2 Jun 2017
I hope this email finds you well and you’ve had a good Bank Holiday.
I just wanted to touch base with you to let you know how I’m doing and to ask your advice about a huge setback I am currently experiencing.
I feel I have been doing really well just lately and the anxiety has not seemed quite as overwhelming. For example, yesterday I had a hairdressers appointment at 4 pm. When I awoke, I felt so anxious. I DID NOT want to go. I conjured up all sorts of excuses in my head which I could use to cancel my appointment but I knew this was WRONG. I tussled with myself all day telling myself my anxiety was worse than ever and what was wrong with me? However, I showered and got myself ready and went off to the hairdressers. I felt wretched but as I walked through the door, my hairdresser said, “oh you look nice!”. She made no reference to me feeling wretched…
As she began to do my hair, I could feel myself calming down and laughing and chatting and it proved to be a very valuable exercise to me. The contrast in the morning of feeling so poorly, so anxious, so nervy, to feeling so calm, so relaxed, so normal in the afternoon was truly inspiring and I felt so confident.
However, this morning, BANG! I feel so anxious, my tummy hurts from releasing so much adrenaline today, my spirits are in my boots and I feel so tired. I’m almost dragging my body around today. Are you able to explain what I might have done wrong to cause this, what feels like, a huge step backwards? I am now feeling I WILL NEVER GET BETTER.
I haven’t been able to send you my worksheets yet as my printer needed new inks and when I went to PC World to purchase them, Canon have stopped making these inks, so I have no alternative but to buy a new printer!!! Can’t afford one at the moment so am having to manually write things out but I am aware I still have to send them to you. Progress is SLOW but I trust I am doing everything correctly.
Thank you, Robin.
Best wishes, D
Nice to hear from you
There are two ways I can reply to you
1. I can reassure you again – this will 100% extend your suffering
2. I can tell you to go over every email and dig really deep and investigate like a scientist until you can answer your own question
so – your homework is this
YOU tell ME (as if I was telling you) what happened in this incident – and why it went the way it went
You need to base this on everything you have learned
how anxiety arises
how it is maintained
what thinking patterns and behaviours maintain or trigger anxiety
Lets say I was the patient and you were the therapist
and I was saying these questions to you as a therapist who knew all about panic
I felt I was doing ok but then I had the appointment and I just woke up and I felt very anxious and didn’t want to go – what was all that about?
I told myself all day that I was worse than ever – why do I do that?
But then when I did go – it was actually ok and I calmed down and felt great
But then the next day BAM I feel so bad and like ‘I will NEVER get better’ WHY would that have happened
So – YOU send me the answers based on everything you have learned
Looking forward to your answers 🙂
and you dont need a printer – just take a quick photo of your worksheets with your iPad and attach them to the email
2 Jun 2017
I can answer your questions very easily for you. Let’s take each question in the order you asked them.
First of all, you say you have been doing well but then woke up feeling very anxious. Next you say you had to keep this set appointment and really did not want to go and you are questioning why you felt so BAD and AFRAID. Simple. It is because you have been feeling so good that the mere THOUGHT of your set appointment REMINDED you of your anxiety and thus caused you to wobble, and this wobble “feels” greater than any others, but it isn’t really.
Secondly, you probably went to sleep the previous evening with apprehension – apprehension as to whether you could go to this appointment and NOT have any panic symptoms, especially if you have been to this place before and maybe had a panic there in the past.
So your anxiety was only following the natural laws of apprehension which YOU fed it. You then spent the rest of that day worrying about your appointment drenched in apprehensive anxiety and your mind became confused. You “TOLD” yourself you were “worse than ever”. If you told your child often enough that they were “no good”‘ sooner or later they would believe it and act accordingly. You told yourself you were worse, so you BELIEVED it. Do you see what you did to yourself? Why did you not tell yourself, “I had a good day yesterday, I am getting better”?
You kept your appointment and everything went well. That was because you were “acting outside the constraints and confines of anxiety”. The anxiety had temporarily lost its hold over you because you had lost interest in it. Can you understand that?
