As I was drowning in overwhelming anxiety that was leading to depressive tendencies, my licensed professional counselor (LPC) said these four simple words: survival is a win. This phrase means everything to me. It means that no matter what I do, even if I struggle to calm down or can't process the situation or even the day successfully, that if I just continue to exist, endure, and persevere, I will have accomplished something.
Have you ever been exposed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in a counseling session? This, plus the proper medicine, is what is and has been crushing my anxiety and allowing me to do more than just simply survive (and miserably, at that). In short, CBT* is the method of taking distorted thoughts and providing evidence against those thoughts to change your thinking to hopefully decrease anxiety. Here's a simple example: Distorted Thought: A customer service representative on the phone thinks I am stupid for asking X question. The distortion is that I am mind reading. I am assuming I know what he is thinking-that he thinks that I am stupid because I asked X question. Evidence against this thought: 1) We will never know what another person is thinking 100% so I don't know if he thinks I am stupid for asking the question; 2) It is the person's job to help and answer questions about whatever you are inquiring about; 3) The person doesn't even know me. This technique is also very helpful with other mental health issues such as obsessive compulsion disorder (OCD) and depression. It helps you see reality, hopefully through a clearer filter.
Something that was very hard for me to grasp, especially as an impatient human and perfectionist, was that all of this, meaning dealing with my mental health in a productive and positive way via whatever means necessary, takes time. It takes time to: 1) understand how to use this technique and other tools; 2) implement them regularly in your everyday life; and 3) actually get started. The most difficult part, to me, is actually challenging the thoughts that are distorted. Why? Because, most likely, the old way that I was thinking was set in my brain for a LONG TIME. It is hard to completely CHANGE your thinking. We are stubborn and resistant to change. But time and persistence are the keys to maintaining and benefiting from this technique. There is a survival aspect of this in that you have to survive the tough part of transition between two different ways of thinking (old and distorted versus new and more closely resembling reality) in order to benefit from the results of CBT. I've been going to counseling for two years now, and I am STILL working on what I like to call "distortion busting". When I am too emotionally charged, I have to step back because I can't even find the distortion in my thoughts let alone try and challenge or "bust" it. But when I'm not in those emotionally charged states, I am able to process and find the distortion in under ten minutes. It used to take me HOURS, maybe even DAYS to find it. Sometimes I didn't even find it at all. And don't get me started on challenging those distortions. It just didn't happen. Hours to days of searching for the distortion and processing it down to ten minutes...it's amazing what the right help can do.
Another aspect of survival is knowing when to help yourself. After one and a half years of working extremely hard using the tools from CBT with the help of my counselor as well as countless other tools such as yoga, deep breathing, and meditation, I was still having debilitating anxiety that interfered with my everyday life. It meant that I needed additional help. I had to realize that I needed it. And thanks to my mom and the push from my counselor, I was able to recognize the need when it was right for me. CBT is enough for some people, but for others, they need an extra push to get over the hump. That's what fluoxetine does for me. It helps me get over the hump. I CANNOT stress enough that being able to be on the other side of anxiety is because of the symbiotic relationship between the medicine and CBT. I COULD NOT have made the progress that I have made with just the meds or just the counseling. I had to have both. Others may have a different success story with different tools and medicine, but this is my story.
I share this story with you to show that it is possible to overcome the obstacle that is anxiety in life. For some, it's a HUGE obstacle. For many, it is managing this huge obstacle to make life better. I invite you to challenge yourself to continue to survive. I invite you to take the necessary steps to continue to survive. If you find you need counseling, find a way to go. If you are in college, some schools have free counseling for students. If you are an adult and are fortunate enough to have health insurance, find a good counselor in your network. You can shop around. You are not bound to the first one you try. I even invite you to ask for help, whether it is financially to help fund this endeavor or just moral support. Having a support team is also crucial, but I will save that discussion for a future blog post. Do what it takes to put your mental health, physical health, and livelihood first.
I will always have anxiety. I believe it is in my genetic code. Even with these invaluable tools, I still experience times when I can barely move and breathe, when I can't do something because fears take over, or when I am too emotionally charged to use CBT and my other tools. But, even when I wasn't in counseling or on the meds, I was surviving. I was trying to make it to the next day, the next minute, even the next microsecond. Every moment of survival is a win. It's just a matter of HOW you want to survive. I changed the HOW by finding a counselor and getting the proper medical and pharmacological help. My survival is less of a fight and more of a pleasant friend. Yours can be, too.
All my love,
*I am NOT a licensed professional counselor (LPC) OR a licensed medical professional. I am simply sharing a piece of my mental health story with you in hopes to inspire you to move forward. Please do NOT take this as medical advice, a diagnosis, or a cure.