This is a guest post by Paul David from anxietynomore.co.uk
How It All Began
My Story really started when I was in my 20’s. I had a few issues and turned to soft drugs to cover up how I was feeling inside. The issues really were a lack of direction and happiness. I was never really happy growing up. I had friends, but they always seemed more confident than I was, happier and more content with life. Going to work and then drinking myself into oblivion at weekends just did not do it for me. I just felt empty and life seemed pointless.
I was then introduced to the dance scene as it was then and offered an Ecstasy tablet. I refused a couple of times, but as everyone seemed to be having such a good time I thought why not. The feelings I felt that night changed my perception on life. I felt happy, alive and confident – everything I had never felt before. This was it; this was me. I had found what I was looking for.
Unfortunately things don’t work out like that and I started taking soft drugs even when I wasn’t partying. I just wanted to feel that rush of confidence and contentment. I wasn’t sleeping or eating much at all and the drugs had less and less effect on me, and then I began to feel irritable and depressed. Then one day the inevitable happened. I had a breakdown. I remember the day like yesterday. I just woke and felt different; I felt detached and emotionless and just burst out crying. Everything had caught up with me and it was my payback.
The day after the breakdown I felt really anxious and panicky. These feelings were alien to me and I thought they would pass by the end of the day. Well they didn’t, so off I went to my doctor thinking he would give me a pill to make it all go away, but all I got was a blank stare as he seemed to be as confused as I was as to what was wrong. This led me to being passed around and eventually being diagnosed with anxiety disorder.
Searching For Answers
This anxiety would stay with me for 10 years, because no one ever told me why I felt this way, never mind how to get better. This was in the age when the Internet was new and there was so little advice out there, but I refused to just accept how I felt, and I left no stone unturned in finding the answers that I needed to help myself. I refused to accept that this was me forever.
To go through how I found my answers would fill a whole book so I will just explain what I discovered and what helped me the most.
Firstly, I made one very crucial error, which was that I spent years trying to ‘Rid’ myself of anxiety. Yes, every day I fought myself to feel better. I worried about how I felt. I would go through 100 sayings a day trying to find the magic one that would make it go away. I got frustrated with it; I fought; I cried; I battled, and all in vain. What I learnt was that it was far better to befriend how I felt, to let it no longer be the enemy. The start of this came through an understanding of how I felt. With understanding comes peace. It is far easier to be at peace with what you understand. Once I allowed myself to feel how I felt, then automatically I worried less; I fought less; I stopped going over and over things in my head to make it go away. I still felt anxiety, but I felt some peace too. I had stopped being anxious about being anxious.
The second thing I learnt was to not let anxiety dictate what I did and did not do. I spent years hiding away, avoiding situations, people and conversations. I then sent all the wrong messages to my brain. It started to believe that the outside world was the problem and followed what I was telling it, so that anything social became harder and harder. Every time I avoided, I was reinforcing these beliefs and my life became narrower and narrower. I learnt that my brain was just following orders and in its need to protect me it told me the old story that it was safer to stay in, to avoid others. I then realised that this was wrong. People and situations were never the problem. It was me who was avoiding feeling anxious. That was the problem; that’s what I had been avoiding all along, and to become social once again I had to feel these feelings. So I stopped listening to that voice that said avoid, and did things anyway. Yes anxiety came and I expected it to, but I was after the long term prize here. I had no life as it was, so I had nothing to lose. If I felt anxious, coming across as odd or weird then so be it. This was not easy at first, but things became far easier in time. I was breaking down all those old beliefs each time I moved forward.
Lastly I learnt that feelings and emotions needed to be felt. Even in recovery I would have a few great days and then feel awful so I would go out for a run, eat healthier, have a chat with myself about what I was doing differently that was causing the bad day, and then try to get back on track. This all sounds like the right thing to do, and exercise and healthy eating are excellent things to do, but I then realised that I was doing it to deny how I felt. I always wanted to feel relaxed and happy now. Nothing else would do and I refused to have any bad days. Well this was totally unrealistic, so the next time I felt overwhelmed I would feel that feeling. If I felt unhappy, I would feel unhappy. If I felt lost, I would allow myself to feel lost. Whatever feeling or emotion arose, I realised it went away far quicker if I allowed myself to feel it. Denying or suppressing feelings just does not work. They always resurface, usually stronger than ever.
I spent years trying to change how I felt; years trying to suppress how I felt, and years trying to be someone else, to be somewhere else. Every day was a battle to feel different until the day I gave up and allowed myself to feel how I felt. This was by far the biggest contributor to overcoming my anxiety.
Yes I did other things; I looked after me better, not with the aim to feel better, but for me. I came out of my comfort zones and got rid of old avoidance behaviours. I learnt to appreciate the outdoors and relax more and worry less. I learnt to let thoughts and feelings come and go without judgement.
I learnt a lot, but the main thing was to no longer battle with me. The battle to feel better was over. I could only win if I stopped trying to win, and got on with my life.
Today I live a very fulfilling and anxiety-free life. I hardly drink and spend a lot of time outdoors. I worry about very little and just take each day as a blessing. Going through anxiety changed me as a person. I am less materialistic, far more accepting of others and I just appreciate the simple things in life.
So if you are going through anxiety, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I have lost count of the number of people I have seen recover. No one is special or different, with the right help and guidance it is within us all.
It is what we all want and we all can achieve, and is the reason I wrote the book. Anxiety robs us of so much; my dream through my own suffering was to just have my life back, a life that I took for granted before I suffered.
My own experience of recovery still feels like a miracle. It felt so far away that I never thought I would see the day when I could finally say I no longer suffer. It felt so far away because I was never given any answers to the way I felt or why I stayed in the cycle. As soon as I found these answers, things started to make sense and I knew, I could at last begin to move forward…READ MORE