Saturday, November 21, 2009

Attacking symptoms at their weakest point

As a nervous person I tend to see danger everywhere.

I got to scrub the cutting board really well or I could get food poisoning the next time I use it.

I better double check that the car doors are locked so my car isn't stollen.

In the past, I was obsessive about these tasks, and this caused me great anxiety. Today, I am a little extra thorough in washing the dishes or in ensuring doors are locked, but I no longer repeatedly perform these activities and suffer the resulting distress. So being a bit more mindful about everyday tasks is my current average.

However, after reading Dr. Low's lecture on Frustrations, Emergencies and Beliefs, (1) I realized that I still have a long way to go in dialing down the amount of danger I see in my life.

True, I am no longer obsessive about washing dishes and parking the car, but a part of me ("the stranger in the brain") still sees some danger in these tasks. Dr. Low told us of the importance of not seeing our life full of emergencies:

"If you deal with everyday life, with routine work or routine existence, if you deal with the trivialities of the daily round, don't believe that they are emergencies.... [E]mergencies happen very seldom in the existence of the average person." (1)

And Dr. Low wrote that tenseness affects all body systems—from head to toe. Taking that idea a little further, I speculate that any tenseness in our lives can aggravate our nervous symptoms—especially those that give us the most discomfort.

So while I think I've conquered my issues with washing and driving, kernels of anxiety with these activities remain. And those seeds can grow and exacerbate my other symptoms. Of course, I've made tremendous progress, but to truly make my mental health a business I can't allow myself the luxury of even indulging in "small" symptoms. Thus, when I feel the urge to rinse something just one more time or just hit the keyfob's lock button twice, I need to move—actually, not move—my muscles, bear the minor discomfort, and continue with my day.

These are not my most distressing symptoms at the moment. In fact, they barely bother me. But Dr. Low said we need to attack symptoms at their weakest point. So if I want my major symptoms to abate, I need reduce tenseness in all areas of my life.

I endorsed for writing this post.

1. Low AA. Manage Your Fears, Manage Your Anger: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Glencoe, Il.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1995; 45-52.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Applying Recovery

One message I have heard at my Recovery meeting lately (or that has caught my attention) is that “You can’t think your way out of a problem.” During the past six months I’ve learned a lot about Recovery, but knowledge isn’t enough—applying the method is what really counts. As Dr. Low said,

“Understanding alone will not help and has not helped any patient that has developed a long-term nervous problem. The only thing that will help the patient is training, persistent training.” (1)

This means “moving the muscles.” For example, for a long time I feared that my car’s lights (headlights or dome light) were on, so I would constantly look back after arriving at my destination to reassure myself that my battery was not being drained. Sure, I could have told myself that “feelings are not facts,” that “anticipation is usually worse than realization,” that a dead battery would be a triviality, but all of these tools wouldn’t have done any good if I sabotaged my efforts by looking back at the car. I needed to apply the method, not just think about it.

I’ve struggled with doing this with insecure thoughts. Although I continually do things that make me anxious, the nervous feelings have not disappeared, despite my refusal to let anxiety drive my behavior. I believe Dr. Low would tell me that I’m still associating danger with these activities, and as long as I do that I will continue to feel tense—and thus have symptoms. So I’m still struggling with how to apply the method to decrease insecure thoughts while not trying to think myself out of this problem. From what I’ve learned about Recovery so far, I think the answer is to continue to “do the things I fear and hate to do,” think of secure thoughts, and challenge myself to apply the method whenever possible. And, of course, I should lower my expectations: These problems did not develop overnight, and they won’t go away that quickly either. In fact, I do recognize the small gains and by taking the total view I see just how much my life has indeed improved since joining Recovery. This is an endorsable moment!

1. Low AA. Manage Your Anger, Manage Your Fears: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1995.