A First Attempt

Today will mark the first day that I will exercise after having started exercise/exposure therapy. The plan is to stretch and use the treadmill for a total of 30 minutes all-together.

When I started exposure therapy a few months ago, my therapist began by having me only step on the treadmill. The purpose of this was to get used to just being on it and physically touching it. Previously, the mere thought of exercise sent me into a breathing panic because I anticipated the inevitable suffocation sensation before the real exercise even started. The brain is very powerful.

Sessions following only involved walking at a slight incline at a pretty slow pace- slower than my normal walking speed. Throughout my session, my therapist asked me to name 3 things I was thankful/grateful for. He asked me what my intention was. He asked me to verbally express mindfulness. When the session came to an end, he asked me to step in front of the mirror and talk to myself. He asked me how I felt, what I felt, and what did I have to say to the person starring back at me.

In the more recent sessions, we have picked up speed. My therapist still asks me to name the things that I am grateful for; however, he has also added in the following tasks:

  • ABCs
  • ABCs backwards
  • Count to 100
  • Count backwards from 100

The purpose of these tasks is distraction. The goal is to have my brain so focused on letters and numbers that it has no time to think or panic about the increased heart-rate. For the most part, this does work.

The last session I had, I went the fastest I had gone yet. There was also less distraction and more of me controlling what I was saying/doing/thinking. My therapist actually played marching band music in order to cause a disturbance, but hearing marching band music has never been a trigger, so I enjoyed it. We ended the session with 30 jumping jacks.

At the end of that last session, my therapist gave me permission to venture out on my own and give exercising on my own time a go. I’ve decided to make today my first day.

My intentions for today are to just do it and have no expectations. I forgive myself in advance if I have difficulty getting out of my head. I forgive myself in advance if I have a panic attack. I give myself a high-five for making it this far and not giving up.

Therapy is coming to an end.

My first therapy session was 166 days ago. I have had about 20 sessions. I started in sit-down therapy, a variation of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and I shifted to exposure/exercise therapy about 7 weeks ago.

While I came to therapy on my own accord, I was still hesitant to fully expose myself to a stranger. I knew that I needed and wanted help, but because so much of the process was unknown, I was nervous and withholding.

I remember how uncomfortable I was when talking about difficult times and then feeling my eyes water. I remember how I started to sweat when my voice started to shake. I remember adverting my eyes to the floor and pinching my thigh with my fingers to distract myself from the emotions that were bubbling up.

4 weeks ago, I cried my eyes out in front of a mirror in the downstairs gym during a session with my therapist. I didn’t love it, but I was more accepting of my tears and the [good] reasons behind them.

By the end of 2019, I will be done with therapy. It feels good. The progress that I’ve made was not recognizable overnight; my progress pops up randomly throughout my days in between all the little tasks I do. It’s a slow crawl towards mental liberation, but the [long] journey has been well worth it.

Exercise/Exposure Therapy Day 1

Yesterday was my first time participating in exercise and exposure therapy. We worked on desensitization, mindfulness, and focusing on my breathing at a slow walk up a small incline.

A little background: I do not have asthma. I am as healthy as I currently can be. When I’m having a panic attack, my heart rate, breathing, and adrenaline are of the same levels as if I was running from a burning building. It’s a false alarm in my head. So, when I try to actually run for fun or for exercise, my brain thinks it’s in panic mode because my heart rate, breathing, and adrenaline automatically shoot up the same way they do when my anxiety is at its peak. It’s not fun.

So, the past 10 years I have avoided long distance running and physical activities that might send me into an attack and then into an unconscious state (fainting). It’s frustrating because I love hiking, team sports, marching band, running with my dogs, and so much more; I haven’t felt like I can 100% participate in a long time and that’s what I’m trying to get over through this new type of therapy.

My therapist did say that while exercise therapy is not new to him, he has never treated someone like me with it. Normally, he uses it for people with anger management issues, couples that come to therapy to yell at each other, or people who have body image issues.

