It’s really important to remember that having symptoms doesn’t mean we’re not making progress— and that making progress doesn’t mean we’ll never have symptoms.
This morning, I had a panic attack.
I’m a pretty self-aware person. My skillset and toolbox for handling emotional and behavioral reactions and struggles is pretty extensive. My job is literally teaching people how to do this.
I’m also someone with a history of having been abused and bullied, and who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and addiction.
This morning, I wasn’t in particular danger— what had happened was, I had unwittingly gotten entangled in a situation that vey suddenly triggered intense fears and memories.
My nervous system responded as human nervous systems respond when it detects a threat— particularly when the threat feels familiar.
I’ve worked with people who get enormously frustrated when they experience symptoms like panic attacks.
They assume that if they’re freaking out, despite there being no “actual” danger, all the work they’ve done must not matter— because they’re having a moment where they’re struggling.
It doesn’t work like that.
There is nothing we can do, no progress we can make, that will GUARANTEE that we’ll never have symptoms again.
What our work on ourselves is supposed to do, however, is better equip us to handle triggers when they do come along.
In my own situation this morning, I realized fairly quickly what was going on— and while it was still unpleasant and inconvenient, it didn’t lead down the self-destructive rabbit hole it might have years ago.
There WAS a time when, confronted with the anxiety I experienced this morning, I would have done essentially ANYTHING to escape from that state— including things that were not safe or healthy.
The way anxiety and panic attacks work is that they hit you seemingly out of nowhere— and in your rush to feel “in control” again, you frequently swing to an extreme that, paradoxically, creates even more problems or a bigger crisis.
However, when we’ve taken the time to work on ourselves, put words to our struggles, and assemble a coping toolbox and skillset, we don’t have to swing to that compensatory extreme.
We can realize what’s going on, and return to baseline— relatively faster, and without having damaged our life, health, or relationships in a rush to change how we feel.
All of which is to say: it IS worth it to continue working on your coping skills.
It IS worth it to keep working on your emotional expression and regulation skills.
The goal is NOT to banish anxiety, or even panic, from your life forever— but to furnish you with the tools and skills to realize what’s going on, not ruin your own life by trying desperately to escape those feelings by any means necessary.
Do I wish I could be free of anxiety forever? Sure, if that’s an option, I suppose.
Is the fact that, as a trauma survivor and recovering addict, I will probably never have a day that is ENTIRELY without anxiety, a bummer? Yes. Yes, it is a bummer.
But I will tell you that it is much less of a bummer than it was before I had sufficient tools and skills.
It is much less of a bummer than it was before I had done work to gain psychological insight into what triggers me.
And if I have to endure these symptoms and struggles as the price I have to pay in order to do this work that I find so rewarding and fulfilling? It’s worth it.
I wish I hadn’t had a panic attack this morning. I wish the trigger to which I was reacting didn’t mess with my head like it does.
But I did have a panic attack, and that trigger does mess with me.
I’m not thrilled— but I accept the necessity to keep working on that issue…and my responsibility to help my body and brain feel safe, day by day.
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