So part two of this epic series (note to self – calm down Pete) is about being further along my anxiety recovery journey, when things were already moving along towards being over my anxiety and panic attacks. I’d learned that I could go out of the house and do general life stuff already, and that I would probably not panic (unless it was a bad day or a big event) and that sometimes doing life stuff was a necessity. But I wasn’t enjoying it. I wanted to learn how to be able to enjoy it.
I was in my late twenties and poorly compared with normal people who knew how to go on holiday, shop, go to work, socialise, and do fun things without feeling dragged down.
There was a little bit of happiness in me that I was much improved from two years of constant panic, but only a little bit. I knew there was more joy in life to be had and I wanted to have it. I was meeting up with my psychiatrist, care co-ordinator, social worker and Dad (Dad was a psychiatric nurse with 30 years of experience) and Mum every month.
The professionals were helpful, they knew their stuff
They’d suggest: Get a job (there is ample evidence that work is good for us, it gives us social contacts and support, mental and physical stimulation, something worthwhile to occupy our time and it promotes independence). Learn to drive. Get some exercise, keep pushing myself to try new things and more.
So I got a job. I took driving lessons. I joined a gym. I tried new things.
I spent three years working in an office for a training and consultancy company specialising in mental health. It was a great first step and was staffed entirely by mental health service users like me. I felt comfortable there because we were all affected by mental illnesses, and we supported, respected and understood each other. After that I got a nice little job as a part time afternoon cleaner at the Basingstoke Sports Centre. I had that job until last year. Working was indeed very good for me!
I had a dozen driving lessons with The AA. I passed my test and got my license. It was tough at first being with a stranger in a car, but I did it. Soon after I was driving around in my mum’s car and I was more independent. I even began driving 50 miles to London to see family.
Here’s how becoming a gym regular helped
I began working out. I felt quite stress free at the gym even in the early days. Whether you feel the endorphins and other happy chemicals lightly or intensely during or after a workout, they are always there. I’m quite trim today and in good health. If I hadn’t begun using the gym about ten years ago I would guess I would be at least 10 kilograms overweight, and anti-psychotic medications often make the recipient put weight on very easily.
I tried new things. In 2011 I went back to college. I was lucky, I had no mortgage to pay, no kids to feed, no bills to pay (I lived with my mum), but I still am proud of myself for giving college a go. I studied carpentry and joinery for three years and now I have actual qualifications! College lasted a fun three years and was immensely helpful to my social abilities. I enjoyed it, I made lasting friends there and now I have some passion for woodworking and DIY.
How therapy benefitted me
I had therapy too. ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). It was in a group, and taught me a lot, how to use techniques to bolster the strength of my mood and it came at the right time for me.
The techniques such as ‘The Monster pit’ began working away in the back of my mind helping me to move on from anxieties. The monster pit is about imagining anxieties as playing tug of war with a monster who is on the other side of a deep pit – let go of the rope. This kind of thing, along with the other stuff we’d discuss with the two trained professionals really slotted into my mind and we always did some general meditation stuff too. Others in the group felt the techniques were somewhat underpowered, but they were exactly what I needed to hear.
So in about 2014 I was improving and starting to enjoy life again. Only starting though, things were still often difficult. In part three of this series of getting over anxiety I will discuss how I went from there to present day where I am doing really rather well. My anxiety levels in 2020 are almost normal…I hope you will join me next Wednesday for that! Thanks for reading.
I have been painting since lockdown, my art gallery is available through the menu in top right.