Friday, 26 July 2013

Anxiety Diaries | I Am Found

Change your thoughts, change your life. 

It's as easy and as difficult as that. One thing I know for sure is that the thought patterns I've internalised, watered and nurtured over the past six of seven years, perhaps longer, have shaped my reality. My biggest fear leaving school at eighteen was feeling permanently lost; my focus since then has been on how I continue to feel lost. The background to everything I have done since, career wise, has been 'I am lost'. But if thoughts create reality, if I could only trust in a change in thought leading to a change in reality, where would I be then? How would I feel? How would I carry myself? 

Starting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is hard because you don't always know how to trust in this theory. For me, anxiety and depression had been a safety net because it is near impossible to imagine an alternative. Illogically you think 'what if I change my thoughts and my life remains the same?' Illogical because if your thoughts change, you change inside and things that cause you distress and anxiety no longer hold such power over you; this then starts to change the outside. Yet trusting in this theory can be extremely difficult. My CBT therapist explained that in order to challenge and change a thought we can weigh up evidence for and against it, before presenting an alternative thought and considering whether it might be more accurate. I decided to do a little experiment, weighing 'I am lost' against the alternative 'I am found'. 

What if I've actually been 'found' all along? How would it feel to recognise this thought and to live it?

On one side of A4 paper I wrote 'I am lost' and complied a check list of evidence to support this claim. I'd been repeating 'I am lost' to myself for over six years so I figured it would be quite easy to gather a long list of evidence. My list read as follows:
  • I'm currently unemployed
  • I'm often indecisive about what I want to do
  • I'm having to undertake CBT because of anxiety
  • I'm on medication for anxiety
  • I left my previous two jobs because I couldn't cope
  • I still haven't graduated
  • I am still unsure as to which career path to pursue
  • I have hobbies but I haven't monetised any of them
  • I compulsively spend money on things I don't need
  • I find it next to impossible to save for things 
As I was writing I paid attention to my physical reactions, feelings and behaviour (a cycle CBT teaches for analysing and then breaking down negative and unhelpful thought patterns). My heart rate increased; my mouth felt dry; my posture sunk; I felt sad, ashamed, helpless, as if I had no control. My behaviour was ready to enter avoidance territory, retreating rather than doing anything productive to move forwards. I was feeling and acting helpless, defeated. It wasn't pleasant. 

I turned the page over and wrote 'I am found' at the top. What if I could find things to support this claim? Was there a chance that I'm not as lost as I've always believed myself to be? Here's what I wrote down as evidence:
  • I love studying with The Open University 
  • I have one more course left to complete before graduating next summer
  • I am on track for a 1st 
  • I am marrying my best friend
  • I am 100% committed to my relationship and am in no way flaky or indecisive about the people I love
  • I have a wonderful family and amazing friends who love me for who I am 
  • I write a beauty and lifestyle blog which gives me an immense sense of satisfaction
  • I have learned to read the tarot and continue to develop my skills daily
  • I believe my tarot readings are a vocation
  • I am researching my family tree and have reconnected with some wonderful long lost relatives as a direct result
  • I am healthy physically and I am working hard on looking after my mental health
  • I am using the resources available to me, such as CBT and counselling, to take responsibility for my life and get myself back on track
  • I am creative and talented at writing, especially poetry
  • I am intelligent, articulate and interested in all sorts of topics
  • I have found a new family in my fiance's relatives
  • I have a chance now to move forwards in a healthier way, on a better path
Physically my posture improved; my writing quickened; my heart rate settled; I no longer felt nauseous. I felt happy, enthused, inspired, determined. I felt a sense of control and direction. My behaviour changed from passive to wanting to go ahead and 'do' something productive. I felt a sense of potential, of direction, of possibilities. It hit me that I have been living under the oppression of 'I am lost' to the extent that I had allowed myself to become my thought, to become 'I am lost' personified. 'I am found' felt so much better... Could I train myself to live with the freedom 'I am found' offers? 

