Guest Blog – Kitty’s Progress

(Kitty is working on overcoming agoraphobia and writes from time to time about her process. Here’s some sound advice about setbacks.)

How regress can be progress

I had some setbacks recently, lots of very high anxiety days and a lot of panic attacks. It’s easy to get disheartened by stuff like this. It’s easy to wonder why you should bother. But you must not think that way. Setbacks and relapses happen to everyone recovering from something. They are always temporary and much easier to bounce back from than the original problem. If you’re climbing a tree to get away from a bear and you fall back one branch, do you jump down from the tree and let the bear eat you? No. You keep climbing. It was just one branch and you’re still farther from the bear than you were when you started. So if you fall in your recovery, keep climbing.

In my experience, when you have a relapse it’s best not to dwell on thoughts like, “But I was doing so well.” You’re still doing well. It’s not your fault the anxiety is stronger this week. You didn’t do anything wrong in your exposure. Keep doing your exposure during a relapse too. It’s harder but it will prevent the agoraphobia from becoming more malignant again. The best thing to do is ride it out. It will end – probably in a week or two. In my experience, relapses never last longer than that. Just keep reminding yourself that it’s temporary. Maybe do twice the meditation and/or mindfulness exercises that you usually do.

When your anxiety gets unusually high, it might not be best to jump to the benzo bottle as quickly as you normally would during a bad streak, because you would end up using it too often. One of the best ways to get rid of anxiety is to forget you’re having it. There are several ways that I go about doing this. As I mentioned in my intro post, sometimes I call a family member or a friend who I have really good conversations with and they will get me so involved in talking about another subject that I forget I’m anxious and it goes away.

Then there’s mindless television. I never pick a show I’m gonna connect with or have emotions about for this. I pick things like Bigfoot documentaries or World’s Wildest Police Chases. Reading is a good one, because that engages all of your brain. There’s no part left over to be anxious with. I’m partial to Sherlock Holmes stories.

The important thing to remember is that setbacks will happen, but they never have to mean a return to square one.


You’re Number One! Act That Way

Chronic anxiety and panic attacks can take the stuffin’ out of you and turn you into a meek and cowering victim. I know from many years’ experience with panic disorder that the condition of being constantly on alert drains one physically and psychologically. My long struggle with anxiety turned me surprisingly passive.

Now, if something is holding back my dreams and goals I get properly pissed off and take action. When I was subdued by mental illness, however, I felt oddly powerless; I just sort of let the thing take me over. I wanted to be assertive, but expressing any kind of strong feeling was terrifying somehow. I felt so close to the breaking point so much of the time that I feared any strong display of emotion might tip me over.

Panic disorder and agoraphobia had me by the throat and I was afraid for far too long of fighting back. I couldn’t be assertive in the face of possibly increased anxiety. As I started seeing therapists, though, and sharing fear experiences in peer group settings and doing research, I began to understand my power and how to use it to become free.

The psychiatrist who said to me, “You know what your problem is?… you don’t love yourself” started the ball rolling – by making me understand I needed to start taking very good care of the most important and lovable person in the world – me.  I wish I could say my quest to become assertive and actively pursue a solution to my anxiety problem was a continuous journey, but addiction to alcohol and tranquilizers was still in my way.

Once I stopped trying to cure anxiety with alcohol and pills I became astonishingly less anxious. At that point my understanding of the importance of me and the will to make my well being a priority came into play. I was relentless thereafter in working selfishly for once on solving my problems. I soon realized the value of being assertive, as my confidence increased to the point where the thought of traveling frightened me less and less.

All that led to the momentous day when I burst through my agoraphobia prison wall and have been merrily traveling about since – more than 20 years ago. It became possible because I somehow found the will to make myself into a full human being again – one who could get angry and stand up for himself and get things done.  So my advice to you is right here when you are ready for it. The sooner you start acting “selfishly” the sooner you’ll recover from panic disorder.

I’m providing a link to an excellent read on the importance of “selfishness.: