I recovered before…but I'm frightened I won't again - a reader's story
I began suffering anxiety after I emigrated to Australia from the UK by myself ten years ago. The stress of the move and all the implications took a huge toll on me mentally, emotionally and physically and I ended up returning to the UK within the year. Ever since I have been plagued with bouts of anxiety but in 2010 anxiety hit me really hard and stayed. At the end of 2011 I began meditating and within a matter of weeks began noticing huge improvements (Stillness Meditation and then Mindfulness). I made continued and steady progress over the following year and by 2013 was pretty much able to say I had recovered. Life opened up again and I was filled with the joy of just being 'normal'.
I NEVER thought I would find myself back here again :( Earlier this year I went self-employed, got myself involved in a long-distance relationship, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and my dad was diagnosed with Parkinsons. Anxiety hit me hard and I pretty much had a breakdown at the end of last year. I am now back where I was in 2010. Constant anxiety, churning stomach, worry and fearful thoughts about my future. It is so hard not to despair. I have been meditating every day, twice a day, and can't help feeling frustrated that I am not seeing the improvements in the way I did first time around. I am so fearful that I have done irreparable damage and won't recover again. Please help.
It’s OK, you’re going to be all right and you definitely haven’t done ‘irreparable damage’. I know it’s a terrible shock to find yourself in this situation again, and of course the fear of not recovering just adds to the problem. But, you got better before, and you can again. This is a very common course of events and an opportunity to understand anxiety and your own physiology better so that it doesn’t happen again.
Because anxiety itself can confuse the picture of what’s happening, anxiety symptoms can feel even more weird and mysterious and awful than they need be; it can seem like it’s something that happens to you, like catching the ‘flu, and it can feel like it’s something over which you have no control.
But here’s the thing: it is a completely logical response of your body to the way you have handled stress over the last year or so. Other people may experience depression in response to a stress overload, some experience anger, heart attacks and ulcers. But you, me and countless millions of others have been born with the constitution that will tend to develop anxiety symptoms under stress that’s badly handled. This means we have to make a life long commitment to keeping our nervous systems happy and that’s not difficult to do once you understand the basics. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to feel anxious every time you go through a stressful period in your life.
You’ve had a really difficult year. If there has been no fundamental change in the way you handle stress since your last episode (and we all have deeply ingrained patterns that it can take time to shift), it’s not surprising that your symptoms have reappeared, especially if you have only just taken up meditating again. If you have been meditating consistently for the last couple of years, then it just means that you need to take on board a few other tactics to keep anxiety at bay, and step them up a bit when you’re going through a stressful time. It’s really useful to be aware of some of the warning signs of a stress overload so that you can take action at the first hint of going out of balance (you’ll find a list of these towards the bottom of this page).
I know that recovery can be frustratingly slow but you will get there. If you are giving the right signals to your brain that it’s OK to stop sending out all those chemicals that are producing your symptoms, it is absolutely inevitable that you will get better.
So, what can you do to speed things up a little?
Definitely continue with the meditation (and make this part of your life from now on). Also taking some herbs/supplements to support your body in regaining balance would be a good start.
There are plenty of other simple but effective recommendations on this site, so have a good look through and take on board what you can, bit by bit. Take it one day at a time and know that you are on the road to feeling normal again, even though you’re not there yet.
I am currently working on a Treatment Plan for Anxiety to help people prioritise the information on this site and put it together with a structure that’s easy to follow. This should be available within the next couple of weeks.
I really feel for you (coincidentally my first experience of anxiety many years ago was after moving to Australia from the UK too :) – but know that you have already started doing what you need to do to get better.