I’ve recently come off Sertraline after 15 years on various SSRIs. It’s been a long and tricky journey but I think I might be almost there. I’ve written a bit more about that here.
I love a metaphor when it comes to managing my day to day mental health. Metaphor helps me identify and pin down my experiences. This is a step towards understanding and managing them. It helps me regain perspective and use the language of shared experience to transfer and talk about some pretty intangible feelings.
I haven’t had much perspective recently. Feeling anxious seems to magnify individual moments. It’s as though I am living life too close up. I don’t have the capacity to see beyond the worry I’m experiencing right now.
My nose is right up against the canvas rubbing in all the tiny flaws and bumps. From here they look huge and distorted. But we all know an oil painting looks better from afar. The swirls of dark colour and the lumps of paint add texture and depth to the bigger picture.
I’m not saying that this kind of anxiety is necessary or important to make up the picture of a life – it really isn’t. BUT I have found that whispering ‘remember the oil painting’ to myself has reminded me to step back and question whether the worry that’s causing overpowering anxiety right now will matter at all in a year (or even a month or a week). It’s helped stop those tricky surges of panic become uncontrollable.
The oil painting metaphor can help to stop anxiety become unmanageable. The concept of tapes helps me to deal with those low level ongoing worries that threaten to cause a downwards spiral.
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy teaches that sometimes we need to recognise and accept what is going on for us in the moment but not to engage with it. The idea of tapes playing out in my mind helps me make sense of this.
My anxiety and depression have a whole collection of tapes which they regularly choose to play. They particularly like to put them on when I’m going about my day on auto pilot – that’s the best time to get me really listening.
There’s the Food Tape which features such gems as ‘What have I eaten? Is that too much? Does that mean I’m going to get fat?‘. There’s the Regret Tape with the number one hit ‘I should have done that differently‘. And there’s the I’m Not Good Enough Tape with the ‘I’m going to fail, I’ll never get anywhere, I’m rubbish compared to them, they’re going to find me out’ mix.
Sometimes they play quietly in the background to sneak in when I’m not thinking about anything else. Sometimes they turn the volume up really really high and take over completely.
The tapes will pose questions. As humans we feel we need to answer questions. We feel questions should have an answer. So we end up engaging with the tapes. We try to find answers to the impossible question they pose and we get more and more miserable and worn down.
Instead I have been trying to recognise the songs and, more importantly, let the tapes play out. When I can say “Oh, there’s the I’m Not Good Enough tape playing again” it’s much easier not to feel compelled to engage with the questions and worries in the mix. Engaging with the tapes gives them power. I can’t always interrupt them or answer their questions but I can distract myself and let the batteries run down. Thinking this way really helps me stay away from those downward spirals of negativity.
And maybe one day my mind will start to rock to ‘I’m Doing Freaking Great’, ‘Well THAT Was A Massive Success’ and ‘Don’t I Look Awesome’. And perhaps upgrade to a more modern form of music player too!