First contact – understanding exposure – initial hope turns to despair
4 Mar 2017
PLEASE Robin PLEASE do you think you can help me? I am desperate & at the end of my tether. I have tried EVERYTHING & spent £s & am no better. My anxiety started 2.5 years ago when a routine mammogram flagged up something potentially serious but after being put through lots of tests & nearly 4 months of agony waiting for results I was diagnosed with chronic leukaemia which in itself is not serious but the worry of waiting to learn what was wrong caused me so much fright and fear. The leukaemia causes me no problem but the anxiety has taken such a hold over me.
I’m terrified of all my physical symptoms, developed agoraphobia & have developed a fear of the sky. I’m afraid of why we are all here & seeing the sky overwhelms me some days. I’m going mad, I’ve read so much on the subject & though I practise what I know I have to do, I am not getting better. On the brief basis of what I’ve just written, do you think I have a chance of getting better or do you think maybe I have some mental illness? I’m normally a very sensible confident woman but I now don’t know what is wrong with me. PLEASE do you think you can help me? Thank you . D
Sorry for this brief reply – I am in the middle of returning from India to the UK – I will hopefully write more next week
I would say you definitely are suffering from understandable anxiety
I have heard many many people describing the same fears and worries – I remember one client who felt that the world was too big and he couldn’t bear the size of the universe – Turns out he was trampled by horses when he was young on a farm
Very many people get anxiety related to health worries which can escalate if not treated
I would suggest that you find a local CBT therapist – you can DEFINITELY be helped through CBT
My programme is specifically for panic but it wont do any harm reading through it – just take what you can from the information – you can access it free here ….
Let me know how you get on
7 Mar 2017
Thank you for your prompt reply Robin. I appreciate your time, especially as you are travelling! I have actually had CBT through my GP. But it was only offered to me for a maximum, under the NHS, for 1 hour x 6 weeks and it was conducted over the telephone! However, I am really doing my best to cure myself. I have the knowledge but can’t always put it into practise and sometimes the feelings are so dreadful I can so easily convince myself I have a more serious mental illness. I find it very hard dismissing any symptom I consider “medical” and instead of letting it go, I think, “just supposing…”.
Thank you for your links and thank you so much for acknowledging my symptoms are due to anxiety. Just to hear you confirm that has helped me. Further, I am grateful you have explained your programme and not just taken my money. That really is kind and honourable of you. I spent a lot of money on a competitors programme which promised SO MUCH, but when it came down to it, it didn’t help and I feel my money was taken without following up on their guarantees. It’s when the feelings of utter fright strike for no reason that I find particularly difficult, but then, this is an enigmatic illness…
I’m so sorry for pestering you whilst you are on holiday but I do truly appreciate your response. I wish you safe travels and send a big THANK YOU.
9 Mar 2017
I hope you have travelled back from India safely and had a pleasant time.
First of all, could I please say a big thank you to you for supplying your workbooks. I have found them informative and inspiring. I can identify with them so much and was very interested to read them, in particular, your conversations with Julie. I am now adopting – and trying to believe – that all my frightening, scary, fearful feelings are just “ADRENALIN”. But boy, is that difficult!
I have had my panic disorder for about 2 years now, but even though I find it really difficult sometimes to physically leave the house, I DO do it. I make myself go shopping, to the hairdressers, go to the bank etc. but for me, it doesn’t get any easier – in fact, some days it’s harder than ever.
Surely, this is the exposure you teach to make panic go away, but mine ISN’T going away, and now I am so frightened I am incurable. Why hasn’t exposure been working for me, Robin? PLEASE can you help? I look forward to your response and advice and of course, charges. I promise, I WILL NOT become a “writing nuisance” to you or your team.
Thank you, thank you for your help thus far.
