When was the last time you did something difficult? Something that made you anxious? As a CBT therapist working with people suffering from anxiety and OCD and having my own history of panic attacks myself, I have a profound respect for the way a person can limit his or her life to avoid difficult situations. But by avoiding things that make him or her feel anxious, the sufferer retreats from many of the good things in life. Even though I get panic attacks, I never limited my life because I knew about anxiety before my first panic attack. I always say I’m a poster child for prevention — education about anxiety disorders works. Growing up my father, a psychiatrist who had early training in a form of CBT, would have the whole family ride the Ferris wheel at the county fair. “Let’s go do something brave!” I was always up for it, ready to bring on anxiety. As an adult, I seek out opportunities to do difficult things, as you can see in my earlier post about climbing a cliff on an island with a fear of heights.https://www.anxietytraining.com/education/face-your-fears/ Last week I had a big opportunity to practice bringing on anxiety, a big exposure, if you will: I had my first colonoscopy.
I know I’m not the only one who faced the prospect with dread. In the weeks before, just the word “prep” in any context was enough to send me into a 10 panic with sweats and shaking hands. That week I saw a client who is terribly limited by anxiety but has a GI problem that means she has to have colonoscopies every year, and they don’t cause her any stress. Just like everyone talking about someone else’s anxiety contrasted with their own anxiety, it was a complete puzzle to me that week. (No, I didn’t tell her about my anxiety or that I was scheduled for the next day. We focused on her, and I had a tremendous amount of compassion!)
Funny thing, reassurance by others who had been through it didn’t work. I wasn’t surprised, because reassurance never works, it’s just a trap anxiety tries to tie us in. Interestingly, information did help – the practice I go to sent me a link to a video I was required to watch and had to answer quiz questions correctly. Boy was it hard to start those videos! Learning about it really helped, though, and I think being able to picture the cartoon character go through the procedure gave me a feeling of being ready to be brave, which I had not felt before.
Watching anxiety go up and down is amazing and difficult – not doing anything about it, just watching it. I advise my clients to do that all the time, but this was a big reminder of what a huge task that can be! For sure when I actually got to the procedure room, the anesthesiologist could tell I had anxiety, my pulse was so high. But you know what? I did it. Me. The one with panic attacks. Though my pride was short-lived, and I had a tough moment when I learned I have to go back in 5 years, not 10 like most people. I reminded myself, it’s another great exposure opportunity. Back to the feeling of pride. Bring it on.