Some thoughts on resilience

My brain is feeling like a load of goop at the moment, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having a flare up of my misophonia and feeling rather stressed in general.

I feel claustrophobic at home and wish I could move somewhere with my own four walls (away from neighbours), which unfortunately isn’t an option at the moment. So instead, I’ve been keeping busy, but it’s a restless busy-ness. I still place quite a lot of value on what other people think and worry about being seen as lazy.

Feeling so low has caused me to question whether going to university is the right thing for me after all. I spoke to my therapist about it, and she questioned if it’s something I really want to do or something I feel I should do. Which is a difficult question for someone like me, who frequently changes their mind. I think it’s a bit of both.

At the core of everything, I’d like to be able to help other people, and be able to earn a living while doing it. And if I’m honest with myself, it will need to be on a part time basis to fit around my health. I think I’m going to aim to train as a counsellor instead, there’s an evening class ‘introduction to counselling’ that’s starting in September that I’d like to try.

Resilience

It’s good to have something to aim for. I’m trying to believe in myself instead of expecting anxiety to sabotage anything I ever try. It always comes back to resilience (which I don’t have a lot of!)

I’ve been reading a book called The Choice by Dr Edith Eger. Dr Eger is a holocaust survivor and was sent to Auschwitz at the age of 16 with her parents and sister. Her parents were immediately sent to the gas chamber, while she was told they were ‘going for a shower.’ Later, a guard callously points to a chimney and tells her that they’re burning there and she should get used to referring to them in the past tense. As you can imagine, she goes through hell and only narrowly survives her ordeal. I can’t get my head around such barbarity and my heart aches for the people who had to live through it.

Dr Eger is an incredible woman, and says she made it through those awful times by realising that no-one could take away the freedom she had in her mind. While she was imprisoned all of her energy was spent on surviving, and it was after she was liberated that the trauma and emotion kicked in. It sounds ridiculous, but I hadn’t considered what happened people after they were freed, and how they ever processed what had happened to them.

Feeling your emotions


A theme I’m finding crop up again and again in various books is the importance of recognising trauma in your body. Dr Eger found that she could only begin to process her experiences when she allowed herself to feel her emotions. She said by keeping her ordeal a secret it became another imprisonment. This is something I relate to, because I tend to supress my emotions a lot, sometimes without even realising it.

She immigrated to the US, where life wasn’t exactly plain sailing for her there either, but she went on to become a psychologist specialising in post-traumatic stress. She’s becoming a real hero of mine, and I highly recommend you check out The Choice, as well as some of her interviews which can be found on YouTube.

In no way am I comparing myself or my issues to hers (in her interviews she says neither does she with her patients, as all emotional suffering is still suffering), but she gives me hope that I have a bit of resilience in me to get through my own mental health struggles. I really would like to do some good in the world.

That was quite heavy, but I think there are a lot of important lessons in what she says, particularly to those of us who are going through tough times.

“We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible.” Dr Edith Eger.


Is your anxiety a fear of fear itself?

Fear is a funny thing. You might experience it often in your day to day life but not understand why certain situations scare you so much. Or you might know perfectly well but find yourself unable to stop it.

The people closest to you might not understand either, even if you painstakingly try to explain where you’re coming from. I’ve had many conversations with my family, and they’ve asked me, exasperated: “but why do you feel so anxious, you know that nothing bad will happen!” Yes, I do, but how I feel isn’t rational!

I sat down one day and gave it some serious thought. What was it that made me feel so awful – what makes me want to avoid so much of life? Suddenly it hit me; it’s the feeling of fear itself. The overwhelming pounding in my chest, the rapid breathing, the derealisation and the feeling that I was about to lose control. For me, what started as social anxiety evolved into something else.

Anxiety is normal

And as I’m sure you know; anxiety can be all consuming. If someone were to ask me what I wanted above all else, it would be to feel free. To know that I could simply feel calm and never be fearful again. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that! I’ve come to accept that I will always experience anxiety because anxiety is normal, the thing that needs to change is how I relate to it.

This fear of fear is known as ‘anxiety sensitivity.’ Noam Shpancer Ph.D writes on: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/insight-therapy/202002/anxiety-sensitivity-when-what-we-fear-is-fear-itself “Research suggests that stressful life events, specifically those related to health and family discord, are associated with increases in anxiety sensitivity. These stressful events contribute to the emergence of anxiety sensitivity by leading to the formation of distorted, dysfunctional beliefs about the meaning and consequences of somatic sensations.”