I’m glad you are finding the workbooks helpful
Your question is easy to answer
There is a world of difference between ‘bravely’ facing the fear with ‘gritted teeth’ and carrying out planned exposure which is based on a thorough understanding of anxiety and CBT principles
If you keep reading over the first two workbooks so that you fully understand how anxiety is created and maintained – as well as learning VITAL coping techniques – then read the 3rd workbook carefully and you will see how planned exposure is not at all like ‘forced’ exposure
I remember facing many things myself (before understanding about graduated exposure) and I just kept feeling worse – because without understanding it just feels like repeated confirmation that there is a very serious problem
With carefully planned exposure you learn more each time that confirms that your worst fears actually dont happen – and that if you apply the knowledge and coping strategies you CAN actually deal with the fear in a different way
Basically you haven’t been doing ‘exposure’ – you have only been ‘grinning and bearing’ it albeit very bravely – and this never solves anything unless its done in a certain way
So don’t worry that exposure wont work for you – it will but you first need to understand it
For instance – lets say you bravely ‘face’ a situation – like the bank – if all the time you are desperately trying to NOT feel panic or you try to repress the symptoms or you try to STOP the sensations then all you are doing is reinforcing your belief that you feel you are in grave danger
If however you do planned exposure – and part of that entails ALLOWING the symptoms to exist and even run their course then you will learn that you aren’t in grave danger – that its adrenaline made worse by your resistance and added fear – then that is very powerful
Anyway – keep studying the books and feel free to ask any questions
Best of luck
9 Mar 2017
Robin, THANK YOU. I truly feel so inspired by your words and workbooks. And you are right, I go out HOPING panic and its associated feelings won’t come. I guess that’s cheating and “putting up” with rather than facing but it’s just that they feel so awful, so unbelievably scary, why on earth would you “want” or even “invite” these feelings to come!!!
You have been so very kind corresponding with me. I know how in demand you and your service are so I am even more grateful. Please accept my sincere thanks and good wishes.
No problem – I’m glad to help
You need to become clear on what ‘facing’ means
when you say that ‘hoping the feelings wont come’ is ‘cheating rather than ‘facing’ it sounds like you might think ‘facing’ should be more ‘brave’ (without the hoping that you wont panic)
This is not what is meant by ‘facing’
Whilst it IS brave to face or even just HAVE panic at all – you can ‘face’ the panic without having to be ‘brave’
If you learn why panic arises and techniques that help you cope with it then you can actually feel ‘not so afraid’ to face it – this is the best way because ultimately you are learning that the fear is not what you think it is – there is no ‘actual’ life or death threat – it’s all a mistake
So – yes – its important to face the symptoms but rather than think in terms of being brave – think in terms of being ‘scientific’ with the use of correct coping strategies
That way you will be much more likely to want to do the exposure – exposure doesn’t EVER have to be terrifying – and if it is you just modify the exposure until it give enough practice without being overwhelming
Exposure is NOT about learning how to bravely soldier on despite the terror – its about LEARNING the TRUTH about fight or flight which leads to LESS and LESS fear
This is why you would WANT or invite the feelings to come – the sooner you do that (in this very scientific controlled way) the sooner you get your life back 🙂
10 Mar 2017
Thank you for all this information, Robin. It’s very kind of you to take the time to assist ME! To be able to get my life back would just be wonderful. I know it’s only been 2.5 years but at the moment it feels like lifetime that I’ve been like this. Each day has become a struggle and getting up in a morning can sometimes be hard. But, I’ll keep going. I know I’ll get there… Some days my thoughts drive me mad and create such awful bodily sensations. Did you suffer from this too?
I am genuinely so grateful to you. Thank you so much for your sincere help and advice.
10 Mar 2017
I have just stopped listening to your videos for a moment – I have only got as far as to Book 2 Video 8 – to say a huge, massive, THANK YOU to you for sending me all this information because just listening to you thus far has made such a great difference to my panic and anxiety. You have verbally made such sense to me and I can’t thank you enough. I feel so for-armed with knowledge and understanding having heard only a fraction of your literature.
