In a spectacular display of arrogance, my therapist last week told me to stop hoping for a full recovery from anxiety. When I protested, insisting that I had experienced freedom from it only a few short years ago, she cut me off and told me “It will never be the way it was before Elaine.” She likened the anxiety experience to that of a paralyzed veteran. She asked if these souls, with all of their struggles, can experience a joyful life, then why couldn’t I? I felt bullied and weak. I left her office feeling more demoralized, more hopeless than I have felt even in the darkest days of this disorder.
When I had my miscarriage last year, and I found myself back in anxiety’s clutches, unable even to leave my house, I still felt stronger than I did last week. Because when I woke up from the general anesthesia to the raw emptiness where there just had been a tiny life, when I cried into my oxygen mask, there was still hope for the future. Just like that she snatched it away. She looked up from her yellow pad, raised her eyebrows, and watched as I wrestled with her words. I wrote her a check for one hundred sixty dollars and booked my next appointment.
Thankfully I have concluded that her analogy makes exactly zero sense. Because when my chemicals are screaming at me eight hours out of every day, when my amygdala sets my nerves on fire, when all my body allows itself to perceive is danger, where in that am I supposed to find joy?
While I realize the paralyzed veteran will likely face anxiety issues outside of his disability, she compared his physical handicap to my mental one. This is not accurate. It may be possible to experience emotional fullfullment without the use of your legs, it is not possible to experience the benefits of the feel good chemicals while the feel bad ones have us in a permanent state of high alert. And while we have not yet discovered the ways to heal a damaged spinal cord, we do know that the brain is able regenerate and rewire. We know that with diligence we can feed it better, train it through meditation. We can bravely set out to panic in the very places we know are not dangerous, but that our body is sensitized to. In this way we can show our mind through our behaviors that we really are safe. We can calm our nervous system, and eventually eliminate the physiological symptoms that are such a hinderance to our joy.
And what about hormone imbalances, in which my therapist is not trained? What about food allergies, food sensitivities, gut problems, vitamin and mineral deficiencies? What about the thousands of souls online who have recovered fully and are there to cheer us on? What about the bloggers, youtubers, facebook group participants who insist that they have done it. What about Mel freakin’ Robbins? What about Andy, who has researched the brain to the nerdyist degree in order to help me, and who insists that she is misinformed? What about Dr. Claire Weekes who began leading the way to full recovery in 1970, and who my therapist has never heard of?
Acceptance has it’s place. I can accept the state of things right now and still maintain a healthy hope for the future. I can accept that my heart feels like it might explode as I struggle in yoga class, or that I might vomit all over the floor of the pediatrician’s office in a state of panic. I can stand in line in the grocery store, kiss my baby’s head and smell his hair while my whole being screams at me to run. And I can lie in bed at night shivering for hours with no hope of sleep, make my body loose and relax my mind toward the feelings. I can accept these things because I know they bring me a step closer to the end goal, recovery.
If there is anyone out there reading this who thinks it isn’t possible, anyone who has been told they will always be this way. It’s a lie. Nobody has the authority to tell you to give up hoping. Nobody is educated enough to make that call. And nobody knows what a badass you actually are. Whatever your struggle, seek out the people who will truly help you to heal. They are out there, they are brave, and they are wonderful. Keep fighting.