Physical doctors found nothing. Time to see a mental doctor. That’s what therapists are called, right? Mental doctors? No wait, therapists. I said it. How To Pick A Therapist, Step 1 (of 1): Ask around for a reco.
It might surprise you how many of your friends are seeing a therapist. Here’s a hint: more than you think. Another thing you can bond with them about. Yay friends! I didn’t have friends at the time, so I asked Sally to ask around. Can’t remember who recommended Doan, but he was great.
Was nervous the first time I went to see him (irony?). But it was cool. You get to talk about your problems and get advice. It was exactly what I needed at the time. It was also the first time I heard the term Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was so proud to have a title. I’d earned it.
Some advice he gave that stood out to me was being told I could control the heat in my hands. I always had cold hands (when you’re anxious, the body acts under fear mode and sends blood to your internal organs, leaving your extremities cold). Before a meeting I’d have freezing cold hands and dread the inevitable handshake followed by “Ew, you have cold hands.” To which I’d have to reply, “It’s cold out,” or “I just washed my hands and the water was cold,” or “I was just holding a beer.” For work purposes, skip the last one.
This helped reaffirm the mind/body link for me. If you concentrate on your hands, feel the pulsing, you can send more blood to them, warming them up. Again, blew my mind. Since then I’ve figured out how to turn off my tickle, and only hiccup once before stopping. You know, useless shit. But still cool. Right? Moving on.
“Don’t leave a situation anxious” was something he said, too, which introduced me to the idea of grooves in the brain. I wrote that quote and kept it in my wallet. I used it the next week when I was in an elevator and it dipped for a second, scaring the shit outta me. Knowing my brain was now gonna link terror with elevators, I stayed on the elevator and rode it until I calmed down. The next time I got in an elevator, I remembered the fear, but didn’t feel it as bad. Just by not leaving, I avoided creating the groove in my mind to fear elevators. The brain’s so cool. I mean, at the time we still hated each other, but we cool now.
He also introduced me to meditation. He had his own CD. Should I do this here, or do a full post on meditation? I’m gonna do a full post. Spoiler alert, Part 3’s gonna be about meditation.
In conclusion, he was great. I stopped going to him because after one session I went back in the room to get my coat and caught him crying. We shared a weird moment as I grabbed my coat off the hook and left in silence.
That’s a terrible reason to not go back, and of course now I’ve learned that crying is a great way to release emotions and it’s all normal. But at the time I was still a small town boy who was raised, like most other boys, that “You are not allowed to cry!” Crying’s for pussies. I can say that I proudly sob in movies now. Yes, I’m legitimately proud of myself when I cry. That’s how much boys have it ingrained in them that crying ain’t cool.
That night I asked Sally to find me another therapist. When she asked why I said, “I like my fitness instructors to be fit.” It became a running gag. But the truth was, deep down I didn’t believe talking about my problems was the solution.
With the second therapist I focused on my fear of flying, because I needed to be able to do that for work. Another spoiler alert: When you’re at your weakest from constant fear of everything, trying to tackle your biggest fear might not work. The second therapist and I never really bonded.
Looking back, I guess my thought process was, if I’m the problem, it’s up to me to fix it. So I stopped looking to someone else to tell me what to do, and decided to focus on fixing myself.
Just a note here: if you’re thinking of following the same steps I took, I wouldn’t recommend focusing on yourself as a problem for years at a time. Waking up every morning thinking about how messed up I was and the burden on my shoulders to fix me was overwhelming. I spiralled into a dark place. And you don’t have to hit rock bottom to force change.
Step 2 recap: I guess I’m recommending don’t give up on therapists and put all the pressure on yourself. Also, don’t rely purely on a therapist, when there’re things you can do to help yourself. Like most people who want to fix their anxiety, I wanted to be fixed right the fuck now! And therapy takes a while. Doing it on my own, for the record, took close to a decade, so hopefully these posts will help you shortcut a bit.
Come back for Part 3: you’ll have to wait and see… no wait, I already said it. Meditation.
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