This week, I graduated from a 12 week Mental Health Program for managing Anxiety ... And this is how I feel right now.
Anxiety has been with me since childhood and it's something I'd done everything possible to fix / avoid / disown for the last 30 years.
After my mid-year break-down, I decided it is finally time to get some deep, lasting professional help, so I could truly begin living my Life ... Instead of avoiding pain. I desperately wanted to heal and I was so READY to do whatever it took to move forward.
The program I attended was at Pine Rivers Private Hospital in Strathpine, Queensland Australia. To attend, I needed to get private health and a referral to visit a Psychiatrist for the first time ever in my Life. The financial strain felt difficult because I was so unwell and I couldn't even work, so I had to rely on my Husband - Another biggie for me.
Plus there was the personal stigma about being a 'Crazy Cat Lady' ... But I was way beyond caring what other people - or my inner tapes - thought of me anymore! My health became my number one priority. I had to get better - Not just for me, but for my Family, for My Life.
I enrolled in the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in September and it has completely revolutionised the way I approach Living.
ACT is a behavioural therapy based on accepting what is out of my personal control, and committing to action that improves and enriches the Life I want to Live in each moment. It's a cutting edge, East-Meets-West approach to Living and encompasses Mindfulness, choices, values, meditation, expansion, and how to cultivate meaningful Living.
Through this course, I was amazed to find out how much I was trying to control and avoid in an attempt to reduce my Anxiety: My Feelings, My Outer Experience, My Partner's Actions towards me, any Conflict whatsoever, even My Thoughts.
The discovery of what I could and couldn't control was completely surprising and a huge learning curve for me ... as well as being contrary to much of our cultural beliefs in the Western World. So much of my Life had been about running and climbing walls and jumping through hoops and desperately trying to get everything around me to soften, so I could relax.
Inside, I felt like a bristly, prickly poisonous bush, longing to feel a softness I could never quite reach ... And I burned myself out with the struggle.
However, 6 months on, it seems that having my breakdown mid-year was one of the best things that ever happened to me. ACT has deeply helped me to let go of controlling what I cannot and focussing on what I DO have control over. To do this, some of the things I have learned to ask myself when I feel anxious are:
- Is this thought helpful?
- Who do I want to be?
- What matters to Me?
- What do I need to DO to behave in ways that support these values?
I found ACT to be much more than a therapy, it's almost Spiritual in its approach. It isn't about curing my Anxiety, which came as a shock to me around week 5 - I thought that was what I was there for. But instead I now understand that will be prone to Anxiety for the rest of my Life and this is something I have had to learn to ACCEPT.
In fact, there was a number of huge losses of My Old Self throughout the process ... The ways I had worked harder to protect myself and prove myself and prevent pain, all had to make way for a new approach based on TRUST, both in myself and the world around me. It wasn't easy and completely worth it ... And my therapy is now a Life-long process.
Through it all, I have learned so many coping skills for living a more Present, Loving and Value-filled Life
... And I feel so proud of how far I've come.
The road ahead is still long but rather than feeling constantly afraid of my future, I now feel blessed that I have one ... Because while I am human, I am alive and I have new moments to choose again, over and over Who I Want to Be.
Whether I'm hurting or enjoying, feeling prickly or soft, in conflict or in Love, I now know I can handle whatever comes my way - and it's safe to feel it and share it if I need to - Alone and Together and with My Family, My Friends and With You.
If you are someone who has suffered Anxiety like I have, please know that you are not alone and there IS help available. It takes a great courage and willingness, but it can become manageable and even a great prompt for Coming Back Home to Yourself.
I can personally recommend Russ Harris' books and MP3'S (particularly this one HERE), along with a good GP, Psychologist, a Mental Health Plan (in Australia, you can have access to some funding for ongoing therapy sessions) and if you are ready or in need of medication for a time like I have, a Psychiatrist as well.
But for me, the REAL change came when I loved myself enough to invest my time and money into the 12 week program. I have been in ongoing therapy for my Anxiety since my late teens and finally in my mid-thirties, ACT is helping me fit the puzzle pieces together. I think this is attributed to my readiness, as well as the behavioural approach to ACT; You don't just think about it, you have to DO IT daily, hourly, in each moment ... Not to cure Anxiety but embrace it as a part of Living.
Having the support of a professional is greatly important for recovery. There many be some other ACT programs in your area, so if it sounds like a good fit for you, I encourage you to do your research and get some help. There's lots of info HERE about ACT to get you started.
All my Love,