Q&A: On My Personal Anxiety Recovery Journey
Alright, welcome to the very first Q&A episode of the A Healthy Push podcast! I haven’t done one of these yet and I’m so excited to dive into your questions here so that I can answer them in a bit more detail than I can on other platforms like Instagram. So, lots of the questions that I got were geared toward me and my recovery, so this episode in particular is mostly going to be me answering specific questions you had relating to my recovery, and then in the next Q&A episode I’ll dive into some other questions you sent my way. Okay, you know I don’t like to waste any time so let’s dive right into the questions!
Question 01: How long did your recovery take when you were actively working on it? This question is one that I get asked often. And a quick disclaimer, I actually did an entire podcast episode on this topic. It’s episode number 10 and it’s called “How Long is Recovery Going to Take?” I encourage you to listen to this episode if you haven’t already, because it not only answers this question, but it also gives you several practical and actionable tips that you can take to make your journey less long and less hard. But, back to the question so that I can answer it for you here!
I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia for 15 years, but when I actually committed to me and my mental health, I’m talking about making healthy lifestyle changes and consistently practicing healthy habits and taking healthy action, my recovery took months rather than years. Yup, I’m serious! Because the thing is, for YEARS I said that I’d do ANYTHING to recover, but I wasn’t actually willing to do anything. In all honesty, I wasn’t even willing to do some of the basics. Things like asking for support, drinking plenty of water and eating well, moving my body, and practicing other forms of self-care. Quick side note, I know that these things might seem silly but I truly believe that recovery doesn’t happen without them.
And then there were things that I was very consciously doing that I knew weren’t supporting my recovery, things like seeking reassurance, avoiding, using alcohol to cope, and the list goes on. And instead of practicing resisting, facing, and changing my behaviors, I chose to keep doing the things that I knew were keeping me stuck, all because I didn’t want to feel the discomfort that I knew would come along with changing my behaviors and facing the hard stuff. All because I knew it would be so hard. Can you relate to this? Yeah, it’s incredibly frustrating, right? Like you know that you’re part of what’s causing you to struggle, but you don’t want to face the hard stuff because you don’t want things to get even harder.
Well, let me share with you a huge spoiler alert! Things can’t get harder than they currently are.
The hard you’re struggling with right now is awful. It’s miserable, it’s frustrating as hell, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s preventing you from living your life. How does it get any harder than that? So why not turn the current hard you’re experiencing into a productive hard? And yes, willingly facing the hard stuff is a new and uncomfortable type of hard, but at least it’s going to lead you to experiencing lots more peace, joy, freedom, and adventure. Don’t lose sight of this. Because when things feel hard, we often want to retreat, or go back to using old coping mechanisms or strategies, or to performing behaviors that were once useful in some way, but remind yourself that those things are what led to what you’re currently working so hard to overcome.
And I also want to throw this in the mix. I know that people ask me how long it took me to recover because they want hope. They want to know that it’s possible, and they want to hear that it’s not going to take them years or decades to do it. But my recovery journey isn’t yours. Here’s the thing, I obviously can’t tell you how long your recovery is going to take, but I can tell you that a big part of how long your recovery takes depends on the action you choose to take or to not take. Your recovery doesn’t have to take years or decades, but in order for it to not take years or decades, you have to be consistent, dedicated, and you have to commit to taking healthy action. And your mental health needs to be your number one priority. Yes, number one!
Question 02: At what point did you consider yourself recovered? I love this question because I think that so many people struggle to even understand what recovery means, so I hope that what I share here helps to make things a little more clear for you. So let me first start by explaining what being recovered means to me.
Being recovered means that anxiety and fear no longer controls you and makes all of the decisions for you. You move through your life, living, while not being consumed by the fear of experiencing anxiety or a panic attack. And sure, sometimes you experience anxiety or even a panic attack, but you’re no longer afraid to experience these things. You just let it happen, and you keep going about your day. And yeah, it’s uncomfortable, because you’re human! But when it pops up, you’re no longer looking for a way out, or for safety, and you’re no longer performing the behaviors that only reinforce its presence.
