Recursive anxiety?
May 30, 2007 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Life after therapy: I've been fighting depression and anxiety issues most of my life, and I'm just now truly seeking help with it. Should I be worried about who I will become?

I've probably screwed up a relationship due to these issues... I seem to seek happiness through changing things in my life constantly in an atempt to rid myself of percieved unhappiness. The realization of this has been the catalyst for me to finally seek help, and I'm finally open to the idea that there may be some pharmaceutical treatment needed, as there's a bit of a family history.

The thing is... I can't imagine a life without my depression and anxiety. I'm anticipating it - but I'm terrified of it as well! Is that just recursive anxiety? I'm worried about losing my "self" - Is this genuine? I already have therapy scheduled, but - go figure - I'm incredibly anxious about this!
posted by MysticMCJ to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you are going to become different. We all change, all the time. You are just setting out to be a conscious actor in that change. I don't think that is a bad thing.
posted by edgeways at 11:48 AM on May 30, 2007

Well, on the bright side there's no instant cure just treatment and years of gradual change. You'll be the same person. Usually we know therapy works because the person says they feel -more- like themselves, not less. Don't worry too much about it. Just go in there and give it a chance.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:55 AM on May 30, 2007

Speaking from experience, there will be times when you will "miss" being depressed and may struggle with wanting to feel that way when for the first time you have the option to *not* feel that way. But for me it was a gradual change that I could accept over time - I didn't just wake up one day and feel different. You will be different, but you will probably be different in an improved or better way, and that's nothing to fear. In fact you can look forward to it. Congratulations for seeking out help for these issues! That is the biggest step you can make, and believe me, every aspect in your life will most likely be affected in a positive way because of it.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 11:56 AM on May 30, 2007

You are experiencing anxiety when you think about freeing yourself from anxiety. This is normal (and somewhat amusing). You are going to take positive steps to improve your life. When you free yourself of depression and anxiety, you will not be worried that you made a bad decision or "lost yourself".

Good luck with the therapy. Give it a chance - a real chance. If Prozac or other anti-dep come up, be open to giving them a shot. You're doing the right thing.

Everyone - including myself - that I know who has suffered with anxiety and depression has been able to make drastic improvements in conquering anxiety and depression through therapy and temporary medication.
posted by tom_g at 12:03 PM on May 30, 2007

For me, coming out of depression wasn't a drastic change. The easiest way to explain the difference is that it felt as though a fog had lifted out of my brain, and all of my emotions and experiences were a little sharper. So really, my core self wasn't changing; if anything, I gained a more acute sense of who I was.

However, in the therapy, you will probably be working on different coping methods for the depression and anxiety, which will necessitate change and growth. Again, it isn't bad; it can be difficult (I had a lot of passive-aggression issues I didn't even realize were there, and it was challenging to identify and eliminate them), but the outcome will change you for the better.

Good luck! You've already taken the biggest step, and everything that follows can only help.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 12:15 PM on May 30, 2007

I've been through something similar which resulted in two and a half years of being treated for depression and anxiety.

The pharmaceutical treatment isn't going to fundamentally alter "who" you are, it will just stop you getting on that downward spiral that results in your descending into the depths of depression or into bouts of intense anxiety.

Suppose you broke your leg: the doctor would likely put it in a cast while it healed. This would take away the pain and allow the break to heal straight. Think of the anti-depressant / anti-anxiety medications as being similar: they take away the pain of the really bad periods and allow you to deal with situations more rationally. Other forms of therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, can help as well since they teach you how to deal with situations that would otherwise have acted as triggers.

The fact that you've recognised you need some help is a good sign. You're not going to lose your "self", you're just going to lose those really black days where life feels like it's not worth living, or where you're so overwhelmed by anxiety that you just can't cope.

It's a slow process, but things will get better.
posted by arc at 12:19 PM on May 30, 2007

I could have written this very same question 2.5 years ago. I had made the same decisions to seek therapy and possibly medication, but was scared and very reluctant because I was going to change the very traits with which I identified myself. I went forward with both, and now am so glad I did.

As Nathanial H says, it's not a sudden change. It'll be a gradual change of things and situations becoming easier or at least easier to cope with. It will feel good. At the time I was going into therapy and medication, I never understood those who said they wanted to "feel more like themselves" because I had always felt anxious. But now I understand. Treatment allows you to cope with your anxieties in a healthy way and they become part of you instead of defining all of you.

Best of luck, MysticMCJ. Hang in there - you're making healthy choices, and you should feel proud of yourself for that. As I have to tell myself sometimes, just feel the fear and do it anyway!
posted by lucyleaf at 12:21 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Think about the other ways you've grown or changed through learning -- did going to high school or college make you lose your "self"? No, you're still yourself, just a self that knows more.

Therapy is the same thing, really. You're learning new ways of dealing with the world, in the same way that learning how to construct a coherent argument or do long division or complete lab research gives you new tools for dealing with the world around you.

