For the longest time, I’ve been trying to read Peace From Nervous Suffering by Dr. Clair Weekes. My therapist recommended it to me eons ago and, while it’s certainly a great read, its reader (read: me) is prone to distraction by means of shiny objects, internet memes, that Christmas box I just had to pull down from the attic today, and…and so on.
But I’m chipping my way through. Slowly, but resolutely.
Nervous suffering. What a quaint little pair of words Dr. Claire Weekes uses to describe the big bad beast of anxiety. While her language might be a tad outdated, her recommendations are timeless.
And the time is obviously right to share with you a few of Dr. Weekes’s most valuable tidbits about recovering from “nervous illness”, as she also calls the affliction that is panic disorder:
1. Remember your previous successes:
“When you have been practicing [to expose yourself to triggers that might cause panic] the right way, even if much time elapses between practices, you will find that although the contemplation of doing may still make action seem as difficult as ever, once you start moving, the memory of your previous successes will help you.”
I don’t know about you, but I have a very difficult time remembering my successes. It’s almost as if I’m programmed to remember every single failure in my life: that time the ambulance came when I panicked on that back road, the time I embarrassed myself at CVS by almost fainting while in line (yep, just two days ago!), the time I had to call my mother-in-law to “rescue” me from a parking lot from which I couldn’t bear to leave…yeah, those heavy, heavy, failures.
So, you might need to work extra hard to remember the successes. Perhaps you can write them down, text them to a trusted friend, or simply reflect on your successes every night before bed. Keeping your successes on the front burner rather than on the back burner will make them more salient.
Thinking about them often will help you to continue moving — to continue walking through the grocery store that terrifies you, driving down that busy freeway where you once panicked, or hopping on that bus to get to work. Focusing on your successes will help to remind you that you can do what you’re trying to do because, well, you’ve done it at least once before.
Remember the wins, and think about them often.
2. Nerves in recovery are like a smouldering fire:
“[When outside and experiencing panic], go slowly, wait, and let the panic flash and spend itself. Somethings it may seem to never quite die down and may smolder on all the time you are out. You can still function with this inner smoldering. Do not be bluffed by this. It is only sensitized nerves recovering from the blast see you have just given them and quivering under the little blasts you continue to give them.”
The remnants of panic might continue to cause discomfort, even after you ward off, quell, or distract yourself from an attack. But those remnants are just that — remnants.
The residual shakiness or jellylegs you experience after a panic attack are not part of the panic attack itself — they are artifacts. They signify nothing special; the only message they carry is a small banner that says “Panic was here a little while ago, but he’s gone now.”
As Dr. Weekes says, you can still function with this inner smoldering! When you’re coming down from an attack, you can still complete a transaction at the grocery store register. You can still make it to your highway destination even if you need to pull over for a little while to rest.
Do not confuse the smouldering — the sensation of your nerves slowly normalizing themselves — with anxiety itself.
I hope you can take these lessons straight into your weekend. I’ll be carrying them along, too.
** If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.