For me, this happened sometime in 2016. And I say sometime in 2016 because recovery doesn’t just happen suddenly one day. Instead, it’s something that happens over time. I didn’t just wake up one day and say, today is the day! I no longer fear anxiety and I’m no longer performing the behaviors. It happened gradually and with lots of practice. And an important thing to note here as well is that recovery is full of ups and downs. Ever heard the saying, “Healing isn’t linear?” I mean, how couldn’t you have, right? I feel like I hear this almost daily. But it’s true! Healing is full of hard moments, ups, downs, swerves curves, moments of massive wins, and lots in between. And healing happens when you accept that all of this is a part of the journey and that the hard moments don’t have to carry a meaning. Hard moments just happen! And it’s your response in those moments that will continue to lead to healing, or they’ll keep you stuck.
If you’re currently thinking… Well, I still fear anxiety and I still seek reassurance, or avoid, or perform other behaviors, it’s okay. You may not quite be recovered yet, and that’s okay. You’re taking the small steps and the small steps will get you there. But don’t expect the path you’re on to be smooth, straight, predictable, and full of peace, because it won’t be! Keep your focus on taking healthy action and you will recover.
Question 03: Do you still experience panic nowadays, or are you completely over it? Over the past six years, I’ve experienced one panic attack. Yes, one! And this is coming from somebody who has experienced thousands of panic attacks, and for years experienced panic attacks every day. And I truly used to think and believe that I’d experience panic attacks for the rest of my life.
And let me tell you about this one panic attack because I know you’re probably wondering what did it! I went to bed one night feeling totally fine. But I woke up sometime in the middle of the night feeling as though I was having an allergic reaction. My eyes were super itchy and watering. I began coughing and it felt as though there was something in my throat. I just didn’t feel right, so I got up from the bed and went into the kitchen to get some water and I took a Benadryl. I should note that I am allergic to cats and we have two cats. Yes, eye roll. Because what was likely happening is that one of our cats snuck into our bedroom, layed on my pillow, and caused the reaction I was having.
But instead of that logic, my brain went to a really fun place!
I waited 15 or so minutes after taking the Benadryl and I still felt off and I began to ruminate. I thought… What if this is an allergic reaction to something else and Benadryl isn’t doing the trick? What if my throat closes? What if I need to call the ambulance? What if, what if, what if. And this was around the time that COVID had started so I think that I definitely also had some anxiety surrounding COVID that played into all of this. So after allowing myself to completely spiral, I went to the bedroom and woke up Adam, my husband. I told him what was happening and he just sat with me on the couch while I panicked for about 20 minutes. And it sucked! It was so terrible, mostly for the fact that I forgot how much panic attacks suck. It was so uncomfortable, but I worked through it. I didn’t beat myself up for experiencing it, and I didn’t allow this one panic attack to mean anything.
This one panic attack held no power over me or my recovery. It didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean that I did anything wrong. It didn’t erase all of my years of being recovered. It didn’t mean that I was back to struggling with anxiety and panic again. It meant nothing. It meant nothing because I didn’t allow it to mean anything. I had a panic attack and then I got back to living my life. I continued to make my mental health a priority. I continued to practice healthy habits.
I want to say something really important here. Experiencing a panic attack can’t erase your progress, and experiencing a panic attack doesn’t equal failure. Panic will happen, and when it does, it’s how you respond to experiencing panic that is truly the key. Sure, it might look messy in the moment, but you’ll work through it and “handle” it just as you always have. So don’t let it mean anything, aside from you being incredibly strong, brave, and capable.
So, am I completely over it? Yeah, I’d say I am, because I no longer fear anxiety. Instead, I have a healthy relationship with anxiety. And I just want to give you an important reminder here… The goal isn’t to never experience anxiety or panic. The goal is always to work through your emotions and the hard stuff in a healthy way and keep on living your life!
Question 04: When you suffered with agoraphobia, where was your safe place? I love this question! So I’m going to tell you what the Shannon who was struggling would have said and then I’ll tell you what the recovered Shannon knows and believes. Let’s start with what the struggling Shannon would have said! Back when I was struggling, my safe place was most often my home, but I was also convinced that my safe place was wherever I wasn’t experiencing anxiety or panic. Let me give you a few examples so that you can better understand what I mean by this!
Although I struggled with driving anxiety for years, if I was out and far from home (or even not so far from home), I would often seek out my car as a safe place. Yeah, even though I experienced a ton of anxiety and panic in my car, my car often felt like a safe place if I was experiencing anxiety or panic outside of it. I know that this probably sounds really weird to those who haven’t struggled with panic, but I know that this makes a whole lot of sense to those who have or do struggle with panic.
