A recent comment has lead me to think about relapses, or rather the fear of them. Most people assume that addicts are the only ones who can ‘fall off the wagon’ (why a wagon? Who owns a wagon anymore? I might change that phrase to ‘trip on the tube,’ thoughts?)
So what is a mental relapse exactly?
Let’s start at the beginning. Those who have experienced an illness/disorder/bad time which shook them to their very core, will always fear the return of that dark cloud. It’s innate, it’s programmed. We have to accept this and not feel disheartened. It’s a completely natural reaction. For instance; if you were once punched by a wolf, then you’ll always be afraid of wolf punches (to a certain extent!) It’s a form of self-protection. Fear is a very sophisticated form of self-protection.
People with anxiety have superb memories, it could even be considered a super power if it didn’t solely apply to our emotions. We remember exactly how we felt during a certain situation and can replicate these feelings whenever we think about the said event… This then makes us feel anxious and we try desperately to block these feelings out, but this only makes them more intense. We become frustrated with ourselves and feel dissolution about the future. Any of this sound familiar?
But let’s look again. Think about a time when you had a particularly bad attack or anxious moment. What can you remember exactly? Is it the specifics of the day? E.g. The people you spoke to, the conversations, the actions you took? Or is it how you felt……? The chances are that it’ll be the latter which you remember, your emotional memory. You know why? Because said emotions were awful and very dramatic, if not traumatic. There’s nothing more frightening than fear itself.
However, nothing that bad physically happened to you If you rationalise it. It was all emotion based. Please be honest and correct me if I’m wrong, this is all my interpretation. It’s certainly true of me anyway.
So in a nutshell… when an anxious person says that they’re afraid of a relapse, what they really mean is; I’m afraid of feeling afraid again. It sounds simple and almost insulting, but that’s what it all comes down to.
I would like to change the word ‘relapse’ in relation to anxiety conditions.. because it refers to a deterioration or reverting back to old bad ways. However in truth, no matter how much you fear it, you will not go back to how bad you were originally. It might feel like it initially, but it’s never as bad as that first time. So instead I would like to call an anxiety period a ‘setback.’ You’re not plummeting down into the darkness (no matter how much you fear it,) it’s just a rough patch. This setback could last a few days, but it will eventually lift. You know why? Because it always does.
Look at it this way… when you have a cold do you automatically think; Oh my God this is it. I’m never going to recover? Of course not! You think; Well this is annoying but it’ll be gone soon. Try and take the same attitude with a setback, it’s irritating and scary, but it’ll go.
Now, there are a few things that you can do to ease your setback.
- Accept it. Don’t waste your energy trying to fight it off. You can’t fight off a cold, so apply the same attitude. Let it wash over you and carry on with your day. This will lessen the emotional distress, because trust me you’ll lose the fight. Emotions are stronger than rational thought.
- Have a look at the external circumstances. Are you feeling ill? Are you tired? Are you under a lot of pressure at work/home? These are all things which can trigger setbacks. Be sure to get plenty of rest, eat well and generally look after your body. Exercise can also be good.
- Don’t focus on it. Sitting there thinking about how anxious you feel isn’t going to solve anything, in fact it usually makes it worse. So be proactive. Do a ‘thought chart’ (CBT exercise,) distract yourself with a task or actively seek social interaction. All these things will help.
- DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP. Setbacks are 100% normal. Again look at it this way… how many headaches have you had in your life? Now, do you criticise yourself whenever you get another? I bloody hope not! Like a headache, your emotions are out of your control so don’t feel frustrated when they re-surface.
- Be kind to yourself. After a hard day treat yourself to something nice; A good meal, glass of wine, bubble bath, a new game for the Xbox. You’ve made it through the day and therefore deserve to be rewarded for your bravery. Dealing with anxiety isn’t easy.
Nobody likes to feel afraid, it’s natural. Why do we hide behind our hands in the cinema if not to shield ourselves from fear? The important thing to remember is that you can get used to the discomfort and you will come through the other side.
I hope this helps. Happy Easter everyone!