Tao of Anxiety: Continued Change

My recovery from anxiety continues.

I've gotten over three phobias since arriving in Louisiana.

I drive now, I use public restrooms, and I talk on the phone. All three were restrictive in their own way, and now that they are gone I am capable of doing much more in life.

I'm not working yet, but I take risks each day and with each risk I take I feel more confident and open to the world around me. It's like being freed from a prison cell.


I've overcome the above phobias through in vivo exposure therapy, and there are four reasons exposure therapy is working better now than a few months ago.

First, I'm out of a bad environment. Last spring/summer I was motivated to work on my anxiety. I was making progress, but as the weather began to cool in autumn, so did my attitude. I suffer from Seasonal Effective Disorder. When it gets cold or cloudy, my mood bottoms out and I often get depressed. I stopped taking risks and growing, becoming a hermit as August gave way to September. My life spiraled out of control, and by October I could no longer cope.

Second, I am now in an environment where I can build on each individual success. In Iowa I only had myself to depend on, and the location was so small that it could be two or three weeks between exposure opportunities. Here my mother is helping me when I need help, there are more people and more opportunities, and the weather is better. Just seeing the sun shine every day and feeling the warm air in January lifts my spirits to the sky. People here in Louisiana are relaxed, calm, helpful. This atmosphere has given me something to stand on to reach for my goals.

Third, I want to do well. These little successes are opening me to a wider world and I'm actually interested in what's going on around me. I haven't felt this fascinated by life since before I was a teenager. When I was that young I wasn't self-conscious and nothing really slowed me down. I'm finding that I again have a very limited self-consciousness, and it's a boon to my recovery. I closed up as a teenager, as I became aware of myself, but as a young boy I remember always wanting to be grown up, and I feel all grown up now.

Fourth, I'm trusting my spiritual evolution. I owe success to the hours of study in Zen and Taoism, and listening and reading Alan Watts and Ram Dass. The study I did throughout the summer of 2012 is paying dividends now, nearly a year later. I've gone so deep into the practice of meditation that I've lost many of my ego-inhibitions. That is vital. It's laid the groundwork for healing my anxiety, and has also provided the fuel for continued growth.


Anxiety can be a very complicated thing to get over. It takes understanding, acceptance, and hard work. But anxiety can also be a very simple thing to get over, as it is now. I take that with a grain of salt because I realize how easy it is to fall off the wagon and start closing myself off from the world again. I've already gone through the difficult task of figuring myself out, understanding what makes me happy, what relaxes me, and what I need to change about my life and myself. That's the growth that an anxiety disorder can induce, and as a catalyst to change, to living a better life, I am very grateful for my fears.

Whether or not my recovery continues depends on my attitude going forward. Each day, can I look at myself, at others, at life, without preconceptions? So much of anxiety is steeped in our judgments about the world and ourselves. So much of the Zen and Taoist lifestyles are about living without judgment, without critiquing the world, but letting it be what it is—not fighting against it.

Understanding why a thing happens isn't necessarily going to fix it, especially when it's something that has been happening all your life and you've only recently realized the source of the problem. Given time and proper conditions, I think I could have done better in Iowa, but I wasn't going to have a chance with the bad weather. I would not have been able to deal with the level of frustration I was experiencing (with family), and the resulting anger, while fending off my annual seasonal depression and my reemerging anxiety symptoms.

It took a lot for me to move on from Iowa. I needed to hit escape velocity and that was very painful, very tumultuous. I had to be so pissed off at myself and with my life that leaving was easier than staying. My comfort zone had to stop being so comfortable. For people who are in a bad situation but have to work full time, have children to take care of, or have nowhere else to go—no family or friends to flee to, as I had—the opportunity simply isn't there.

But for exposure therapy to be successful, it's important that we do seek a better environment, even in the one we're already in. We need better relationships with our loved ones, and to ground ourselves in something concrete. That concreteness for me was meditation. For someone else it may be a group of friends, a career, exercise, or music. It can be anything. I manifested it as a spiritual practice but it can be anything for anyone.

Even if someone cannot pick up and move away, there's still hope. I recognized things that I could have done better in my situation in Iowa. In hindsight I wasn't communicating enough with my family and friends. This may seem difficult for anyone with anxiety, but opening up and communicating can and should be the first step in exposure therapy—for it is itself an exposure.

Stabilizing relationships.
A change of scenery.
Getting grounded in activity.

These changes can work only if we're motivated to change. We have to want something bigger than ourselves, something to grow toward. It may require painful soul searching, but once you've found the sun in your life, growth can come suddenly, overnight.

Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series

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