I can understand and work with. 

Enjoy your evening.

Very, very best wishes, D

Hi

Well done 🙂

That’s exactly how it works – its all about experimenting and finding proof that you really aren’t in any danger

and remember – it’s totally ok no matter what you do – if you go out looking for distraction or you go out to practice

in a sense it’s ALL practice once you have had even a tiny glimpse of the reality of fight or flight

there is no right or wrong – there’s just whatever is in front of you

go easy on yourself even if you think you are ‘getting it all wrong’ – some days you’ll do it one way – some days you’ll do it another – somedays you’ll hide under the blankets and other days you’ll be convinced it’s all gone for ever

thats just the way it pans out – no one ever really gets to the other side any other way – so relax and accept that 🙂

there’s no urgency – there’s no rules – there’s no danger

you just have to keep working out the very very subtle ways in which you resist and add more fear

to begin with it seems almost impossible and even illogical to ‘accept’ totally the feelings that are absolutely scaring you half to death – so its not your fault if you can’t seem to do it very well – NO ONE can

The fight or flight response is SUPPOSED to scare us into running or fighting – so we can hardly be blamed for our reaction – we just find it hard to believe that its a false alarm or that ‘anxiety’ can produce such abstract thoughts and sensations

But that’s exactly what happens

and your job now is to keep investigating and experimenting and questioning and practicing back and forth between fear and understanding until the fear lessens – as it will – in time

You will even laugh at yourself after a while – when you see how the mind tries to trick itself

“ok .. I need to accept the sensations” – but subtly we know we are really hoping that this acceptance will ‘get rid of’ the sensations – so then we think ‘oh no I’m not really accepting.. I’m no good at this.. I will never get it.. and then we remember – ‘oh I can just accept THAT – wow – that’s great’ – but then we think ‘hey maybe me accepting not accepting will eventually lead to the feelings not being there?!’ – ARRRGHH  ‘There I go again.. this is madness..how do we REALLY accept!!??’

and then the madness of it all just makes you laugh at the absurdity of it and for half a second you really DO ‘accept’

and then 5 seconds later your mind kicks in again with ‘hey I think I really practiced acceptance for a second – wow’ and we check ourselves to see if we are having any symptoms  lol

and so it goes on – but each day we learn SOME small thing that moves us forwards

You can’t really go backwards and undo all the learning – it’s not as if you can be totally in the dark ever again about what is going on – now you know you just keep heading towards the light

You will get there

🙂

30 Mar 2017

You are so kind and though I am very sorry you have suffered with crippling anxiety, secretly (and a bit selfishly I suppose) I am comforted that you have because your knowledge comes from personal experience. Consequently,  I am so encouraged by everything you say and ask me to do because YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN THERE.  You are the only person who has spoken any sense to me.  I have complete, utter confidence in you and that has a massive effect in helping to cure me.  Thank you, Robin.  You are a very special person.  Xx

Very, very best wishes.  D

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