I’ve wasted so much time, effort, fear and money searching for a “cure”! As you know, I purchased a competitors package at great cost because I was encouraged to buy it twice as it was not working for me the first time and my membership to their helpline was expiring but I can totally see why it did not work now. It was because their strategy was based on “DISTRACTION, DISTRACTION, DISTRACTION”‘ so the minute you felt a symptom, you had to rush around finding something to do, ie phone a friend, turn the radio up loud and sing along loudly, etc. your whole day was made up of a diary of distractions!! No wonder I feel I have got worse. I’ve just been reinforcing my fear of fear and never letting it all “just be” thereby proving to subconscious that everything is just fine.
Your explanations make so, so much sense. I believe you and therefore accepting and understanding are easier to bear. I still have a lot of listening to do and a long way to go but THANK YOU, Robin. You are the first person to explain panic and anxiety in such a plausible, acceptable format that my mind can comprehend and understand. I just needed you to know.
Thank you. Have a peaceful weekend.
My warmest, kindest wishes.
Thank you for the kind words – I’m always very happy to hear when someone clicks with the programme and sees the light at the end of the tunnel
and don’t worry – your relief wont change – you HAVE found the answer – you may still have ups and downs but just stick at it and it WILL help you fully recover
without any understanding panic can last for years
with understanding it is actually easy to fix because its all built around misinterpretation and catastrophisation – and safety behaviour – and once you change all that you just CAN’T make the same mistakes again – it wouldn’t make sense to be totally in panic
anyway – keep going through the workbooks and feel free to ask any questions
Robin, I have not paid for any of your services or products but I am very happy to do so. Please don’t hesitate to advise.
Many people in this situation suddenly say their turning point was when they had a “light bulb” moment and I envied them because I too wanted one of these light bulb moments. Thanks to you, I think my moment started to emerge this afternoon whilst listening to your videos.
Thank you for responding, especially at this late hour.
Warmest, kindest regards,
(First ‘set back’ after the initial belief that she had ‘figured it all out’)
12 Mar 2017
Don’t know if you can help. I don’t want to be a nuisance to you but just wondered if you could help. Robin, for the past two days, I truly thought I’d “cracked it”. I’ve understood everything I’ve read and listened to and went to bed last night feeling so relieved that after all this time I could see a light at the end of the tunnel, but this morning when I woke up I felt so strange. Why? I can’t articulate it but I just feel so weird – feelings I’ve not experienced before. I have no particular symptoms of panic, I just feel so very peculiar and I feel so frightened of these feelings.
When I looked out of the window this morning, even the view, the sky, everything, made me feel odd. I can’t comprehend what’s wrong. It really is frightening me. I’m trying to tell myself I’m stimulating the flight and fight by continuously tuning in to it all but I’m not convinced this is anxiety.
Why should I feel this way if I thought I’d conquered it? I have done nothing different today – or indeed over the past two days – to make this happen. It doesn’t make sense. I so much want to be well again. Is feeling “odd” part of the anxiety cycle do you know?
Please don’t worry if you are too busy to answer this. I totally understand.
