Anxiety: a path forward

I keep changing and changing and changing this title, but in truth, I know exactly what I’m going to say. The conundrum, of course, is that while I have learned that anxiety, even lifelong, chronic anxiety struggles, can get better, I also don’t want to be one of those people promising you snake oil or making you feel invisible if your anxiety proves to be way more stubborn than my own challenges have been.

So, with that caveat, here’s an update on where I’m at, how I did it, and what I can suggest for other people who are struggling too.

The Recap

Last October, I started having panic attacks. Debilitating ones, that were really getting in the way of my work and my life. While I had experienced perhaps a half dozen panic attacks while living in an RV and traveling the US, I was otherwise completely new to them. And when I’d had them, they hadn’t gotten in the way of my work or my life – I knew what triggered them, and within a few hours, I’d been able to move on from them.

But last fall was different. My husband was really worried. I was really worried too; as the current primary breadwinner in our relationship, and with a husband who was a full-time student, what if I couldn’t pay our bills? So I was having panic attacks and I was spiraling further, getting anxious about having anxiety, which I’ve since read is a sign of an anxiety disorder rather than simply anxiety (which everyone has on some level, and which is 100% normal, to my totally not clinical but still very educated on anxiety understanding).

On one particularly bad day, after a series of particularly bad days, I wanted to go to the mental health clinic. But, of course, I was anxious to go. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t quite believe they’d let me in, especially because I hadn’t received my health card yet (which is your ticket to free health care as a Canadian resident).

My loving husband took me. He sat with me patiently in the car, and he came inside with me too. And the therapist I saw was so affirming, so understanding, and so encouraging as she got me on the list for free province-provided therapy. She even believed me and took notes when I told her I’d recently realized the ample supplies of nightshade vegetables I’d been filling my diet with were apparently a huge anxiety trigger (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplant were filling my diet during this harvest season), based on my own Googled research.

This began more than six months of challenges as I waited, and waited, and waited to get that free therapy. Backing off the nightshade vegetables helped make the panic attacks less frequent (think 1-2 per week rather than daily), and I finally signed up online with my first therapist since college. She went from being okay for a few months, helping me to treat the anxiety, to being completely awful, around the same time I was seeing a very mediocre (at least for me) free therapist (finally) provided by the province.

Things Began Shifting

By the spring, a few things began shifting in my life:

  • I wrapped a contract with a client that had been having a negative effect on my mental health for a very long time, giving me space to begin healing from what I later realized was pretty intense burnout
  • The work I’d been doing on myself using the Enneagram was paying off, and I was seeing the benefits in my relationship with Ross, with my family and friends, and most importantly in my relationship with myself too
  • I found a new therapist who was NIGHT AND DAY from my previous experiences; she’s still supporting me, and I am grateful every day that I didn’t give up on finding the right person for me
  • The time I’d invested in finding community on PEI was bearing fruit; I had local friends and was doing meaningful work, collaborating in multiple music ensembles and enjoying the opportunity to lead one of them
  • I created an Enneagram group and had a really successful pilot program (my first group coaching program over several months)
  • I discovered the Positive Intelligence framework and became a major advocate for the benefits of mental fitness (and subsequently, I became a mental fitness trainer and incorporated the work into my coaching business)
  • I finally stepped outside of my comfort zone into an Anti-Anxiety program offered free to Islanders (called I CAN) and completed it successfully

According to my anxiety coach, my last panic attack was in late August. I know it was a combination of the techniques I had internalized by this point (learned in both I CAN and in my mental fitness studies) as well as some of the deeper personal development I had done. Having my therapist to cheer me on was especially helpful on the days I needed someone to vent to – whether you work with a therapist as well (always ideal) or just find a friend or hire a coach or accountability partner, that safe space was key.

I’ve now realized that I’ve been battling anxiety my entire life, or at least as far back as middle school. I also realize that if I had known then what I know now about mental fitness, I wouldn’t have needed to have the stress and overwhelm in my life. And I would have made healthier choices from a sage place rather than acting out of fear or to numb or distract myself.

What I Recommend

My own personal journey to get control of my anxiety was more long-winded than it needed to be, but there were also a lot of factors at stake. If I hadn’t been overwhelmed in my work, things might have played out differently, perhaps on a faster timetable. If I wasn’t so sensitive to nightshades, the panic attacks may have been less debilitating. But what I now realize is that the gift of my panic and anxiety struggles over the past year or more is that I now have direct experience I can use when coaching my clients. I can relate to them in ways I never could have five years back. What a gift!

Also, for those of you with access to some kind of free anxiety program, or one that’s very affordable for you, do consider it, if you’ve got the bandwidth for it. While I wasn’t learning many new things in mine, the daily practice and accountability (just like I use with my clients) helped me to finally finish integrating all the things people had taught me over the years. I CAN is a great option for Islanders. Find out what, if anything, is available for you.

If you want to sleep well at night, if you want a life with less stress and overwhelm, if you want the tools to find joy and peace and curiosity again, I’d love to introduce you to the mental fitness training we can do together. I have a few spots open in a small group program that will be starting up this January. I’m also developing a new program specifically with musicians in mind, and I’m planning future groups for a) for childfree people b) for men and c) for retirees.

If you’re intrigued, the easiest way for me to tell you more is for us to hop on a call so I can give you a tour of the program and a bit of coaching and some training to incorporate when you’re feeling anxious or fearful or angry or judgmental. I include a few of my favorite mindfulness techniques that you can actually use anywhere, at any time. It’s a free call, and if it intrigues you, I’m offering my programs on a sliding scale to make them as accessible as possible as we begin 2023.

I have such gratitude to be a coach and to be doing this life-changing work. Please reach out to learn more, and if you think this might resonate with a friend or a family member, please encourage them to do the same.

Take care, and be well.

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