Thursday, June 25, 2009

Recovery as a goal

When we are anxious, we want instant relief. We feel awful, and we lament our situation to anyone who will listen. Learning to experience these feelings and not “blow them up” is an important part of Recovery training, I’ve learned. Being patient is essential, as well.

Accepting the notion that anxiety won’t go away overnight with a magic trick or cure is sobering news—yet empowering at the same time. It’s exciting to know that so many people have gotten better with continuous discipline and practice they’ve learned in Recovery. Sure, recovering from a mental illness is hard work, but many major life events can be achieved only by striving toward a long-term goal.

Everyday I find myself yearning for relief and comfort, but I now know that these are not the ultimate goal. Freeing myself from my distressing—but not dangerous symptoms—is what I really want, and learning to experience and not overreact to these feelings is how I’ll get there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Distressing, but not dangerous

One very important lesson I have learned in Recovery is that nervous symptoms can be tolerated. This is particularly powerful insight.

When we are extremely anxious, it feels like the whole world is spinning out of control—and that we are at the center of a narrowing emotional vortex. We often have the false impression that we cannot function and that we need to stop what we are doing that is scaring us.

But through reading Mental Health Through Will-Training (1) and attending Recovery meetings, I’ve learned that while uncomfortable sensations and feelings inevitably will flare up and cannot be controlled, my thoughts and reactions to them can be managed. Although I may feel very uncomfortable, these symptoms are distressing but not dangerous (a Recovery mantra). And I don’t have to buy into the notion that I am in any trouble or danger. I can accept these feelings for what they are but not get worked up about them.

This concept has helped me a lot over the past few days. In fact, I think I might have made a small breakthrough in my understanding of my condition.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;80-90.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Being average

For a long time I thought nobody suffered like I do. My distressing symptoms made me feel very alone and isolated. Although I clearly knew that other people have anxiety problems, I usually mused that no one had them as bad as I did.

Through my Recovery training I’ve learned that not only is that belief false, but that my symptoms are average.

Dr. Low wrote at length about nervous people’s desire to be “exceptional.”(1) My take on his philosophy is that if we consistently give our feelings and sensations power and duration, they will become stronger, tighten their grip, and essentially control our lives. Instead, we need to acknowledge that what we experience are average symptoms for nervous people—and not blow them out of proportion.

Of course, some will have more intense symptoms than others, but there’s no need to consider ourselves different from our peers with mental illness. Thinking that way can lead to a senseless of hopelessness, and that certainly will not help us improve.

And there’s something comforting in being average. I don’t feel so different. I don’t feel so alone.

Reference1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;80-90.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Taking a detour around the danger zone

Nervous people see a lot of danger in the world, especially in our own lives. Yet through my Recovery training I've learned a valuable lesson: Most, if not all, of what I fear is distressing but not dangerous. When I equate my uncomfortable feelings with danger, my symptoms worsen and can develop into a full-blown panic.

Dr. Abraham A. Low said we must continually "spot" our distressing feelings, recognizing them for what they are and not consider them dangerous—doing so only makes us more miserable. In fact, he encouraged us nervous people to recognize our "frightening inner experiences as being nothing but silly emotionalism or inane rationalizations."(1)

I've definitely recognized the value of this concept, but putting it to work has not been as easy. Yet I've been assured by my fellow Recovery members that practicing this constant spotting leads to results. So I'm marching forward with this "will to bear discomfort" and avoiding the highway to the danger zone.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;190.