You only feel so bad today because the anxiety, which is a temporary HABIT, reared its ugly head again and reminded you that is still there. It caught you off guard and what did you do, you reacted to it. It put its thumbs in its ears and waggled its fingers at you and shouted “BOO” and you reacted by becoming frightened of it and ran away crying. GREAT!! Your anxiety won AGAIN and it’s rubbing its hands with glee like Fagin. Anxiety is only a mouse in bear costume. You are perfectly, perfectly safe. Nothing bad is going to happen to you.
What you should have done today is showered as normal, had some breakfast and then made a plan for the day to get on with things as normally as you possibly could WITHOUT looking over your shoulder to see if anxiety is still there. IGNORE IT. DON’T RESEARCH IT. DON’T FEED IT. DON’T TELL YOUR BRAIN THERE IS SOMETHING TO FIX BECAUSE THERE ISN’T. Basically, your brain is confused and that is why it is looking for “JUSTIFIABLE REASONS” to be anxious. Once you ignore the physical symptoms together with the thoughts – which are only a form of mental panic – the anxiety will literally get bored and leave you alone. But you have to REALLY DO THIS YOURSELF, NO ONE ELSE CAN DO IT FOR YOU.
Enjoy the good days and pay no attention to the bad days. Take comfort from how your anxiety left you when you were in the hairdressers. You did that all by yourself. So you see, you CAN DO IT.
How did I do Robin?
That was a good exercise.
THAT WAS EXCELLENT 🙂
I would just modify one thing – I know it seems to make sense to create a kind of annoying entity out of the anxiety – calling it ‘it and ‘it’ reared ‘it’s ugly head’ – it shouted BOO – it won again – etc
But you really want to get away from the idea that there ‘is’ an ‘it – or that there is ‘anything’ out to get you
its simply not true
in fact it helps to feel compassion towards yourself and your body because it actually is trying to help you but it’s just making a mistake
it’s like if a friend was trying to protect you from something but you didn’t really need any protecting and they just didn’t know they were making it worse
I prefer to say things like – ‘it’s ok body/mind I know you are trying to help because you think I must be in a lot of danger because of the danger vibes I’m giving out – but relax its ok – all is well – we are totally fine even if it feels we aren’t – then smile and bring vibes of compassion and comfort to yourself – your body – your mind – no resistance – no anger – no fighting – no annoyance – just acceptance and understanding
This is very important – a lot of this is down to the language we use – not just the ‘I will never get better’ – but also the ‘why is ‘it’ back to hurt me again’
there IS no IT – ‘it’ is an illusion – misinterpretation
I suppose another problem is that if you think of it as some ‘thing’ in any way – then you are moving away from the truth that ‘it’ is ONLY coming from your own misinterpretation – so don’t see it as you against ‘it – or you will be forever fighting or running or fixing
It;’s like you see a shadow of a hand on the ground and you are fighting it or running from it – and then you suddenly see that it’s your own hand making the shadow – so you laugh and just stop making shadows 🙂
But 99% it was perfect – I hope you got the sense that it really DOES need to come from YOU – the ‘knowing’
If I say it it’s ok but it’s not as powerful as when you REALLY REALLY know it for yourself
In CBT there is an often used exercise – ‘what would you tell a friend if they had this thought’ (often regarding ‘I’m no good or useless)
You can use this as if a friend is the one with panic and you have the answers – or you are the therapist – you do know it all now its just a matter of practice
and please consider planned exposure – you want to ‘bring it on’ REPEATEDLY in a controlled way
if you keep waiting to practice only when anxiety arises you only learn very slowly
It’s like someone taking piano lessons and they dont practice between lessons – they will learn but it will be painstakingly slow – if they practice daily they will learn much faster
Anyway – well done 🙂
3 Jun 2017
Thank so much for your reply, Robin. It is very kind, thoughtful and really appreciated that you get back to me so promptly.
I wonder if I am allowed to ask your advice/help with one hurdle I am really having difficulty conquering and that is the mornings. This is a relatively new aspect of my anxiety and I can’t find any reference to it in your literature. As you know, my thoughts begin before my eyes are open, but I understand this because when I was worrying about my health results, the realisation that I might have a terminal illness would hit me each morning I when I awoke and the worrying would begin and this went on for 4 months.
