Growing up, I was afraid of everything. Getting kidnapped at the grocery store, someone opening my car door when driving in the "bad" end of the city, and quite specifically, dying.
I struggled with thoughts of "end times" and dying for many many years. It was a cloud of doom hanging over my head. The first time I went to see a counsellor when I was 18, I was at wits end. I was immediately diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and received a prescription for valium.
Taking medication for mental health purposes was foreign to me, and based the idea that medication like this was addictive and bad, I was leery about taking it. So I didn't. I continued to live with the doom cloud hanging over my head.
When I eventually had my first ever panic attack at 26, I saw my doctor who, along with prescribing me anti-anxiety medication, also suggested I see a counsellor for CBT - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
"CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.
CBT can be a very helpful tool ― either alone or in combination with other therapies ― in treating mental health disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or an eating disorder. But not everyone who benefits from CBT has a mental health condition. CBT can be an effective tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations."
One of the first things my therapist taught me, was how to stop my brain from going down the well trodden path of thinking about death. She had me imagine a forest path that was well groomed, and easy to walk down, no roots to trip over, no fallen trees, just an easy walking path. My brain found it very easy to walk down this same thought path, since I had walked it so many times.
She then had me imagine that the path was getting overgrown, and getting harder to walk down. I imagined leaves and vines growing over the well worn path, making it harder to walk on. With time, I imagined it so overgrown that I was back at the beginning of the forest, leaning against the fence that was between the forest and the road.
Whenever I thought about death, I thought about this path, and letting it get overgrown and impossible to walk down. I even imagined climbing over the fence, walking down the road a ways to find a beautiful waterfall that I could sit and rest beside. The brain is an amazing place!
I could not believe what a difference this made in my life. I do believe that my anxiety medication played a part in quieting my fearful mind, but the image of letting the well trodden forest path become impossible to walk down was one of the biggest changes to my thought patterns. It was - and is - an amazing tool!
I don't need to use this imagery much anymore, but I'm glad it is in my tool belt, should I ever need it in the future.
If you enjoyed learning a little bit about my experience with CBT, and would be interested in learning more about my experience, please drop a comment below. I believe sharing is caring and if my story can help someone else, I am happy to share.