You can break the cycle

My reaction to feelings of anxiety, was that it was unbearable, and I might lose control so it must be avoided at all costs. By thinking this I set myself up in a cycle of fear that has been difficult to break. But the cycle can be broken.

In my experience, mindfulness has been a valuable tool in accepting fear. Observing your anxiety, without attaching judgement to it can give yourself much needed space to think clearly. “This too shall pass” and “fear is just a feeling” have become mantras of mine!

I used to think that I was weird for feeling like this, or unable to change, but actually – it’s normal. A normal human behaviour that lots of other people experience. This anxiety sensitivity is a reaction, a coping mechanism to the experiences you have had in your life. And by gradually changing your relationship with fear, and seeing it for what it is, you can reduce its intensity.

Celebrities that share your anxiety struggles

Anxiety is a difficult condition to live with, it can take over your life and trick you into believing that things will never get better. You might even feel like anxiety will prevent you from becoming successful. But it doesn’t have to! There are many people in the public eye that have found success while dealing with their own personal anxieties. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a few of them here.

Fearne Cotton

Fearne has opened up over the past couple of years on her brilliant ‘Happy Place’ podcast about her battles with anxiety, panic attacks and an eating disorder. She found that things improved for her when she took a step back from her busy lifestyle and focused more on self-care and a better work-life balance.

Adele

She’s a successful singer-songwriter and has won five Grammy awards, but she also suffers with panic attacks and stage fright. Yet she has still managed to perform confidently to huge live audiences! She told Rolling Stone that she deals with it by telling jokes and talking a lot to keep the mood light.

Michael Phelps

Well-known for his competitive swimming. He’s the most successful Olympian of all time; winning 28 medals! But he’s also lived with anxiety, depression and substance issues. Like many of us he’s been finding the new COVID world difficult, and in a recent interview with ESPN said: “The pandemic has been one of the scariest times I’ve been through. I’m thankful that my family and I are safe and healthy. I’m grateful we don’t have to worry about paying bills or putting food on the table, like so many other folks right now. But still, I’m struggling.” He encourages people to reach out to others and talk about how they are feeling.

Harrison Ford

Would it surprise you to discover that the superstar Hollywood actor suffers from glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. When he won the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, he told the Los Angeles Times that he felt grateful, but “the greatest fear in my life is public speaking.” His acceptance speech can be viewed on Youtube; you’ll notice he is fighting to stay calm and control his breathing. He’s notorious for being a bit grumpy, but I think this shows him in a different light.

Kristen Stewart

Most famous for playing Bella Swan in Twilight, Kristen has experienced OCD, panic attacks and found it difficult adjusting to fame. I remember watching her interviews and thinking how uncomfortable she looked. In an interview with Elle she said: “’I went through so much stress.’ The pressure of being a young star contributed to serious physical anxiety: ‘I had panic attacks. I used to puke every day.’ She has learned to cope better as she got older and went on to say, “I had gone through so much that did not kill me… sorry, I know that sounds dramatic … I realise the anxiety just ran out. I didn’t have the energy to do that anymore.”

I found it fascinating that these are successful people, vastly different from each other and in how they’ve dealt with their anxieties, but they’ve all gone through similar experiences. Just like you and me. It just shows that if you’ve got a dream or a goal in life, anxiety doesn’t need to stand in your way.

Why changing your routine is a good thing

I’ve never been good at leaving my comfort zone. I enjoy routine and the feeling of comfort that brings, because that means I’m in control, right?

But then life happens and I can’t control it at all, it just plays out. Some of my worst anxiety occurs when I feel a loss of control, and if I can’t escape to a place of safety I panic. So, to counter these feelings I’ve decided to try and leave my comfort zone every now and again!

I’ve had loads of fun, interesting experiences when I’ve broken my routine. Be that interacting with new people or visiting new places – new experiences enrich your life. And it hasn’t been without anxiety, but that’s a part of recovery which is worth the effort. Anxiety may never leave completely, but that does not mean you can’t still lead a fulfilling life.

So why not make a small change and appreciate what happens next? Think of one thing you’d like to do today and give it a go!

One of my interests is photography, and usually I only take photographs when I’m at home in my garden. So the next time I go for a walk I’m going to take my camera with me, it’ll be difficult to take pictures with other people around, but I’ll do it and see what happens.

I’ll sign off with some pictures I took in my garden.