But that was nearly 3 years ago so I don’t understand why it has started to be a problem again. I “feel afraid” to get up and out of bed, if that makes sense. I really struggle to force myself to get up. I don’t want to but I know I have to and if you knew me before anxiety, you would know this IS NOT LIKE ME. I’d jump out of bed not knowing which job to tackle first! I would so like the old me back, Robin. Do you have any advice/encouragement that this is simply fight or flight and it WILL get better? Did you suffer with the mornings, Robin when you had anxiety?
Can you answer this or would you say I was seeking reassurance. I don’t know…
Thank you. And thank you for your help thus far. You ARE REALLY making a difference to me.
Ultimately you ARE asking for reassurance
and you really won’t be fully recovered unless you get to the point where you dont feel any need for reassurance
Because being 100% cured means knowing 100% that you are in no actual danger and that no matter what symptoms are arising it IS all connected to anxiety – fight or flight – safety behaviours – thought patterns – and the cure is down to practice
and reassurance seeking IS a safety behaviour
Obviously I CAN reassure you but you need to ask yourself – do you want to be 100% free of the fear or do you want to life half your life in fear which is relieved sometimes by getting reassurance
It’s a very important question to ask
Like a child in bed at night totally believes that there is a monster hanging on his door (but its just an old coat)
The mother of the child CAN reassure the child that there is no monster – it’s just a coat – and she can repeat this reassurance every night for years – but the child is still terrified up to the point of reassurance
and of course the real answer is to get the child to find out for ITSELF what this monster REALLY is – then the child is ‘cured’ of the fear of THAT monster anyway..
YOU yourself are doing YOURSELF a disservice by seeking reassurance
If you read your email again you will see that you aren’t asking about how to ‘practice’ – you are asking me IS IT fight or flight – WILL you get better – did I have that too
These are still clear signs that you are still very much afraid of the symptoms and are still not understanding everything – otherwise these basic questions wouldn’t arise
And my guess is that that is down to a lack of ‘correct’ practice and planned exposure
which is why I really need to see all your worksheets – which you CAN just take a photo of with your iPad and send to me
Then I will know exactly what you are doing or not doing
With regards this example of waking up
Have you kept a panic diary for when you wake up
Have to prepared a flashcard for when you wake up
Have you restructured your OWN thoughts when you wake up – or your OWN behaviour
Have you filled in the Panic Sequence Profile
Have you experimented with changing your behaviour/thinking in the morning
or do you just keep repeating the same reactions every day
What could you try that is different – that is to do with practice
Have you tried answering your own confusion about why you get this now after 3 years
Have you considered that if this is a ‘real’ ‘thing’ happening to you then why just when you wake – surely it would be 100% the same feeling 24/7 if it was a ‘real’ mental or physical disease
Have you asked yourself why you still act ‘surprised’ at new symptoms after all the information you have studied
Do you think you ARE doing enough practice and study and writing and investigating and experimenting
or do you do ‘a bit’ and then when you feel a bit ok you dont do any at all – but then when you feel bad again its a shock and you again need reassurance or you again do ‘a bit’ more practice
Do you see where I’m going with this
Do you really want to be asking me for reassurance a year or two or three or ten from now or would you rather be totally FREE of the fear – for GOOD
Next time you feel the need to ask me for reassurance – try to figure it out yourself first – write it all down – then send it to me and I will see if I can add anything you missed
If you find yourself writing things like ‘why am I getting this now’ – or ‘did YOU get that’ or ‘is that REALLY anxiety’ or ‘maybe I’m different’ and so on – try to see your OWN safety seeking and try to see how if you are doing that you MUSTN’T be totally accepting or understanding the cycles of fear
then consider what MORE you can do to push yourself further – what exposure can you try – do you even do any ‘planned’ exposure or do you just read a bit and wait for good or bad days to happen
The answer is in how YOU practice
There is no other answer
You need to really sit down and contemplate if you are REALLY REALLY putting all your efforts into understanding and practice – and if not why not ??
This will all unravel very quickly if you put in more of a concerted effort – I don’t mean fighting or resisting – I mean just taking practice more in earnest
3 Jun 2017
Oh gosh, Robin. I’m so confused now as to what I SHOULD be doing. And I feel a bit concerned by your comment that if I felt like this 24/7 then that might indicate a mental or physical illness. But that’s what concerns me – once I am up and about, my doom, gloom and fearful thoughts can still be hanging around me 24/7 so I am so scared I have a mental illness of some kind!
