How have I been recovering from generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder?
A lot of hard work. But smart, hard work.
With anxiety you have to work smarter not harder. You have to develop a rational understanding that everything is fine. Of course, you can’t just do this by talking to yourself, you have to physically do it. And by physically, I mean actually allowing your body and allowing your mind to do what they want. To feel what they want. To face fear and panic on a day to day basis and remind yourself you’re OK.
I had a foundation at my core to help me, and without it I probably would still be drinking and smoking all my feelings to the bottom of my stomach. The foundation was developed by an author named Barry Mcdonagh.
He figured something out during his own battle with panic disorder and GAD and put it into a book called “Panic Away.” In this book he describes what anxiety and panic attacks are, and how to overcome them completely by running towards the fear.
You accept fear, face it, and tell it all to get worse. And you do this over and over every time you get anxious. This is an everyday habit you form. This is a training mechanism. It’s neuroplasticity. Retraining the subconscious mind like a computer.
I’ve had anxiety and panic for about 10 years. I developed a panic disorder going into basic training in the Army. This stuck with me throughout my years in the army. I didn’t really know what it was so I self medicated with alcohol and cigarettes.
I made it through Airborne school, training in the mountains of Alaska, and a combat tour in Afghanistan all while dealing with intermittent bouts of severe anxiety/panic. It seemed to come and go on its own will, almost automatically.
A little down the road after being a civilian for some time (drinking almost every night was my way of preventing myself from getting anxious or panicky) anxiety crept back into my life again despite the drinking.
I had enough, I quit drinking alcohol and stopped smoking cigarettes because I couldn’t shake the awful feeling that seemed to be brewing.
This time anxiety came back as a tsunami wave: raw, potent, and unmerciful.
Whereas before I could drink or smoke the feelings off, distract my mind, this time I had nothing. Nothing to hold onto. I felt isolated, dominated by depersonalization and unreality, and my confidence had drained from my soul. I had forgotten about Panic Away and was too discouraged to implement it.
That is until I found DARE. DARE is the second method developed by Barry Mcdonagh. It takes his Panic Away system and refines it, makes it an automatic pocket mind mechanism. It is a response to anxiety that is learned through daily repetition.
The response is based on an attitude of acceptance. To accept all feelings. To allow the body and mind to do what they do without holding any grudge or frustration. To compassionately let all the feelings, flow through, and to continue living life to its fullest.
The DARE response took some time to really click for me, and it might be paradoxical to say but it never really did ‘click’ for me—and this is where the brilliance comes in:
In order to recover from generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD, Pure O, agoraphobia, ANYTHING to do with the fight or flight response, you have to let it be.
In order to fully recover you must give up trying to recover. This is the secret. And I wouldn’t have ever come across this without Barry’s work.
Anxiety, ALL anxiety, is self created nonsense.
Somebody said “anxiety is just a bunch of conspiracy theories about yourself…”
And it’s absolutely true. And it’s liberating. When you try and “get rid” of anxiety it’s like trying to get rid of gravity. You can’t. It’s impossible. You have to accept it. Allow the weight, the tension, the discomfort, almost like a tight sweater. Barry taught me to literally change my response to my anxiety. When you have an anxiety disorder, it basically means you’ve developed a habit of fearing the symptoms your body goes through when you’re stressed.
When you move into anxiety, when you allow it, when you smile at it, when you welcome it on stage to act in a play with you, or take it out to dinner with your spouse, you train your brain to realize nothing was ever wrong in the first place.
This took weeks and months of meditation, reading, eating healthy, exercise, and constant practice. Constant acceptance. Constant application of DARE.
The only anxiolytics I’ve ever taken were called Lorazepam, which are benzo’s, and I was given exactly 10 of them because I was recently medicated on a high dose of Prednisone (steroids) for a Crohn’s disease flare-up.
To give you a rough idea of the scale of what I’m talking about, the average human body makes about 5mg of cortisol a day. Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps the immune system and does a lot of other things to help the body survive.
If you’re like me, It also helps exacerbate anxiety levels! 60mg of Prednisone is 55 more mg of cortisol a day. When you have an anxiety disorder, that’s a lot of nervous energy to roll around with. So, to compensate I took the 5mg anti-anxiety tablets every other day to help me sleep.
I will never take any anti-anxiety medication ever again. The reason for this is because medications for emotions are band aids.
They temporarily calm you down, but they will never fix the root issue.
Anxiety is a protection mechanism created by the mind. It is a safety net, not a threat. During some of my dark anxiety times I would browse the internet and the forums. I would read and stress and fear people’s opinions and comments about anxiety disorders:
“You can only ever manage anxiety.” “I’ve been on meds for twenty years.” “I’ve had anxiety for thirty plus years and take it one day at a time.”
And now when I look back at this, I feel the tragedy of it. People spend their entire lives battling with their fears and suppressing their feelings when the answer lies in the ability to sit still and let go. To accept pain, allow it to exist. To ride through the current. To no longer fight, and trust the mind, trust the body.
People have asked me now what anxiety feels like. The answer is,
Mild tension and silly thoughts. Sometimes I’ll get depersonalization or unreality sensations when I’ve had some tension for a bit. Usually when I’m around a big social environment or I’m acting in something.
But depersonalization does not scare me anymore. I know what it is and exactly what it feels like. I know that I’ll never go crazy or lose it —because I’ve experienced the worst of the worst and nothing has ever happened. Tension does not scare me anymore.
Thoughts no longer take hold of me.
I have the ability to watch them float by. If I do manage to get caught up with something, I can usually brush it off in a manner of minutes. When I wake up in the morning the first thing on my mind is breakfast and my day.
Occasionally I’ll be down or upset or low, but that’s life. I will always get anxious, and always have bad feelings, because that’s life. That’s how it all goes. But I’ll never again be anxious for no reason.
I consider myself almost completely recovered from generalized anxiety disorder because I’m fully living my life again. I say almost because I still have some anxiety sensations. But anxiety no longer dictates what I do, where I go, or more importantly, how I behave.
I haven’t had a pansy attack in about 8 months. I don’t need a drink to go to sleep or a cigarette when I’m emotionally spent.
For those in recovery:
Recovery does not happen over night. You do not all the sudden “figure it out” and then you’re good to go. This is a process. It takes time to brew. For me it took almost a year, maybe more. (After a while you stop keeping track) You are breaking old habits.
Have patience and compassion for yourself. Try and love yourself. On your worst of the worst days when you feel like you just want to die or sleep the fear away, these are the days when you need to get up and go as normally as you can. The work always pays off.
And for those in recovery from addiction or alcoholism,
The serenity prayer is a big clue into how to recover from almost any emotional ailment:
“God grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change(my anxiety which is nervous energy in my body), the courage to change the things I can(my response to my anxiety), and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Thanks, and much love.
Big shout out to Barry, and Suzane and my wife Marcy for helping me change my life.
Here are the links to Joe’s blog and work!