Otherwise, the only way we could ever be "our true selves" would be to refuse to learn anything from the time we were born.
posted by occhiblu at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2007

In my experience, it's like there are multiple "selves"--depressed self, optimistic self, anxious self, etc, and each one of them seems real and authentically and uniquely me when I am experiencing it. This means that in moving away from the unhappy self, (through therapy, meds, and other stuff) I have not felt like I am not me--but instead that I am a different me. And the funny thing when I am experiencing one particular me, whether happy or sad, it seems like the only me. Treatment has definitely led me to change my presumption of a constant self, and to instead view identity as something that is always drifting.

No need to feel weird about this; my sense is that it's a fairly common worry/experience.
posted by epugachev at 12:23 PM on May 30, 2007

In my experience (having battled depression/anxiety most of my life), it's not a matter of becoming a different person -- it's a matter of continuing to become who you are.

The cumulative effects of serious therapy and antidepressants (I was on them for about 7 years; tapered off a year or so ago) have meant that I both know and like myself better now. I am more at ease in my own skin, and in the world. Even in times of sadness, anger, worry, or frustration -- and yes, you continue having the full range of human emotion after depression (in fact, I would say you experience more emotions and feelings after depression) -- I am basically happy. I know my strengths and weaknesses and desires and abilities better. I didn't lose my sense of humor (one thing that I feared). I embrace my joys and sorrows more consciously. My relationships (romantic, family, and friends) are happier, healthier, and more rewarding than I would have ever dreamed. I love and appreciate both the people in my life and my own life more than I ever thought possible.

I know it seems hard to believe -- I didn't believe it for many years, myself -- but you are more than your depression or (as occhiblu says) your depressed/anxious self. It takes the hard, dedicated work of moving through it to discover that fuller sense of selfhood, but it's potentially more rewarding than you can imagine.
posted by scody at 12:35 PM on May 30, 2007

I have felt similarly with anxiety and depression issues of my own. In my experience, all the mourning has been in anticipation of losing my depression/anxiety; I certainly don't miss those things when they are gone.

A few other thoughts:

1. Change is scary. But imagine what happens if you don't change. Do you want to feel like this in five years, in twenty years? When you are old, do you want to look back on the topography of your life and see nothing but anxiety and depression? You've probably wrung as much insight (and I agree that you do gain insight) out of the depressed experience as your going to get. Time to move on to bigger and better things.

2. As others have said, any change will be gradual and, importantly, chosen. This has the potential to be a very empowering experience.

3. Depression makes you myopic and limits you in ways you won't be able to understand until you feel better. Think about yourself in middle school or in high school. Remember how ignorant you were about a lot of things? Being depressed is like being in middle school, it's that same narrow, close field of vision about the world. And depression is retarding -- it's like being in middle school when everyone around you has gone to college. Not only are you emotionally and intellectually underdeveloped, but you are missing out on some good things going on with your peer group. You are missing out on more things than you know by being depressed.

4. You can always go back. If the happy lifestyle isn't for you, just remembe than depression and anxiety are very forgiving and will always welcome home a prodigal child. Old patterns of thinking may never entirely leave you; you aren't going to "lose" your depressive and anxious tendencies, you are just going to learn to manage them better. But you can stop managing them if you want to.
posted by bluenausea at 12:52 PM on May 30, 2007 [3 favorites]

When I did some very effective cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety some years ago, at one stage in the therapy we talked about what I got from my anxiety, and whether I was willing to let those things go (a sense of drama in my life was one thing I remember talking about extensively--even doing the dishes was so fraught back then). It was a conscious part of my process, deciding to let go of those things.

You will really like who you become. I will probably be somewhat anxious all my life, and I keep a constant eye out for thoughts and feelings that are "early warning signs" of a bad period. But when I look back at how consumed I was by it, how it shaped every interaction ("Is the checker at the grocery store judging me because I'm buying several frozen dinners and just a little produce?"), my goodness, life is better in every way. Good luck to you.
posted by not that girl at 12:58 PM on May 30, 2007

It may help for you do to some free association writing on the subject (basically close your eyes and write/type, dont filter it at all) and then go back and look at what yuo've written and see if you can identify the Cognitive Distortions that you may have in your thinking.
posted by softlord at 2:10 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's a tough journey, and I was scared too. Afraid of becoming a totally different person. You know what? I am a totally different person, but not in any negative way.

Depression and anxiety issues are genuinely a weight. If you go through them for many years, they become almost part of your very sense of self.

You'll likely feel this great sense of freedom that's awaiting you on the other end. I promise, you really do feel lighter on so many levels.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:16 PM on May 30, 2007

No answer from me, but thank you *so* much for asking this question. I'm in nearly the same boat, only I haven't made that "big step" everyone's talking about. I'll keep my eye on this one.

Best of luck.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:01 PM on May 30, 2007

I used to get anxious about the future/my future, to the point of mild depression. That probably doesn't put us in the same league, but, for me, realizing that as long as I was "moving forward" I was "OK" .. and that was a big relief. It's easy to say, but there are way too many things out of our control. As long as I try to progress, and "lose myself" in my efforts/activity, then the less I have those dark feelings.

