Coping, Healing, and the Light at the End of the Tunnel

Something very powerful happened to me on Thursday. It was not causally related to the post I made on Wednesday. I received a diagnosis. This is an important step in my healing for two reasons: it gives me hope, and it gives me direction.

It is awfully hard to move forward without either of those.

*************************************

For the past few months, I have not been moving forward. I didn’t even know what direction forward was. I had simply been finding things that caused me anxiety, and then placing them as far away from me as I could. I considered myself fortunate to have no bosses or clients. I considered myself prudent to take time away from friends and family. I wore headphones to walk my dog, often without music playing, so I wouldn’t have to talk to strangers.

*************************************

My coping methods are fairly simple. I give my brain something simple to spin its wheels on, like poker or chess or Magic or any number of other games with several decisions per minute that I am good at figuring out. Hopefully by the time I am out of decisions to focus my brain on, it is time to sleep.

Force-feeding my brain “problems” keeps it from focusing on problems. It’s a survival mechanism I developed because sometimes things are complicated and overwhelming and digging deeper gives me more pain and no more clarity.

On Thursday, I got more clarity.

*************************************

The diagnosis I received was that I suffer from Panic Disorder. I’m going to stay away from specific details of what I have and have not experienced from the list in that article, in part because I am still sorting through all of it myself.

The doctor I am seeing is a province-wide expert on CBT, which, according to both her and the article, is very effective at treating this kind of disorder. The treatment is, as far as I understand it and as non-technically as possible, exposure. I am supposed to stimulate feelings of anxiety, in small doses, and gradually build up my tolerance to them while reducing my fear of them. It is something like an inoculation for my brain: giving it small doses of something harmful so it learns how to process it properly, and builds up immunity.

It is also, you may have noticed, the exact opposite of what I’ve been doing.

*************************************

My coping behaviors made sense to me. They made me feel safe and secure and comfortable at a time when I was feeling the opposite of all of those with alarming regularity. I didn’t know what to do to stop feeling anxious in response to things, so I did the next-best thing: I stopped giving myself anxious stimuli.

The problem with that is that it is self-reinforcing. If I avoid the things that cause me anxiety, I am training my brain to believe that those are important things to avoid, that they are dangerous and harmful. I am forcefully constricting my life in order to avoid stress, instead of managing my disorder in order to control my life.

And I had no hope for things to ever get better. I spent a lot of my time without hope, just going through the motions, waiting for something to change but with no expectation that it ever would. I was fully prepared to construct my life to be as low-stimulus as possible. I was ready to retire from live poker. I looked into hermitages I could occupy with good internet, so that I could feed myself and my dog, buried, hiding from the world.

I was actively engaging in self-destructive behaviours, and fully prepared to continue doing so for the rest of my life, because I didn’t know they were self-destructive, and I didn’t know how to identify beneficial ones.

Then I consulted a doctor.

*************************************

Doctors are experts of the body and mind. They are technicians. They understand the process of healing better than we do, even if we understand our struggles better than they do. That is why they (should) listen carefully before making a diagnosis. It took me at least eight sessions, spread over two and a half months, to get to this point. But I have hope, now. I have a direction. I have something to work on that gives my life and my decisions purpose again.

*************************************

Everyone takes their computer problems and their car problems and their legal problems to someone who is better versed in the nature of computers, and cars, and the law. They explain what symptoms there are, and let someone who spends all their time with the malfunctioning apparatus try to spot patterns that point to a cause, one which probably has a solution that they have worked through before. Psychologists are that, but for your brain. You might know your mind best, but you are very likely not the person best suited to understand how to correct its malfunctions.

Consult your doctor.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Coping, Healing, and the Light at the End of the Tunnel

  1. Ben, I cannot describe in words how glad I am that you feel like you have regained hope and a sense of direction. It seems that you have come a long way on your journey and again, I honour you for sharing it with others. I am sure your honest, well composed message will touch many hearts just as it has mine and guide many on their paths towards a happy, healthy life.

    Angie L 🙂

  2. Hey Ben,

    I recently discovered your blog (during my own relapse of depression and anxiety). Thanks for publicly discussing these important issues. I admire the clarity of your articulation and public disclosure. Anything that can catalyze more discussion, understanding, and stigma alleviation is definitely a step in the right direction.

    It sounds like your mood is beginning to improve, so I hope that trend continues. And if you’re ever seriously contemplating doctor-supervised rehab on a farm in Connecticut, you might also want to check out a pretty solid facility in neighbouring Stockbridge, MA, as an additional option – better looking nurses, no farm animals, and a casino within driving distance.

    Take care,

    Justin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s