You may remember when I referenced anxiety as the “counterintuitive defender” – I thought if I could write a letter to this “defender” – what would I write?
Though anxiety can be exhausting and debilitating, I found that being thankful and grateful helped ease my conditioned negative feelings associated with my anxiety.
This is the letter I had written – from me and my inner child ~
You are fighting at the battles I couldn’t fight myself. I slowly tiptoe my way to the door, clutching to my favourite doll. You are a time traveller and can see into my past, present and my future. Every day is a different battle.
I know you are trying to help me – perhaps my pseudo-psychologist. But yet, I feel frightened and nervous. I clutch the doll tighter, my chest feels uncomfortable and things start to seem blurry.
Perhaps this defender was adaptive as a young girl – not knowing what could potentially hurt or harm me, it proved to be a “cotton wooling” of the world and the situations and circumstances within it.
Now, sometimes I find it challenging to fight my own battles. As a woman now, you intermittently reinforce with your arrival – I wait to feel the same frightening, uncomfortable and nervous feelings. But yet – I still know you are only protecting me – protecting my inner child.
She is learning to fight her own battles though and gain her strength – and now we can acknowledge when you are around. We can say, “thanks for being here, but we have this covered!”
I am thankful, and having gratitude has been the most healing part of the journey. So, as strange as it sounds – we are grateful to have you around… in the appropriate times that we do need to “fight” or “flight”!
Love, me and my inner child
A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home so that he could watch the moth come out of the cocoon. On the day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force the body through that little hole. The moth seemed to be stuck and appeared to have stopped making progress. It seemed as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. The man, in his kindness, decided to help the moth; so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily. But its body was swollen and small, its wings wrinkled and shriveled. The man continued to watch the moth because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to and able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened! In fact, the little moth spent the rest of its life crawling around with a small, swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. The man in his kindness and haste did not understand that the struggle required for the moth to get through the tiny opening was necessary to force fluid from the body of the moth into its wings so that it would be ready for flight upon achieving its freedom from the cocoon. Freedom and flight would only come after the struggle. By depriving the moth of a struggle, he deprived the moth of health. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If we were to go through our life without any obstacles, we would be crippled. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. Give every opportunity a chance, leave no room for regrets, and don’t forget the power in the struggle. – Roger Knapp
I find this a simple and beautiful analogy – sometimes, it is appreciating the struggles that are associated with mental health. My clinical psychologist shared this analogy with me, and I wanted to share it with others.
Your struggles are real and true – but allow your wings to dry… as it is truly your time to fly.
Te Rau Hinengaro is the first mental health survey that has be conducted on a national scope in New Zealand. It has measured the prevalence of major mental disorders in New Zealand – and I was fortunate enough to be taught by a professor that was part of this research!
I had a discussion with her and I am very excited – as I will have the opportunity to conduct research in the psychiatric epidemiology field! For me, observational research is so important to understand and target health initatives that will be effective to the target population in need – and as a clinical psychologist I truly believe in working with the best evidence-based care.
Bio: Hi! Thanks for reading my blog – and I hope you have found it helpful and were able to apply it to your own daily living. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2013, and after a rewarding year in therapy, left in 2014 on a positive way to recovery and managing helpful techniques on my own. There are a lot of challenges when living with a mental illness. For myself, it was a constant struggle through fluctuating moods and persistent thoughts that continued to worry me. I challenged it – I wanted to FIGHT – and fight hard to overcome this! But what has been the most healing for me is accepting it and loving it – being gentle and soothing. As a crying baby is tendered by a loving touch, so is the crying mind. I walk alongside anxiety – and it does still continue to challenge me. But it has lead me to become a mental health advocate, to encourage others to reach out for help and support. I am now studying towards becoming a clinical psychologist myself, in the hopes my experiences can help me place myself in my clients shoes – and really FEEL their emotion and experience. I am also studying in epidemiology and interested in psychiatric epidemiology in particular – as I feel that there needs to be more interventions in mental health for a population in need. Feel free to contact me if you would like to personally talk with me, or if you would just like some support – I would be happy to help. K xx
During my experiences and learning about anxiety disorders – I often have to ask myself, “What is the truly frightening thing about this experience that is causing me to panic?” To help myself feel a little more at ease if I experience anxiety, I often think of anxiety itself as a “defender” to my experiences – which comes to help me when I sense “unpredictability” in my life.