It seems you are well on your way... good luck to you.
posted by mrmarley at 3:11 PM on May 30, 2007

Thank you also from here - I'm experiencing the same thing, am starting treatment, and at this stage wonder if I should just admit I'm a fuckup and live like this. (I have gone through treatment a few years ago but I've suffered a major relapse.) I've also managed to screw up a relationship too, which sucks.

Good luck and lots of hugs.
posted by divabat at 3:15 PM on May 30, 2007

Wow, great question. And lots of great answers and experiences here.

Anyway, I've been in therapy for seven - yepper, seven - years. More than once, I've had two terrifying thoughts - one is the "Jesus Christ, aren't I WELL yet, for fuck's sake?" circus of shame, and the other is the "But, but, but what if this makes me just some asshole who walks around talking about how they feeeeeeel all the time? What if I'm just lame after this is all over?" festival of suck. Now, of course, both thoughts presume that a.) I'm not lame now, b.) there's some universal accepted notion of well, and c.) there is, indeed, some sort of end to strive for.

What I've found is that I don't judge myself or other people nearly as much as I used to. I take things as they come, fret less, and laugh at my own mistakes alot more, rather than wanting to crawl up in a ball and disappear every other minute. I think I'm more myself, and people respond to me accordingly. That doesn't mean I'm "well" - it just means I can be honest now without being overwhelmed by sadness, fear, regret, recrimination, shame, loathing, etc. I can also feel really great. Sometimes, that scares the hell out of me. It passes.

You've done something really courageous. Try to remind yourself of that when you get scared, as it sounds like you are now. It takes alot of guts to figure out why you're so angry or sad or anxious and try to change. Many people never try, and many more are lucky enough not to have to. Best of luck to you.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 5:15 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Changing how you feel is difficult, in part, because people get comfortable with what they are used to. It's theorized there's something called an 'emotional set point' and if you get too far away from it, you'll experience anxiety and (subconsciously) work to change that.

I know for my experience, when I am feeling especially good, or when everything is going fine, this sometimes feels weird, like there's supposed to be something wrong but I can't remember what it is. (It's almost the same feeling as knowing you forgot to take something with you when leaving on a trip, but can't remember what.) I've also noticed that days when I've been especially unhappy often follow days that are especially great. Now I look out for this phenomenon and proactively take steps to prevent it. To start feeling good consistently, you just have to get used to feeling good.
posted by lsemel at 9:08 PM on May 30, 2007

This thread is full of so many smart things. Many smarty-pants peeps who's info you should heed. I'll try to keep my two cents short.

I was terrified that therapy would make me into one of those "better" people. Who compliment themselves, and always make the smart decisions, and "know" their "selves" and that seemed really boring and lame to me. Oh, and terrifying.

I liked being moody, thoughtful, shy, sad. Sorta.

I am lucky enough to have found an absolutely brilliant therapist.

And you know what? Therapy doesn't change you. Getting to know your "self" changes you. Learning to think about why you are who you are changes you. Letting your "self" be completely honest with a stranger gives you new perspective about why you make the decisions you make. And it helps to make smarter, healthier ones.

You just stop wandering in the wilderness lost.

You will always be you. Talking to a therapist is one thing. What you will find out, if you have someone great, is that they will give you the time and space to find a language to understand yourself.

And that will change you. Into your actual self.

Good luck.

(please, if you don't "mesh" with your therapist, find someone else. Otherwise you are just wasting your time, and theirs. )

well, i suppose that's about 65 cents, but still...
posted by metasav at 11:37 PM on May 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow... I had no idea what I was starting with this thread. There are so may good answers here. Thank you all for the insight and reassurance.

My first appointment was late yesterday, and I went into it with the mindset of unfiltered honesty. That was - well, AMAZING. It was a hell of a step to take, but I feel like there's no turning back now.
posted by MysticMCJ at 7:21 AM on May 31, 2007

Speaking from experience, there will be times when you will "miss" being depressed and may struggle with wanting to feel that way when for the first time you have the option to *not* feel that way. But for me it was a gradual change that I could accept over time - I didn't just wake up one day and feel different. You will be different, but you will probably be different in an improved or better way, and that's nothing to fear. In fact you can look forward to it.

Quoted for Truth - that's exactly how it was for me when I started the new medication for my depression and anxiety. It takes time, and it will be pretty surprising to you at first how different you can feel as you titrate up to the dosage that works of a med that works for your chemistry.

I know that I had to stop half a dozen times a day, at first, and marvel at the feeling of.. not *feeling* depressed or nervous or anxious. I constantly asked myself and my family whether this was how a normal person went through life. The first time I got *angry* at someone without being afraid or anxious about it was joyous -- not because I was angry, but because the GUILT of being angry was gone!

The ten-tonne elephant was finally off my chest, and I haven't looked back since.
posted by Adelwolf at 8:18 AM on May 31, 2007

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