I guess I AM NOT doing everything I am supposed to be doing. I DO WANT TO GET BETTER Robin, I don’t want to be like this forever and I don’t want to do this recovery half hearted. PLEASE help me to do it properly.
But my difficulty is that because I don’t have the physical symptoms of panic ie racing heart, sweating, etc I don’t know what I am supposed to, but I do get the mental manifestations, ie the bizarre thoughts and the encompassing “strange” feeling when I am outside yet funnily enough, if I am in a supermarket, you would think there was NOTHING wrong with me. I function perfectly.
So I’m not sure how I tackle my symptoms compared to someone who has the physical symptoms. From the list you have just sent me of what I should be doing, I am ashamed and embarrassed to confess I am not doing it correctly. Some of my confusion/doubt lies in the fact that, whilst I can accept it is anxiety, fight / flight and I can feel ok one minute, the next minute, I feel overwhelmed and then the doubt creeps back in.
Now, I am learning to play the piano and if I practise a piece and gradually get a bit better at it, I am encouraged and I move FORWARD with it. However, it doesn’t seem to work with me with the anxiety. I can practise, things go well, but the next day it has all gone wrong again. So I become confused, despondent and worried that my illness is more than just anxiety but I did seek medical help last year and my GP put me on a short course of Citalopram which I am no longer taking and of course, I had my maximum allowance of 6 telephone sessions of CBT which I have mentioned to you but it was nothing like the help you offer. I did ask if I was having a nervous breakdown or was I a manic depressive but was assured I was not on both counts.
I can’t print even the blank worksheets out at the moment. I did try to print some but because of the ink situation, they have come out with very faint pink writing but I can hand write them.
So shall I base my homework on the list you have sent me? I REALLY, REALLY WANT MY LIFE BACK. Before this anxiety, I was such a responsible, clear thinking, CONFIDENT person. People used to come to me for help, advice etc, and I could delver it all with such aplomb. I would hate anyone to see me how I am at the moment.
Sorry for going on, Robin. With your help, I want to get better.
PLEASE HELP ME. This is such a lonely illness.
Thank you. Thank you so much.
Thats my point – that after all the information and reassurance and whatever practice you have been doing you can still so easily ask ‘do I have a mental illness’
Thats why you need to keep reading over all the books or emails repeatedly until it REALLY sinks in and you have no doubts
and that has to include exposure practice
What I meant was that an ‘actual’ physical or mental malfunction doesn’t come and go depending on circumstances – it would be there to the exact same degree if you dont go to the hairdressers or if you do go
Clearly your fears and symptoms change depending on the external triggers – which proves its all about how you are REACTING to things
and you can prove this very easily by simply doing something right now that you are scared to do and hey presto your symptoms will increase
I already explained in some detail why we get a continuous sense of anxiety or uneasiness or jitteriness or worry because of underlying anticipatory anxiety – as well as not properly doing exposure practice
and I have NO IDEA what practice you have been doing because you haven’t sent me anything??
You cant keep saying the dog ate my homework – anyone who seriously wanted to recover would just get a printer or take the things to a print shop and get it all printed out
Can you see what I mean – there is a lack of commitment to your OWN recovery
When I was going through panic I read Dr Claire Weekes books (there was no CBT at that time) from cover to cover on a loop 24/7
I felt I had no other choice
You are learning Piano so you know that the learning is proportional to the practicing
You have to REALLY REALLY tell yourself that you HAVE to just get STUCK IN to INVESTIGATING and study and understanding and learning and experimenting until it WORKS
you have to IGNORE all the doubts and time wasting fears ‘but what if’ – ‘is it really anxiety?’ – ‘maybe I’m different’ – ‘what about THIS symptom or THAT symptom..?’ – and so on
decide once and for all to just work it out
you DO have enough information to go on – its all there – just read it all again and again and again
Then write stuff down – explore it all – and ignore the thoughts ‘but why me and why now and why do I have to go through this’ and all that jazz
It is as it is right now – accept that – stop wasting time with those thoughts
Just get to work on it