It’s been pretty well documented by now that I have depression and anxiety. Thankfully, the depression part is pretty much under for control for now (happy place!), but the anxiety – not so. My life is still being controlled by the What If troll.
The What If troll sits on my shoulder for most of my waking hours, constantly whispering in my ear that I shouldn’t do this or that because…you know…What If? I want to go for a bush walk but … what if it rains, what if I have a heart attack and no one knows where I am, what if I get bitten by a snake, what if I fall off a rocky overhang and nobody ever finds my body? What If?
He’s good at his work, that What If troll. He’s been at it for a long time now.
The What If troll is best friends with Flo and Frank, my fraud police. When that bunch gets together, I’m pretty much done for. Troll, “What if she goes for a walk? She could fall off a cliff” Frank, “Nobody will ever know”. Flo, “Maybe she should just stay at home and watch Downton Abbey instead”.
I’ve been told this is how agoraphobia starts. I’m not agoraphobic, although sometimes I think I’d like to be. Would make life easier. (Kidding!) What I have is called severe reactive anxiety. Situations over which I believe I have no control freak the fuck out me. My trusty psychologist, The Wise One, has been working with me on managing this using cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT works on identifying feared stimuli and corresponding avoidance responses. If unidentified and unmanaged, these combine to become conditioned fear. Conditioned fears are the pits and hard to get of.
What If troll + Flo + Frank = Conditioned Fear.
The way CBT works is to enable me to reconceptualise my fears and develop adaptive coping strategies. Simply put – work out what makes me scared and help me get over it! Believe me, that’s much easier to write down than it is to implement.
The whole work thing last year really screwed me up. I’ve been doing well – putting my toe into the warm confidence waters here and there, building myself up. But now I really have to get going. The Wise One and I have spent many months working through what really freaks me out (performance issues, judgement, losing or not having control) and finding ways for me to deal with that. That’s right. Basically what I have to do is learn to tell Flo, Frank and the What If troll to fuck off.
Or maybe not….
What I have to do is change my negative self-talk into positive self-talk. So maybe I just need to change Frank, Flo and the What If troll into positives? What if the What If troll became a What If fairy? What if Frank and Flo worked for me, rather than against me? I imagine the conversation something like this;
What If fairy, “What if we go on a bush walk today and get some fresh air?”
Frank, “Fresh air and exercise – perfect idea! We love being outdoors.”
Flo, “I think we should do this right now. A great way to start the day!”
That’s a bit simplistic, but you see where I’m going right? What If I do something good for myself? Can I be Frank with myself about the good things that will achieve? Can I go with the Flo and keep moving forward?
Conditioning myself positive again. Conquering. Learning. Trusting. Evolving.
So I’m throwing myself right into the deep end and pushing some serious fear boundaries. 1) I’m learning to drive, 2) I’m travelling overseas for the first time and 3) I’m heading back into an office environment soon (like, tomorrow!). The negative versions of Frank, Flo and The Troll have been clamouring for attention and I’ve had the familiar sensations of wanting to vomit, sweating, panic attacks and so on. But I keep pushing the old gang aside, gesturing instead towards their positive twins to come join me.
I’m having fun with the whole ‘reconceptualisation’ process of my fears. I’m trying to make a bit of a game of it, working out each silly, little fear and turning it on its head. Not always easy to do but the whole process of trying is…part of the process. For example, one of my biggest driving fears was that my car would be faulty and would explode upon ignition. Totally bloody irrational and I don’t even know where that fear came from. So the first time I switched my driving instructor’s car on, I yelled “Kaboom”. There – my explosion happened and now I don’t worry about it. (I told him what I was going to do. Didn’t want to startle him!) Silly as it seems, it worked. My strange sense of humour appears to be an ally in these matters.
I’ll write more on my three stress-inducing events and how I’m managing them in coming blogs. I’m sure I will have down days where everything overwhelms me and the evil trio try to raise their ugly heads.
But what if everything will be alright? What if things turn out to be great?