I came to therapy yesterday ready to run, but we didn’t get over 2 mph. He said the first session is only about the initial exposure. Next session we might kick it up, but the goal is not to go as fast as we can. The focus of this therapy is getting my heart rate up and then back down without jacking up my breathing. It’s about [not purposely] sending me into panic mode, handling it, and then returning to “normal”. It’s scary, but also exciting.

An Unfamiliar Feeling…

The girl I have been talking to just asked me if I have anxiety. For the first time EVER, I was hesitant to say yes.

I have always been very open about my mental health struggles with my friends and close family. Even if strangers ask, I am also very open because it’s nice to tell your story and bond with other people about similar issues. I’ve collected many preventative and coping skills this way.

So, when she asked me if I had anxiety, I was surprised at the feeling I got. I felt a little bit of embarrassment. I felt a little bit of shame. I felt a little bit exposed. However, I responded with a calm “yes” because I wasn’t going to hide something that is such a big part of my life. Eventually, it would have come up anyway.

I also explained to her that it doesn’t keep me from living my life. It makes living life more difficult, but it doesn’t keep me inside [anymore]. When I was much younger, I refused to leave the house for any reason other than to go to school. Now, I feel the same hesitancy, but I push through and do it anyway.

I think I felt a certain type of way about her asking because I have been going to therapy for over 2 months now. To me, therapy feels like taking medication that hides the symptoms, but it doesn’t cure the actual problem- it just helps you understand and deal with it. I guess I felt that because I was dealing with the problem (and its very visible symptoms), she didn’t need to be aware of its actual existence.

I think it’ll be fine. She did respond with a positive message after I said yes, so I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

Do any of you guys feel embarrassed or hesitant about informing possible romantic partners about your mental health struggles?

Today In Therapy…

I came to therapy today with nothing in particular that I felt I needed to share. I did tell my therapist about a friend coming over yesterday evening and discussing commitment issues with said friend. Naturally, that quickly turned into today’s topic in my therapy session.

My therapist began by asking me if it was okay to visit the past, but not live in it- in terms of where we’re getting most of our information from. I’m fine with whatever, so I said yes.

He then asked me to retell what I told my friend last night, so I went over all of my relationships, one by one, and told him about all the moments I decided (and then internally celebrated) in each of them to end the relationship.

Then, he asked me to describe what it was like growing up with my now divorced parents. So, I recalled that I didn’t remember mom and dad ever being affectionate; I remember one hug in the middle of the living room, and I must have been quite young. I remembered dad sitting on the couch every night eating popcorn and drinking beer while mom was in the kitchen or reading. I recollected that for a few years, mom would come sleep on my top bunk every night instead of sleeping with dad. I knew dad snored, but looking back, I feel like that was a good excuse to cover up the true reason she didn’t want to be in the same bed as him.

Long story short, I grew up in a household that stayed together “for the kids”. There was a sense of loyalty they felt to our family unit and to us children, but the romance and intimate love was no longer present- and hadn’t been present at all in a decade.

The conclusion my therapist and I came up with today is that I have a fear of real, earth-shattering, ground-moving love. It is something that I feel doesn’t exist. At the same token, I do go searching for it every now and again and I give my everything to that individual for the time we are together. I am very open, honest, and loyal with my partners. I am even so concerned with loyalty and faithfulness that I will stay in a relationship even when I am no longer in love and then I search for a convenient outside factor or other reason to end things with people. For most of my relationships, I have done this.

Something I also have to be aware of and keep in mind is that even though I have clear commitment issues, my previous relationships were not built for long-term. There were major issues (or reasons we just weren’t a good match) in each one, no doubt. I think that even without these “let’s kill the relationship ASAP” issues, I believe that each of these relationships was not going to last.

With all that being said, I feel that it is difficult for me to be truly convinced of the extremity of my commitment issues, but I am fully aware that there is something there and I am working on piecing it all together.

My homework assignment to bring to the next session is for me to connect the things we discussed today with the flowchart that I made last week. Basically, my flow chart outlined my mental and physical process when having “what if” questions, when feeling anxious, and also when I’m having an actual panic attack.

As I connect these two sessions, I will write about my findings.