Another example is that a safe place was sometimes just being in areas where there were people, or no people. When I was panicking, sometimes it felt safer to be around people than to be alone. While at other times, it felt safer to be alone rather than around people because I didn’t want the people that I was around to see me panic. Again, it probably sounds weird to some but it’s not so weird to those who struggle with panic.
Another example is that a safe place was sometimes an unfamiliar place, like a hotel room or an Airbnb. Because if I was traveling, I would convince myself that the hotel room was safer than being in an unfamiliar place and out and about.
I could go on and on with examples but I think you probably get the point! And, don’t get me wrong, home was typically my safe place. Home was where, even if I experienced panic at my house, I felt safer than experiencing it anywhere else and so it wasn’t as bad. For years, panicking outside of my home was one of my biggest fears. And this was because I had experienced panic so many times outside of my home and it felt so incredibly dangerous and awful. Sometimes when I experienced panic while out or driving, I’d drive as fast as I could just to get home, and I’m talking about driving at dangerously high speeds. All to get to a place that I had deemed “safe” to panic.
When in reality… It was safe to panic in my car. It was safe to panic while at work. It was safe to panic while shopping. It was safe to panic while in unfamiliar places. It was safe to panic in front of others and while alone.
But the only way that my brain would come to believe this to be true was so stay rather than run or avoid. So what did my brain begin to believe once I began practicing staying and facing? Well, it learned that my safe place was within me. It learned that I was my safe place. And yes, this is what recovered Shannon knows and believes. And it’s what I want you to know and believe. Because your reality is that you are your safe place. You have always been your safe place. Not your home, or your car, or another person, or anything or anyone else. But the only way you really come to believe this is to continue to take healthy action, and this includes facing, feeling, allowing, looking inward, and the list goes on.
One of my favorite mantras that helped me throughout my recovery was this… I don’t need to look for a way out, I’m safe right where I am. I hope that this helps you, too.
Question 05: What was the best thing your husband did to help support your recovery? Adam did so many helpful things that supported my recovery, but I’m going to share with you the thing that helped me the most, and it’s simple. Are you ready? He supported me. And what I mean by this is, he often asked me how he could help me, and he listened to what I had to say. He paid attention. He cared. He made the effort to better understand what I was struggling with, and he learned how he could best help me by listening to me and by just being present with me.
He was never judgmental. He was never critical. He never talked down to me. He never made me feel like I was broken, or weak, or incapable. And he didn’t treat me like I was fragile. That last part, yeah, that was huge. He always helped to push me because he knew my potential and he knew all along just how strong and capable I was. So what do I mean by this? Well…
When I wanted to walk instead of taking the train, he said… I know that you want to walk because that feels safer but we’re going to take the train. When I wanted to bail on plans, he said… I know that you really want to do this. Let’s just try and see how it goes. When I really didn’t want him to book the trip and buy the airplane tickets, he booked the trip and bought the tickets.
And throughout it all, he supported me. He held my hand while I was grasping his tightly during anxious moments. He let me cry, and he told me that he was there for me. He reminded me of how capable I was. He hugged me. He didn’t let me lose sight of my own power. He encouraged me to rely on myself more rather than him. He encouraged me to continue to do the work. And he helped to remind me of why I was working so hard, especially when I wanted to give up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Adam didn’t do it all perfectly. He said some silly things at times. Things like, “You have nothing to be anxious about!” And, “Just relax.” And this is to be expected, after all, we are all human and we don’t move through the world and circumstances (especially hard ones) perfectly. But the most special part of how Adam supported me through my recovery is that he did it with so much compassion, even when he was frustrated, even when he probably didn’t have it in him. He continued to support me because he loves me.
If you’re listening to this right now as somebody who is supporting someone through their recovery journey, I want you to know this... You don’t need to support your loved one perfectly. You also can’t fix things for them. Your job is to just be there, supporting them as they do the work. Keep standing by them. Keep supporting them. Keep listening to them. Keep encouraging them. At times it may feel like your support isn’t helping, but I promise you that it is. You are doing a good job, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
Alright, this was so fun! And I hope that my answers helped you to gain some knowledge, tips, and inspiration that will help you to take healthy action. And just a heads up, I plan to do more of these Q&A style episodes. So if you have a question for me, head over to my Instagram @ahealthypush and comment on today’s podcast post and let me know what you’d like me to answer next time. I’m also planning on doing a Q&A episode solely dedicated to all things pregnancy, delivery, postpartum, and motherhood because I know that many of you have questions surrounding these topics, too, and these are things that I love to chat about!
Okay, until next time my friend… Keep taking healthy action!