CBT Part II – Testing a theory

I have just come back from another great session, which ended in a real climax of excitement! Its all happening in the NHS mental health support team!

We covered some exposure exercises, to simulate the feelings associated with a panic attack. It is important to familiarize yourself with these sensations, so as not to fear them. Once in an anxious situation, anxiety tends to peak and then starts to drop. So-called coping strategies prevent the natural decline of anxiety, and prevent the subconscious from ever properly learning that a dreaded situation (such as getting on a bus!), is actually not all that dangerous after all, and there is nothing to be anxious about.

By trying to avoid bodily sensations associated with anxiety, we lend them a power they do not deserve. I call this ‘mythologizing anxious sensations’, something which feeds into the cycle of avoidance and furthers fear. Eventually anxiety becomes a general dread which you will dedicate the whole of your life to avoiding! The short-term cure, avoidance, is worse than the disease. And those who say that time heals all ills have obviously never recovered from a panic disorder before! Time will not heal this.
I must now expose myself to these situations and bodily sensations. This will let the natural course of things play itself out, and the subconscious can learn once and for all that there is nothing to fear. Likewise, I will stop fearing the sensations in my own body, which I have already done much to achieve.

This is all made much easier by going into what I am really anxious about, which my therapist helped me with by proposing a theory. Before we get to the theory, we need to examine my true fears.

Today I boiled down my fears of a panic attack to two things: i) fear of embarassment, not being helped and public humiliation. ii) Fear of bodily weakness after a panic attack, losing my independence, being dependent without a trustful support network.
So we proposed two theories. Lets start with Theory A. This states that if I have a panic attack people will laugh, think I’m weak, and might film it on their phones. The evidence from this comes from seeing lots of humiliating incidents at school and the general shittiness of certain human beings. If theory A is true, then a panic attack would be rather devastating, and the best thing to do is to avoid panic attacks at all costs and restrict my freedom. On recollection, I believe this theory to be about 20% true. In other words, its a load of anxiety-induced shite.

So lets move onto the (infinitely more plausible) Theory B! This states the problem is worry that other people will judge me, be humiliating and unhelpful. But the evidence is against it: I would definitely help others if they needed it. Some people will always want to be helpful, even heroic in such situations. And some people have similar problems with anxiety and depression, so can actually be understanding. If Theory B is true, I need to try to think more realistically and positively about things, and dispel the power of the panic attack. This is as far as I got in working things out. My therapist took the next step.
She gave me an analogy which really helped explain what we had to do to truly see the theory through. Imagine an apprentice on his first day at a building site. The workers on the site put up a wall and tell him to hold it up, or else it will fall down! He spends the whole day standing there, holding up this wall, getting tired and uncomfortable. As night falls, his bosses tell him he has to stay there all night. Well, this just won’t do. So what does the apprentice do, now that he is in doubt about the worth of holding up the wall? He can gradually release his hold on the wall, he can release his support and slowly step away. But will this do? What if there is a gust of wind or something? To truly see if the wall is sturdy, he will have to give it a darn good push!

Ultimately, a theory needs to be tested. ‘If panic attack then people will be helpful, and there will be no harm’ is the crux of the more plausible theory. So lets just say that we might end up doing some field research soon!
I am most excited about the opportunity.
p.s. Get CBT if you can, its great. Just be prepared to look deep inside yourself and realize what needs to change inside you.

 

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A dialogue with anxiety

I WILL PROTECT YOU

No you fool, you will not. What you are doing is debilitating. There is nothing to protect me from. I am strong enough to face the world, I have enough support. The past feelings were wrong.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

The feelings of worthlessness which led us here. They were implanted there without good reason. They are the inheritance of tyrants. We are worthy, and this is proven by our deeds.

I DO ONLY WHAT I KNOW

What you know is wrong. It is false. When you were young, the feelings of pain were stronger, but this does not make them true. Truth is determined by what actually is now, not in words and feelings of folly from the path.

I UNDERSTAND

For now you may. But return not tomorrow to hold me back! I know what I am capable of anxiety, and I know the risks.

Come ye shadows, my scabbard is empty for a reason

No more running from stillness and silence. No more running from yourself.

Put nothing between yourself and your fears; hide behind no shield. The longer you leave it, the worse it will become, the less and less free you will become. No castle walls can protect you; shadows can pass through stone. No distance can deter them; they are slow but inevitable. Turn and make a stand.

Let the shadows catch you, let all of your fears come and open your arms to them. Feel what it means to be in the presence of something that scares the shit out of you – it is your soul speaking, screaming in pain.

Devour your nightmares, draw your sword and harness your rage – the rage of the oppressed; the wrath of the silenced. Tear the shadows to pieces, as they come in wave after wave, fuck them up like a raging berserk; toss them aside like a rampaging bull. Nothing can defeat you if you are willing to fight.

The inner-demons cannot harm you, they can only make you harm yourself. You can make yourself love yourself, but first you need a sword at your belt and a rage in your heart and the might to face earthly evil. You need the valour to risk shame, humiliation and failure. You need the experience and discipline to endure pain and torment.

The Dark Ones have planted these demons inside of all proletarians, to make us hate ourselves and work their profit machine. They made the abusers and the psychotics and the oppressors who stain our souls with neurotic self-hatred. They made the social rules which call our rage barbaric and low, for they know rage is the cleasning fire which will ultimately transform this depraved society.

Fuck them back up warrior, for this is the only way…