First of all it is 100% impossible to ‘crack’ this in a few days – that would be unscientific
it doesn’t work that way – because its to do with our primitive fight or flight response it gets deeply etched into our system – and that takes a bit of work to unravel
Once you have experienced extreme anxiety symptoms due to triggered fight or flight (for no apparent reason) the body holds the memory of the experience for future reference – so it can protect you from further danger
It all happens by mistake
We aren’t in any actual danger but for whatever reason we experience extreme symptoms
we react with intense fear
the body mistakenly gets signals that we are in actual danger
it triggers more fight or flight
the symptoms increase
we become even MORE convinced our life is in danger in some way
and so we panic – more fight or flight – more symptoms and so on
and of this happens over a period of time we go on high ‘inner’ alert
and fight or flight can be triggered at ANY time for NO reason
and if we feel ANY symptom we VERY quickly add a LOT of fearful thinking (as you are doing)
and so we get into the cycle all over again
If we feel ‘new’ symptoms that really scares us so we ‘freak out’ even more
Its not that we are being stupid – the problem is that fight or flight is SUPPOSED to make us worried and concerned so that we can fight, run or fix whatever the problem is
so we are just doing what we are supposed to do – but its all a false alarm – and we dont realise it
I absolutely assure you you can have 10,000 symptoms that all seem very different – I have had ALL of them – physical and mental – and some of them seemed VERY weird indeed
they even have names for this ‘depersonalisation’ and ‘derealisation’ http://www.anxietycare.org.uk/docs/unreal.asp
Basically its just sensory overload – we have become so sensitised that our senses get exaggerated to the point of experiencing life in an exaggerated way – like if someone hasn’t slept for 3 days they start to experience life as very odd
That is 100% all that is happening right now with you
I know it feels like the weirdest trip on the planet and that there must be something very serious going on – but thats all it is – just exaggerated sensory input – and then you react with SO much fear that the fight or flight gets triggered and everything builds up
I TOTALLY assure you that eventually when you figure this out you can experience the initial weird feelings and know exactly what they are and within minutes they pass – like as if you had bad indigestion
For now you just need to TRUST what you are reading
treat ALL your symptoms – old or new – physical, mental, other-worldy, bizarre – whatever – in the same way – that they are symptoms of anxiety (fight or flight)
Go over and over and over the workbooks – apply the techniques – experiment – see if you can mentally ALLOW the symptoms to get worse – because if they really are harmless then that will prove it
stop trying to fix it or make it stop or think your way out of it – or fight or resist or desperately try to relax
just stop ADDING more fear to the fear
For a while you WILL experience symptoms – its now a bit of a habit
theres nothing you can do about the symptoms arising (for now)
but you CAN choose to not react in the same way
Practice the coping strategies
stop doing safety behaviour
accept that one day you may feel so clear you think its all ‘gone’
But observe your ‘relief’ that ‘it’s now gone’ and you will see that there must STILL be a LOT of fear because your mind is ‘relieved’ that the horrible ‘monster’ ‘ is gone’
Can you see how that shows you still have a lot of fear – and that fear will bring more symptoms
and thats ok – you are still not in any danger – but at least relax that you just still have some work to do thats all – it takes time – its tricky
you WILL get there
give it more time
then give it even more time
12 Mar 2017
Gosh Robin, thank you so much for your PROMPT reply. I tried so hard to resist contacting you -especially on a Sunday, I wasn’t expecting a reply until at least tomorrow, if at all – but your reply yet again makes such sense to me and I do not feel disappointed with your answers or left in limbo. THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH. Over these last three days you have taught me what is going on in my mind and body and you are teaching me how to overcome it. I’m almost in tears with the relief, knowledge and belief that at last I will get better. Thank you Robin, thank you. I owe you so much. Thank you.
15 Mar 2017
I’m sorry to keep troubling you like this but if you could just answer one more question, I’d be so grateful.
I am managing so well with my symptoms since reading/listening to everything in your literature. It is all so well written/spoken and I am finding, AT LAST, ANSWERS and it’s wonderful. Thank you. My question lies with THOUGHTS. I am suffering from the most dreadful, fearful thoughts, like “why are we all here?” and “how did everything start? ” and of course I have this fear of the sky. Its vastness overwhelms me. It never used to. I used to love being outside under the sky, day or night.
I have mentioned this to my GP who just laughed and said I needed to get rid of that silly thought as the sky wasn’t going to disappear for my benefit! And offered no help/advice. I also mentioned it to the nhs cbt lady who I had 6 x 1 hourly remote sessions with last year and her reply was that she’d NEVER heard of this before so perhaps I just treat it like all other thoughts and just let them be! And believe me, I HAVE TRIED.
Some days – like today – my thoughts drive me crazy and I can’t understand how a normally sensible, astute woman like me can be so carried away with what would appear to other people to be silly thoughts. Some days I literally FEEL I’m going mad. My Stomach churns! My mind races and my anxiety increases.
