Anxiety and Setbacks

What are they and why do we have them?

One vital part of understanding recovery is recognising that we will have setbacks; they are part of the process involved in becoming the person you once were. Recovery does not always work in straight lines and can be an up and down affair. Once we realise that fact it can help us tremendously as too many people let these times throw them back into total despair.

What is a setback?

A setback is not to be confused with feeling a little up and down throughout recovery; this is normal. I went from having no good days, to having good and bad days. I was very happy with this as it proved to me that I was moving forward. I would describe a real setback as a period during which you feel you are back to square one and that everything you have gained has gone. You feel as empty and lost as you have ever done, scrambling around again for answers and questioning everything once more.

Setbacks are all part of the process

When you finally find the answers to anxiety and have a better understanding of it, you may feel an instant relief. You begin to understand that you are not going crazy and that so many others go through the same thing. There is no need to have a constant daily battle with yourself, fighting to be the person you once were, putting on an act, studying and worrying deeply about how you feel. The old you is there, it is just buried underneath the symptoms. You finally understand this and things get easier. You may feel a freedom that you have not felt for some time and everything seems rosy. You are finally moving forward.

After years of doing everything I should not have done, this was me. I started to make small steps to becoming the old me, having some days of clear thinking and freedom, almost like I could touch the person I once was. Then, wham, I felt like I was back to square one and I would question this: “Why did I feel so good last week and now back to this? What have I done wrong? This is me forever, I will never be free”.

These were just some of the statements that had me worrying again and trying to think, fight and scramble my way back to how I felt the week before. I was back to ‘googling’ symptoms, filling myself with self pity. I had basically returned to the full anxiety cycle - but why? Because for some stupid reason I thought I could crack it in a few weeks and that all these years of suffering through a lack of understanding would simply disappear. It was like treating someone who was depressed and expecting them to never feel down again. I was asking and expecting the impossible.

So what did I learn?

I learnt that the more I let a setback bother me, the longer it lasted, so I just had to learn to live alongside it and pay it little respect. Memory and habit of past suffering were at work. How could I suffer for so long and not expect to feel anxious and lost again?

I began to see setbacks as part of the process. No matter how horrible I felt, I refused to let them throw me back into total despair and just waited until they passed, which they always did. When you start to go through a few setbacks you learn to hardly ever give them a second thought. They are still unpleasant, but nothing to worry or despair about.

I remember how many times I have tried to get this point across to people, only for them to let a setback throw them into total despair. A lady once said to me 'Paul I feel very anxious today, but it's fine, it will pass'. That was exactly the point I wanted her to get to. She also pointed out that she always seem to come out of them far stronger and would feel freer than ever. This was also the case with me to, it was another chance for me to shrug my shoulders and not let anxiety win, I was in charge now and it was getting zero respect from me.

Don't become a victim

So don't become a victim of setbacks, don't fall back into the anxiety cycle of worry and bewilderment, filling yourself with self pity. Understand they are all part of the process, all the progress and knowledge is never lost, it is just buried under symptoms, waiting to resurface.

And more than anything, remember that:

A setback really has only as much power as you give it.

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