After Sunday’s 8-hour panic attack which wouldn’t leave, I decided it might be time to rendezvous with a therapist once again. Perhaps some meetings and a new cognitive behavioral approach will help me get a firmer grip on my mental health challenges.
Here’s what I learned after today’s one hour – and you’re welcome fellow mental health challenged folks of the Internet for the Therapy Pay It Forward Volume 1:
- Say Yes to the emotions knocking on my door – don’t lock them up. Saying no has physically different reactions in the brain than saying yes does. It’s proven, “like a light bulb,” the therapist explained. Saying no tenses the body and shuts things down. Saying yes welcomes emotions and relaxes us. She illustrated how “no” and “yes” have physical ramifications on the body and I practiced relaxing with “yes” whereas “no” tensed up my stomach.
- Learn to appreciate and love my emotions. They are communications from the brain and when they arrive, I am to welcome them warmly and say, “Welcome anxiety. Glad to see you. Let’s confront you and move on.”
- Don’t beat myself up for constantly having the thought “what if I get nauseated” because at this point, my brain has made it a habit and it’s happening subconsciously. Instead of fearing the thought or fighting it, I’m to embrace it and move on. Instead of saying, “what if?” think more, “so what?” So what if I throw up? I won’t die from it.
- Anxiety and thoughts (non-suicidal, obviously) won’t kill me. I won’t die from them. She kept reiterating this point because she understands the defining characteristic of a panic attack is feeling like you’re going to die. Despite the logic my brain tries to send as reinforcement during a panic attack, there is an equal battalion of “what if” soldiers who come to make me wonder if maybe this one time, just when I’ve loosened my grip, just when the security guard nodded off, what if this one time, I’ll die.
- The reason I often wake up fearing panic in the morning is because our brains have lower serotonin in the morning (still hard at work while I’m sleeping handling little things like breathing, keeping my heart beating, my kidneys processing my pee, and so on). In order to get the serotonin flowing, she suggested large circling arm motions, a yoga sun salutation, or as she said, “the Dutch paintings where they show the women shaking out the humongous blankets.”
I thought my super duper sensitive fight or flight instincts would serve me well if I’m running from a bear in the woods, only I’m not running from a bear in the woods, I’m running from my emotions. Instead, in an effort to reprogram my brain, my instruction is to hug the cuddly bear and not worry if it will kill me because the brain therapist promises me it/they won’t. My emotions won’t kill me. No matter how shitty I feel during a panic attack.
I’ll never understand my brain and it seems the harder I try, the more it feels tangled and elusive but I’m fascinated and interested in all aspects and the new therapist has a PhD in brain studies. I value her scientific expertise and hang on every word as she describes neurotransmitters and myelin sheaths and how my connections have formed nausea highways. More importantly, she said, panic disorder is the most treatable which made me feel hopeful and is as valuable as a Klonopin to take me out of my spiraling anxiety.
I feel armed with a good attitude, the desire to try anything, and 20 years worth of analysis, on top of 347 days straight of writing. I’m basically at the point where I’ve mapped my neurosis in such detail I’m ready to travel down the neurons beyond discovery to living through it.