Overthinking and overanalysing is a common problem with anxiety sufferers. The mind likes to run in endless loops of worthless conjecture, questioning, dissecting and criticizing every decision and response. It becomes a hardwired obsessive behaviour that leaves the person physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Without intervention and retraining of the mind, life can feel like an insurmountable hurdle.
I’ve suffered from anxiety for a long time, possibly since I was a child. Yet, it wasn’t until my breakdown at work last year that I was willing to accept that I was mentally unwell and needed help. My unchecked and untreated anxiety had become all-consuming, affecting my every thought, decision and action. It had become mental warfare to my subconscious and conscious mind, making me overfraught and fatigued. Simply avoiding anxiety triggers and shying from new experiences were not keeping that beast of anxiety at bay any longer. I had to be in control, in everything and everyone – an impossible task.
Since undergoing psychological counselling and treatment, I better understand what drives my patterns of negative thinking. I’m learning to recalibrate my thought processes through mindfulness. Instead of avoiding triggers (e.g. school runs, meeting new people), I consciously put myself in those uncomfortable situations, accept the unwanted fear and stress, and try to reduce my anxiety levels through exposure therapy. Baby steps. Tiny baby steps.
Recently, we visited Erskine Falls, a popular tourist attraction in Lorne. We travelled a small stretch of the 243km length of the Great Ocean Road to get to this destination. We drove on winding roads that mostly hugged the coastline with scenic views of beaches, limestone and sandstone cliffs, passed through several popular coastal towns before traversing through beautiful rainforests.
Most people would have admired the views, taken a great deal of photos and chalked up the drive as a great experience. For someone like me who is terrified of heights and has an abnormal fear of death, the drive was akin to an extreme form of exposure therapy. I was shitting my dacks.
“Slow down around the bends!”
“The sign says 40!”
“Should we use fog lights?”
I was the unwanted backseat driver (in this case, passenger seat driver) that everyone loathes to travel with. My husband was at risk of repetitive strain injury from eye-rolling. That was how bad I was with projecting my fears.
“Why is Mum so scared?” my children asked.
“Mummy sees danger everywhere. She finds it hard to relax and just enjoy things,” my husband replied.
I had an irrational fear that the car would veer off the road and crash on the jagged rocks below. Rationally, I understood that it was unlikely and that my husband would never put us in harm’s way. It was like a bad rollercoaster ride that I couldn’t get off and all I could do was grasp the car door handle with white knuckles and close my eyes every time we took a sharp bend. Eventually, we made it to the destination. I was in one piece, relatively speaking.
Oh, but the fun didn’t end there! As we entered the trails, I saw a sign that sent shivers down my spine.
Immediately, the alert beacons sounded and danger in flashing neon lights threatened to overwhelm my logical mind.
Did we REALLY want to look at some water falling down rocks? What if someone slips and gets hurt? Ssssssnakes?
While I was having a mini-mind meltdown of what ifs, the crew bounded down the rock steps before I could voice my concerns. I forced my feet to move after the kids yelled out “Come on Mum, stop being a scaredy cat!”
Have you seen anything more frightening? I was worried to see fit looking people huffing and puffing as they struggled back up the steps. For someone who hates sweating and is unfit, the sight was disturbing. There was a distinct possibility that I’d need a rescue team to retrieve me from whence I lay.
By the time I got my plump behind to the bottom, the crew had begun to venture off the dirt path and rock jumping along the stream bed.
“It’s fine. Don’t be a party pooper. Live a little.” This was my husband’s response to my concerns about safety.
“You’re only as old as you feel and I am not old. Don’t make me old cos you want to be old.” This was my father in-law’s response to my mother in-law’s grumbling over him joining in on the fun.
Unfortunately, my husband slipped on a rock while holding our three-year-old son, Henry and fell into the water. Luckily for Henry, my husband had turned his body to take the brunt of the fall. Panicked at the sight of the two of them in the water, I yelled at my seven-year-old daughter and the in-laws to stay put while I raced over to inspect the damage and placate a wailing child. I really wanted to say ‘I told you so!’
My husband sustained massive black bruises along his right shin, knee and thigh. Thankfully, Henry only had to deal with a wet shoe. As we trudged back up the steps, Henry kept saying over and over “That was a terrible idea! A terrible idea Daddy!” To which my husband would apologise for not turning back when he felt uncomfortable. However, by the time we reached the top, Henry had exclaimed “Let’s do that again!”
Upon reflection, I’m grateful that my children are inquisitive, energetic and ready to seek new adventures. I hope that they always see mistakes as opportunities to improve and learn from. I want them to feel that it’s okay to take a chance, try something new and not be downtrodden if things don’t go to plan. That it is not a sign of failure.
Raising resilient children is important to me. I hope that by facing my fears, by not depriving myself of new experiences, being open to personal growth and development, and building my emotional resilience, that I am setting a better example for my children.
In saying all this, I don’t think I was supposed to jump in the deep end and almost drown in anxiety with this whole exposure therapy business. Remember… baby steps.
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