I feel happier and stronger than I have ever felt after CBT Counselling

Beneficiary of CBT Counselling by Praxis Care tells the story of how "he got his life back".

A little about me

Hi my name is Michael and I am 28 years old. I attended Praxis for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help me overcome anxiety and panic attacks.

I felt crippled by my mental health problems. My quality of life was very poor. However Praxis changed all that. Without their help I would probably still be suffering from anxiety and panic attacks today.

I was always generally an anxious person, more anxious than most but in the past this wasn’t really intrusive in my life. I started to suffer some minor panic attacks throughout my adolescence. This resulted from a choking incident where I couldn’t breathe. I started having irrational thoughts in the months after this that my throat was going to close over and I wouldn’t be able to breath. I also had quite low self-esteem resulting from bullying in my childhood and teenage years. As a result of this I didn’t tell anyone what was happening to me, not wanting to make a fuss. I wasn’t even sure myself what these feelings of absolute dread and despair were. I was afraid people wouldn’t understand me, would mock me or think I was going ‘mad’.

The years progressed and my anxiety levels rose and subsided periodically as I attended University. At this stage my problem still wasn’t enough to interfere heavily with my quality of life. I was also in denial that it was a real problem and thought it would just go away.

However things started to get worse after I left University and went to work. I was at a very stressful period in my life working full time in London and studying part time in the evenings. I again started to have irrational thoughts, thinking things like ‘how does my body know how to breathe on its own without me concentrating on every breath?’ I would become very anxious about this, focusing on my breath and if there was any small thing that didn’t feel right about it, I jumped to the conclusion that something was wrong with it and I would suffocate. This anxiety would develop into panic attacks and in the grips of a panic attack, when my breathing became erratic, this confirmed my original fears of suffocation. I also started to think ‘people will think I am mad, incompetent at my job, not able for the real world’ if they found out about my anxiety and panic.

I had visions that I would just be locked up for my ‘insanity’. These feeling just made the original panic over my breathing all the worse. As a result of fearing what people would think of me, there were certain situations where my anxiety would peak and I would definitely have a panic attack as I became convinced that people were looking at me; focusing on me intently. These situations started off as large open spaces with lots of people but as the anxiety became worse the situations grew to include places like the cinema, restaurants, the theater, trains, buses and eventually in work speaking one on one with people or being in a meeting. I couldn’t even concentrate on my own work and my productivity and work quality was very poor.  The number of situations I was experiencing anxiety and panic in was ever growing. Those situations I had to be in to function in life such as work, public transport and going to get groceries, I struggled through with extreme difficulty. Those I didn’t need to be in such as the cinema or a restaurant I just completely avoided.

This avoidance would become a major problem of my mental illness.  My life was beginning to shut down as I wasn’t able to do even the simplest of things that brought enjoyment. I continued like this for a few months until things became so bad that I had to leave work, leave my own flat and move back in with my parents. At this stage my life consisted of staying in my bedroom in my parents’ house and watching films, all the while being on edge about my breathing. I barely came out to even sit with my parents for meals and when I did it was incredibly difficult. I was incredibly frustrated and bad tempered a lot of the time because I couldn’t do things and this resulted in me snapping at those closest to me, which made me feel terrible.

Seeking help

I had attended my local GP and was diagnosed with anxiety. I was booked an appointment to see the Consultant Psychiatrist but this was 6 weeks away and I couldn’t continue like this for much longer. It was then that Praxis was recommended to me by my girlfriend.

After initial contact with Praxis my CBT sessions began just over a week later. I met my CBT therapist Denise who was incredibly friendly, understanding and reassuring. For the first time in my life I felt that I could talk to someone who understood my problem. Most importantly, after that first session, I was given hope that I might be able to overcome my mental illness. My therapist was able to define my mental illness specifically as Panic Disorder with Social Anxiety. I learned that this was a recognised mental health problem that many people had suffered from and they had overcome it. I felt relieved as I was able to identify with others and I wasn’t simply ‘going mad’.

Understanding my mental health

As my therapy progressed I came to understand my illness more. Along with my therapist I was able to dissect it and get to the core of it. I came to understand that my irrational negative thoughts were cognitive distortions that led to my feelings of anxiety. This in turn affected my behaviour, causing my avoidance of a situation or noticeable distress during it. I learned that my anxiety and panic originated ultimately from thoughts and feelings of low self-esteem that had started in childhood and remained with me, which formed my core beliefs about myself. I felt that I wasn’t good enough compared to other people and didn’t deserve to have my needs acknowledged or met. I learned that my overall outlook about myself was negative and a considerable amount of my thoughts were tainted with negativity.

However, most importantly, Praxis taught me how to tackle my illness; to challenge my negative thoughts and rebalance them. This rebalancing of thoughts became one of the central elements of my recovery and I got into the habit of continually doing it in all situations. I also did practice exposure techniques where I visited what were difficult situations for me, to practice challenging my negative thoughts and rebalancing them. I learned how to manage my negative thoughts, reducing my anxiety and stopping panic attacks, allowing me to do things in life again.

I felt I had begun the road to recovery. I will admit that this was difficult and it required hard work to get to this stage but I had hope and faith that continual practice of the CBT techniques would ensure my continued recovery.

Learning to live life again

Through continued practice, I was able to overcome more and more difficult situations, at some points removing my anxiety completely. I was able to start enjoying life again. One of the best things Praxis taught me was relapse prevention; preparing me for what to expect if I ever suffered a setback from my recovery, the rights steps to take and what thoughts may be going through my head. They in effect taught me how to be my own therapist, making me self-sufficient, and instilled within me an attitude that continued practice of CBT is the best way to ensure I continue to have good mental health throughout life.

Today I am back working and I can go out and enjoy life. I can practice my hobbies and interests and I have developed new ones. I can travel on a bus or drive a car.  I have got my life back. Through continued CBT practice I have overcome what were the most difficult of situations for me. I feel happier and stronger than I have ever felt. I know myself and my own mind more and I feel great. I know however that I will keep practicing CBT techniques to ensure I stay healthy.  When I look back, sometimes I can’t believe the progress I’ve made. I was someone who was paralysed by my mental illness. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t travel anywhere, and I couldn’t even go out to the cinema or for a meal. I wasn’t able to properly look after myself or enjoy life. I had very low self-esteem and was plagued by anxiety and panic attacks. Now, however, I am confident about myself and feel competent at doing things. I am progressing in my career, making plans for the future and achieving my goals in life.

I wouldn’t have made this progress without Praxis, in this short period of time. This therapy not only helped me overcome my mental illness, but also equipped me with the tools to identify and overcome it, if it ever happened again. Without Praxis, today I would maybe still be in my bedroom in my parents’ house avoiding the world instead of contributing to it, being part of it and feeling good about being able to do this. 

For more information on CBT Counselling available through Praxis Care, under the Together For You project, click here.

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