My question is, did you, or in your practice, have you come across people who have thought like me? Is it anxiety – because I never had crippling thoughts like this before all this anxiety started? And, lastly, do I deal with the thoughts in the same way as I am learning to deal with the physical symptoms, i.e. STOP catastrophising, Accept, understand that I am misinterpreting these thoughts. Understand that I have triggered these thoughts with the flight and fight?
I’d be so grateful, Robin, if you could help to answer this as no one else either seems to understand or be able to help and I feel in limbo. I am so AFRAID of my thoughts some days.
I really am so sorry to be a nuisance to you, but I promise, if you could just help me out on this one, I WILL NOT trouble you again. I know that if I could learn how to deal with frightening thoughts, I am well on the road to recovery.
THANK YOU, ROBIN. Thank you.
Dont worry I’m happy to help
But first can I ask you to read the workbook on Obsessional Thinking related to Panic Disorder
You will find all the answers in that
after you read the whole book – carefully read over the part where I talk about ‘Holding yourself in the position of Observer’
this is an incredibly powerful exercise and really took care of my own weird and bizarre thoughts
Once you have read over all that get back to me if you have any questions
This is ALSO VERY VERY VERY normal 🙂
fight or flight causes both physical and mental alertness
but because there is no obvious danger in front of us the extreme ‘high alertness’ of our mind latches onto ANYTHING because it doesn’t know what else to do
The observer mode is so powerful because YOU know that these thoughts are driving you nuts
so who is this YOU that doesn’t like the thoughts
There must be a part of you that is totally fine – and ok enough to NOT LIKE the darned thoughts – like they were very annoying flies buzzing around
so you HOLD yourself (mentally) as this OBSERVER and you let the weird irritating scary thoughts just run their course like they were a bunch of flies dancing around in your head
and the more you do this without adding MORE thoughts on TOP of the thoughts then the thoughts run out of steam and fade away
They aren’t at ALL harmful – its just our heightened state makes us THINK they are there because of some actual danger
it again is a false alarm
Keep remembering that YOU dont like the thoughts which shows that YOU aren’t fully the thoughts – or else you wouldn’t be able to say you dont like them
a part of you knows full well what it feels like to feel calm and relaxed and it really wants to get BACK to that if it wasn’t for these darned irritating thoughts
you need to REST / HOLD yourself – your attention – calmly in that part of you and just let the darned thoughts swirl around – they cant do you ANY harm if you just let them do their thing – they are just thoughts – nothing more
You are perfectly ok in the background – its only when you get swept UP in the thoughts that you FEEL under some threat
and when you try to STOP the thoughts you send fear signals out and the fight or flight kicks in and more thoughts
so again – like the body symptoms – understand what is going on – stop resisting or fighting or trying to desperately relax – then ALLOW it to be as it is but stop adding more fear – let it be – bring yourself to your surroundings – do the flashcard – smile – and wait till it passes – distract if you need to – its not an endurance test – but bring t=your attention to the part of yourself that is saying it doesnt like the thoughts – that part of you is the real you – it is fine – it just gets pulled into the fight or flight – but you dont need to
Anyway – read over that book
15 Mar 2017
THANK YOU, Robin. Thank you for answering. Thank you for your prompt reply and thank you for your in depth explanation which has helped me enormously today. I really don’t want to be a nuisance to you and I tried so hard today in resisting contacting you because I knew that in doing so, I was acknowledging that I was frightened, when in actual fact, I should have been just ignoring and accepting. However, I am so grateful to you for taking the time out to “speak” to me. I will do exactly as you have recommended. I’m so sick of all this. I’m so sick of feeling afraid all the time but I now feel, at last, I have the answers and as I have a very analytical brain, your explanations have helped me so dramatically. You truly are a life saver. Thank so much, Robin. I guess you know how lovely it is to have a friend “out there”.
My very best wishes, D