There is a problem in thinking that you are supposed to be advancing in your practice all the time. You don’t have to constantly be on the road. If you have a flat tire, that is also part of the journey.
– Chogyam Trungpa
My healing process after my breakdown has seemed pretty smooth, even if it has taken some time, the need to discover and use several new “tools” and, most of all, quite a huge effort.
In these months I’ve been reading and listening to hundreds of opinions about how non-linear the healing process usually is, about how the line that describes the way we feel day after day is more of a tangled curve, rather than a smooth segment. I had even been briefed about it by my therapist, who sketched a simple diagram for me on a block, during our last session. Nevertheless, I was starting to think that non-linearity was not going to apply to my case. I was wrong.
After having decreased the paroxetine daily dose from 20 mg to 10 mg and stayed with that for two months, I was confident that the rest of the journey was going to be as easy as it had been up to then. Well, not really.
At the beginning of March I took a new step in the reduction, going from 10 mg per day to 10 mg every other day. I began experiencing some mild discomfort since day one, but managed to carry on for three weeks. By the last week of March, when the day of my last dose was approaching, anxiety struck again.
Let me be clear: It feels bad every time. There are some differences when anxiety gets back, of course. I already know my symptoms now, I kind of know what I can expect and I’ve learned what helps me and what doesn’t. I know now, for example, that confessing the way I’m feeling to my loved ones helps me and reassures me. I’ve learned that completely shutting off my social life makes me feel even worse, because being alone and with nothing much to do makes my anxiety and negative thoughts rise like pizza dough. And I’ve learned, or better, I’m starting to suspect, that I will have to come to terms with the idea of being struck by anxiety from time to time for the rest of my life. Still, it feels bad every time.
So, “What do you do when you find yourself entangled in such a moment again?” That’s one of the last questions I’d asked my therapist.
You don’t beat yourself up, first thing. Anxiety is not a fault you can whip yourself for. You listen to yourself, you stop for a moment and indulge your needs for once. If you need some rest, you take a day off and sleep over. If you feel like crying, you go ahead and do it.
You treat yourself the way a loving and caring mother would do with her suffering child. You take care of yourself as patiently and kindly as you can. You don’t mistake that moment for a failure. You don’t consider it a crack in your perfect journey, because there’s no perfect journey and because there’s not a real crack either. That bad moment, exactly like the positive ones, is a part of your journey as well. You draw upon all of your resources, all of the lessons you have been collecting when you were feeling better, to help yourself out. You know what has worked before, you just don’t forget about that. There are meds, when needed, there is therapy, there’s your GP, there’s your neurologist.
Now that I write about it, I realize I’ve learned the theory very well. I even sound very rationally calm, now that I read it again. Does this mean that when I felt anxiety coming back again a couple of weeks ago, I handled it easily, coolly and rationally? No, not at all. I freaked out a bit anyway, I spent a day feeling cold and unable to eat. I started shivering in the evening and tossed and turned in my bed all night long. I spent about 10 days feeling all of my baddest monsters surrounding me again. I felt like everything was lost and the worst anxiety was swallowing me once more.
But, exactly like my therapist had reassured me, “Should it happen again, it won’t be the same for sure, because you won’t be the same any longer.” It wasn’t the same. Neither am I, probably.
This time I knew I could open up to my family and friends about it. And I did it. I knew that spending time with my friends was the right thing to do, instead of hiding myself up, as if I had something to be ashamed of. And I did it. I knew that I could allow myself some extra rest and empathy, so I had a day off after my sleepless night and took it easy the next day. I knew that approaching simultaneously to the last days of paroxetine and to the last phone followup with my therapist was stressing me out a lot, so I welcomed the plan for a slower weaning from paroxetine suggested by my GP and I asked my therapist to come along with me in the remaining weeks. Now I’m here with some more weeks to go reducing paroxetine and with a new appointment with my therapist set for next week.
I feel like I’ve just stopped for a flat and I’m now slowly starting to move on the road again. I’ve learned the theory very well. And that theory says that the flat was part of the journey. The risk of having a new one still doesn’t feel very reassuring to me, but getting back on the road is the only way I get to see how the path ahead will unfold itself.
Flat tire photo available from Shutterstock