I noticed immediately that my 'I am found' list encompasses lots of different areas of my life, whereas my 'I am lost' focuses predominantly on one area. What if I can be found regardless of whether or not I'm working at the moment? Regardless of one area in which I'm struggling? I had been letting a tunnel vision view, centered on career and work, direct my life and filter into other areas of my life. The evidence for 'I am found' far outweighed the evidence for 'I am lost'. The evidence supports 'I am found'. The evidence is reality; my perception is what fluctuates. What would the effect be if I made 'I am found' my new mantra? If such a phrase could raise my spirits instantly while compiling my list, what effect would it have if I replaced every instance of 'I am lost' with 'I am found' from now on?

This change in thinking has already begun to make visible differences in my life. I am making a conscious effort to catch every automatic 'I am lost' and replace it with a determined 'I am found'. Instead of lamenting to friends about feeling like I'll never 'work out what to do with my life' I now stand by the idea that 'this is my life', the here and now, the present moment. I am convincing myself that I have been found all along, and the continued effect of this powerful message is an increasing sense of control and confidence. I am directing and shaping my life as it happens, with every thought I choose to focus on. 

It may sound shockingly simple; change your thoughts, change your life. It may seem incredulous to insist that there is an alternative, and that in order to experience it I had to take a bit of a leap of faith and 'test myself' with an evidence compiling task. But I have gone from clinging on to anxiety and depression out of not believing in an alternative, to recognising that the alternative brings a sense of empowerment, control, and responsibility. It breathes life into everything and overrides the challenges faced in one specific area; in my case, it overrides anxiety surrounding work and a career. This one area, fed by 'I am lost' thoughts, is no longer allowed to dominate my perception of life. 'I am found' doesn't ignore such difficulties; in contrast, it is helping me and encouraging me to confront them head on. 

The alternative is a belief in and dedication to replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. It feels good and I want more of it. I entered CBT with no evidence to prove that changing a thought would change my life. I felt skeptical and afraid. But I've learned techniques like the one explained above that are helping me place my belief in positive thoughts rather than negative ones. Beginning to let go of the deeply ingrained 'I am lost' has led to tangible, physical changes already. I have decided upon a path I am keen to explore further and I am no longer as scared of returning to employment. I am doing things linked to my goals that I felt myself unable to do when locked in the paralysis of  'I am lost' thinking. 

I am found; I think I always have been. 

Change your thoughts, change your life. 

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  1. You have such a way with words. This was inspiring and beautiful. I'm definitely going to take this on board, I really hope that this positive change helps you to keep going in the right direction xxxx

    1. Thank you so much, that's put such a smile on my face and given me such a boost! I'm learning to take things one day at a time but I already feel like I'm making so much progress :) xxx

  2. This was so inspiring. I am so glad you've found a way to channel your energy into a positive way of thinking. You're right, it isn't that easy, but I'm sure it'll be so worth it. Now, if only I can do the same. :)

    1. Thank you so much, I'm glad you found it inspiring. Just take things one day a time and celebrate the small successes. It isn't an easy journey but you can do it!xxx

  3. Really brave of you to so this post, it's great Hun. I had CBT therapy to help with & come to terms with a chronic illness I have recently been diagnosed with & it has totally changed the way I see things now. It's a great form of therapy,
    Megan xx

    1. I'm so glad CBT helped you, I've found it unbelievably helpful and it's really changed the way I think about things. It teaches such powerful tools. Wishing you the best with your illness, it sounds like you have a very positive outlook :) xxx

  4. I really enjoy reading these posts hun!I totally agree with changing your thoughts!Thinking positive can have a great impact with how you live your life!!I did my degree with the OU too xx

    Zoe | Sweet Electric

    1. Thank you! A fellow OU student, woohoo! I love studying with the OU, what did you study? Thinking positive and using tools to change thought patterns really is so powerful and truly life changing xx

  5. Although Imogen I don't suffer from an anxiety I still related to this post so so much...I am not the best to describe my feeling in words like you just did...but what you just written its is what exactly i am going through right now totally Lost and sadly i cant 'right now' write the list of 'I am found' although i am working on it and hopefully as you say one day i will blossom like others but on my time:)
    This was encouraging ..
    Thank you keep up with your writing its truly refreshing.
    Would love if you have a peek at my blog and follow if you like it :)

    Take care Amna.


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