FloatyGimpy thanks for sharing. It takes great courage to acknowledge when you’re wrongheaded about something. I am really proud of you.
For me, there is pre-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and post-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I was a very unhappy person prior to beginning CBT. I had 4 years of talk therapy but I felt like I was hitting a brick wall. I was severely depressed, often suicidal, too anxious to really leave the house… would hear some benign noise like a plane in the sky and assume it was a meteor or a bomb about to obliterate us all… literally cowering because I was afraid the world was about to end. I couldn’t go to a movie without worrying someone was going to come in and massacre us all. When it wasn’t death I was afraid of, it was humiliation–I avoided class because I didn’t want to look like an idiot. I was accepted twice to study abroad in Chile (it was always my dream to go to Latin America) and both times I completely punked out. I would spend hours obsessing and worrying there was going to be an earthquake once I got there. In other words, I was not rational.
CBT taught me to be rational and approach my life as a scientist. I learned, when having thoughts like, I’m completely worthless and nobody loves me, to see if I could find evidence for my claims – I never could, and thus they would lose power. I also learned, through exposure therapy for my fear of heights, that panic attacks are not dangerous. In case anyone isn’t aware of what exposure therapy is, it is essentially deliberately scaring the holy fuck out of yourself so that you will learn not to be afraid of fear. That means for three straight months I would spend one hour a day bent over an uppermost railing of the nearest parking structure. I would lean over as far as necessary for the panic to set in, and I would sit there and endure that panic for an hour. When it stopped inducing panic, I would climb higher until the panic set in again. It is NOT FUN. But it works. All I really wanted was to get over my fear of heights so I could get on a plane and leave the country, something I’d always wanted to do. But instead I found out it applied to all my other anxieties too–I didn’t get over my fear of heights, I got over my fear of fear. In fact, I eventually worked out that of the 1,000,000 things a day I feared would happen to me, not one actually ever did. It simply wasn’t rational to keep believing all these calamities would happen.
About a year ago I started having anxieties that someone was going to break into our apartment and murder me. In the old days I would have perpetuated this fear and lost more and more sleep. But what I did instead is go online, look up the murder rate for my town, and calculate the statistical probability that this was my fate. It was such a ridiculously low number that I realized it was silly to worry about. And that right there is the fundamental change of CBT.
The number one greatest upshot of this work I did is that I started taking risks in my life that even so-called regular people are afraid to take. I learned to be willing to try virtually anything. I got on that plane to Mexico–wept with joy the entire way there. I taught English at a rural schoolhouse without knowing a single person when I came. I ended up taking a bus out to the beach all by myself and spending several nights by the ocean drinking margaritas, striking up conversation with the locals. When I came back from Mexico I applied for a job I didn’t feel qualified for speaking Spanish, and got it. And I endured major anxiety over the job for about three months before I finally settled in and started getting ridiculously high marks. Then I was promoted–to a job in Manhattan–and I took the job in Manhattan even though I’d never spent any reasonable amount of time in a city like New York. Then I applied to some of the top social work programs in the nation (responses pending.) And somewhere in there I started running and ran my first 5K.
I’ve learned to love my anxiety–after all, how many people really get the chance to face their greatest fears on a regular basis? I experience some level of fear every day of my life – but I go on and do those things anyways. I do it with a pounding heart, with a mind full of irrational protest, with shaky hands-- but I do it. That has to be the very definition of courage. I put a lot of work into the person I am today. Therefore I am very proud of this lifestyle change.