|My therapist diagnosed me as normal! Woo hoo!|
Alright. So, I knew that I needed to find a psychologist to help me work through my problems with anxiety. But where to start? I had a list of names that consisted of doctors that took my insurance. I had been told that I should look for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a form of therapy that teaches you how to look at situations objectively and essentially become your own therapist. I looked at my list and chose based on proximity to my house. I knew that I would need to be making several visits per month and I didn't want driving to therapy to cause added anxiety. I called. The doctor himself answered. I explained my situation, asked about CBT, and he told me that he loved CBT and it was one of his specialties. Seemed to good to be true. I scheduled my first appointment. I was optimistic because I really wanted to get help. But the bad psychologist experience was still fresh in my mind so I was cautiously optimistic.
The first session consisted of me telling Dr. S about my current fears, worries, etc. He then told me the line of treatment he would take. He gave me homework. Something to work on during the week that would not only help me deal with panicky situations but begin to get me to think objectively. He also told me to really think about the appointment, the therapy. If I didn't think it would help me, I could let him know. He also said that, from his experience, people with anxiety tend to do very well with CBT because they want to get better, they want to work on their wellness. And I really, really did.
He told me to come back in a week. I didn't want to leave! If you see a therapist, you know what I mean. For that hour I felt normal. I felt calm. I just wanted to hang out in the lobby, like, forever. But I went home. I worked on my homework. I can't even remember what I was supposed to do that first week.
Dr. S showed me a picture of people on a roller coaster at one of those first appointments. In the front car is a mom and child. She is screaming and looks terrified and is clutching her child, who looks equally afraid. The second car has people that are holding on, they look semi-afraid, but they are okay. The next car shows two people smiling, holding their arms up, really enjoying the ride.
At the time I was car number 1. We talked about how they were all on the same roller coaster but that each of them interrpreted it differently. No one was going to die on the roller coaster. It would go up, down and around and then safely come to a stop. They would get off, go home, and life would go on. Unless you are the terrified lady. She can't get over the coaster ride. Can't stop clutching her child, making her child afraid even though she thinks she is protecting her. So I think my first homework assignment had something to do with stepping back from situations and seeing them through different eyes. Driving on the highway? Aaaahhhh! I 'm going to die!!! Wait. What? I 'm not? It could be a fun trip where everything is fine? Oh. Okay.
Each week I would tell him how the week prior went. We would go over how I dealt (or didn't deal) with anxiety-causing situations. We would work on something new and I would have new homework. At the time, my low-blood sugar episodes would cause me to feel out of it and then I would start to panic and be afraid that I wouldn't be able to take care of the boys. Prior to starting with Dr. S I would sometimes end up calling my husband or mother-in-law, in tears, asking them to come to the house.
How to deal with that? This seems torturous, and in a way, it is. I wouldn't try it without first consulting with your own therapist, but, after many weeks, many sessions, it worked for me. Dr. S had me say out loud exactly what I was afraid of, only I said it like I wanted it to happen:
Fear of not feeling real (from blood sugar, panic, etc.)
"I don't want to feel real." "I want to freak out, panic, and have to stay home all the time." "I don't want to take care of my kids." "I want to cry, freak out and call my husband."
I would say that out loud, as many times as needed, and then what ended up happening is me saying "NO! I don't want to panic, shut down, and cry. I want to be with my boys, have fun, take them places." It really did work for me. Again, over a many-month period, not over night. It basically causes you to have a fight with that internal feeling of anxiety or panic. The old devil on one shoulder, angel on the other. Only, for me, it's panic Sally and calm Sally that duke it out.
This is just a small example of the CBT work that we did. I spent a good year learning different coping skills, different ways of looking at things.
In the beginning I went once a week. Once I was doing well with CBT and feeling better we went to every other week. I remember the session when Dr. S pulled up his calendar, like he would do at the end of each session, usually saying something like "When can you come next week" or "Let's try going 2 weeks" but instead he said I should go 3 weeks. What?! It seemed like an eternity. From what I remember, the first time he suggested I got wide-eyed and was like "no way" so he said to just keep it every other week. Eventually, though, I did realize that I could make it for 3 whole weeks. And then 4. And then 6. It has always been up to me, the patient. Even if Dr. S thinks I am doing better but I don't feel that way, then I can schedule when I want. But I am jumping ahead. I plan on sharing about stepping away from therapy as the final post in this series.
Next post will delve a little deeper into the time between those first few sessions and now.
Let me know your thoughts. It's a big deal for me to share this. It's embarrassing to have anxiety. We all want to appear as though we have it under control. But it's also so very common. The more I share, the more I find this out. I have always, ALWAYS, been looked to as the rock, the constant, the normal one. And I am. I really am. But I also have anxiety. And that's okay. I got this.