And of course – there is unpredictibility EVERYWHERE – life wouldn’t be very exciting without it! Hence, why I say my little defender is counterintuitive – tries to protect me, but perhaps causes more worry and fear. A protector to keep me in my comfort zone – and if I step out, sends warning signals to get me to jump back in.
The nature of unpredictibility is that it is not contingent upon anything – there are no safety signals to “warn” us in advance – perhaps like a typical classical conditioned pair. It causes the absence of any safety signals – and it makes situations abnormally frighting and intense. Hence, that is when our hero jumps into the scene and reinacts the “fight or flight” response we all understand with anxiety!
What is very healing is giving thanks to this invisible defender – to be mindful that it is only doing it’s best it can to help you – though it tends to go the wrong ways about doing so! I sometimes say to myself, “I see you are trying to help me – but lets figure out better ways to tackle this later” (Yes, I am technically being a therapist to my defender!) It is a bit of a different (and can sometimes be a funny!) way of being mindful.
Who is your little defender? Perhaps give him/her a name, talk to them…. you may be surprised!
Is anxiety causing the thoughts, or are thoughts causing the anxiety?
Now…. this is a very thought-provoking question that I seemingly was having thoughts about… (yes, how many times have I mentioned ‘thought’ in that sentence?!)
But I bet this got you thinking too. I have been practicing expansion – which is 3 simple steps of observing, breathing, and allowing sensations and thoughts. It is actually not as simple as it initially sounds – and it takes a little practice…. but is incredibly soothing. I have learned to allow my thoughts to come and go – without initially struggling with them.
Perhaps there is a correlation between these both – for a person with GAD, it is trying to find the cause and effect. For me, it was constantly trying to find the reason to WHY I was worried. I find that expansion has helped me to find that there is a third factor in the equation -the WORRY, THOUGHTS & FEELINGS associated of what is causing the other. It caused a great deal of fear to me to not have an answer. Allowing my sensations and thoughts has given me a chance to look at these third ‘hidden variables’ – to give a shape, feeling and sensation to what was otherwise that unknown.
Perhaps the answer could be the very simple – correlation does not imply causation? (sounds funny to bring in a statistical perspective!) But that anxiety is not necessarily causing the thoughts, nor the other way around – but it is just the WORRY of what ’cause and effect’ is – and searching for that answer.
No statistical method or calculations can find this – its looking within your soul and heart, and allowing yourself to experience. When my feelings became known, it made me realize how this part of me was grasping for my attention – it was truly trying to help and protect me… but only by using anxiety and racing thoughts to do it!
Now I am giving myself the love and attention it needs – and I am so much better, that I now do not fit the criteria for Generalized Anxiety. Believe me, it has been a lot of work to get to where I need to be… and I am always looking for answers to questions around mental health and wellbeing. I am studying Psychology and Epidemiology to graduate as a registered Clinical Psychologist in the near future – in the hopes that my experience can inspire someone else.
With YOU…… yes, I am talking to you! How many times have we heard the infamous quote – to love someone we must learn to love ourselves?
Sometimes, we forget to be compassionate and understanding to one’s own needs and desires. For myself in my journey of recovery, I know that I had over-compensated to help others – at the expense of who I am. It was definitely a hard change in gears to look at my own needs. wants, desires and goals, and to enjoy actively pursuing them. I take pride in the help I can give others – but now I can channel those skills into a more professional context – hence why I am studying towards clinical psychotherapy!
The most important first step is to really notice your thoughts and feelings – as if a child – what are you needing/wanting at this moment in time? Perhaps it is a peaceful moment with a book – taking a step back from a busy lifestyle. In that same book, jot down some positive affirmations to read next time you pick it up – even make them funny! I like, “Why, hello beautiful….” and, “Boot that anxiety to the curb – time for some chill time!” (I have used these myself!)
Being able to pick up on your own cues can be almost like caring for a child. It takes time to learn, and sometimes it can be challenging. Some things may feel OK, some not so much – and that can be frustrating.
But make sure to give yourself a hug today – you are taking a very positive step to loving you!