Friday, 11 May 2018

EXPOSURE THERAPY: Three Months In

In 2016 I was involved in a serious car accident (you can read more about it here and how it impacted my life one year on here - warning - if you're an anxious person you may not want to). Though my physical injuries were minimal for the severity of the crash, the impact it has had on my mental health has been intense. My struggled with anxiety aren't something I write about very often, so to many it may come as a surprise. My Instagram feed and blog are filled with happy photos of my family adventures, but what you don't see is the tears, panic and almost constant twist of worry in my stomach. Travelling anywhere in the car is hard for me, which not only makes my day to day world very small but it also means that I have to confront my fear almost daily.

During one of the doctor appointments after the crash Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was mentioned to help with my anxiety. It isn't something I knew much about, but I was dubious from the word go. I don't really like talking about my thoughts/feelings and like to think that I can just 'fix' myself. Anxiety is such a frustrating issue to have because so much of me is rational, but then there are the niggling thoughts that I know aren't rational but they take over. They fill my brain pretty much constantly with worry, doubt and frustration; it's like there's a battle constantly going on in my head and it is truly exhausting. 

The doctor referred me to the NHS Let's Talk Wellbeing, which I believe is the East Midlands Mental Health Support Service. After a bit of a wait I was given a date for the initial assessment over the phone, which involved going through the key details behind my anxiety and filling in a questionnaire they had sent through. It was nothing to worry about and enabled them to decide which line of treatment to try within CBT.

Exposure Therapy was decided as the first treatment to directly address my issues, which scared me a lot. Exposure meant driving and that is the last thing I wanted to do. If I'm honest what I really wanted to happen was someone to say some magic words that would make me see the risk of driving more rationally and that almost overnight I would be 'fixed'. But that was one thing I learnt very quickly, if I wanted to get better I would have to put a lot of effort in. I was given a few different options on how I'd like the receive the therapy, whether it be in a group meeting, over the telephone, via an online course or in a one-on-one meeting. I opted for the telephone meeting because driving anywhere would obviously cause more worry. 

Aside from the challenges of facing the anxiety issues through Exposure Therapy I also have to balance that with parenthood. When I first started having the telephone meetings Poppy was pretty young, so I would just organise them for a time I would hope she'd be asleep or feeding and on a day Isabella would be at nursery. But the older she has got the harder it has been to plan a time that she will be sleeping, which has meant I've had a few appointments while having to entertain a baby. This makes it hard to concentrate, listen with my full attention and therefore impacts on the effectiveness of those sessions. But I am a parent who doesn't have family near-by, so will have to continue to balance therapy and being a mother. We all know that there is no 'me-time' when you become a parent!

The first couple of therapy sessions were a real struggle and I could feel myself digging my heels in. I didn't want to have to drive. I didn't want to talk about the crash again. I didn't want to have to face my fears. The therapist said that I needed to drive every day, listen to a 15 minute relaxation CD before I left the house and assess how my anxiety levels changed throughout the process. My initial reaction was...who has time for that? I have two children with me, I can only dream of having 15 minutes of relaxation a day and driving for the sake of driving is just not something I am willing to do. I came up with excuse after excuse as to why I couldn't do it, but looking back that was definitely through complete fear. The nature of Exposure Therapy is facing your fear head on and being exposed to it for long enough that your anxiety levels start to decrease. This is meant to help reset the brain, but I had my doubts. 

There were two weeks between appointments and it took at least the first month for me to properly get my head around trying to do it. It felt like the therapist had just told me to go and drive, without any coping mechanisms or strategies to help. I felt abandoned and exposed. Despite discussing these thoughts I was continuously told to keep on driving on the roads that scare me and to assess how my anxiety changed. I could never manage driving everyday, but did get up to driving every other day and I was starting to see some change. 

After about two months I was getting better at not coming up with excuses as to why I couldn't drive and the anxiety prior to trips was getting a bit better. However I'd have one horrible journey and be back at square one. For example, if the journey was particularly busy or there was a lot of braking/changing lanes or evidence of a past crash or bad weather then I would deem it a 'bad' journey and once again my anxiety levels would be up again. Continuously being exposed to my fears of driving was and still is exhausting and all consuming at times. 

After three months of this 'making progress to only be knocked back again' my therapist decided that I needed to go from low intensity CBT (Exposure Therapy) to high intensity and that is where I'm currently at. I now don't have appointments with my Exposure Therapy therapist and am waiting to be assigned to a new CBT therapist. I'm hoping that the next round of therapy will address my mental issues, rather than the act of driving because something I've not really discussed is how awful I am as a passenger too. It's not just driving, in fact being a passenger is probably when my anxiety it at its highest. Everything is out of my control and because I'm not concentrating on driving my thoughts are consumed with negativity of crashes and ultimately dying. 

I am really hoping that the next level of CBT will make travelling easier and get my anxiety under control, but right now I am unsure. I feel as though I can never be 'fixed' and that is a pretty overwhelming feeling, but there's hope and right now that's all I can wish for.

Feel free to leave a comment - I love reading every single one :)

Helen x


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16 comments

  1. I really hope this next level works for you. That cycle of negative thoughts can be so damaging and so difficult to deal with, I really feel for you. My husband is going through therapy at the moment, and moved from one therapist to another and the difference is staggering. It's still really hard work for him, but the progress he's making is quicker than I'd ever have hoped for and I'm so proud of him. I think with everything, it's about finding the right therapist and the right technique for you. I really hope this next one is the one for you!

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  2. I really hope that the next level works for you. The brain deals with trauma in such random ways and it can be really tough. Good luck xx

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  3. I can totally relate to you with this! I had a car accident a few years ago & haven't felt the same about driving since. My anxiety afterwards was sky high, I had CBT via the NHS which didn't work as it was the similar to the exposure therapy you mentioned. I'm not sure how 'just go & drive' helps as, like you, I wasn't given coping techniques for when I was out if something bad did happen! Eventually I went to see a private counsellor who really helped me. I'm still not 'cured', but getting there. Best of luck with your new therapy sessions, it's all about finding what works for you x

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  4. How awful for you - anxiety is a vile thing to suffer with and to have it related to something that is such a routine part of life must be terrible. I am a real believer in talking therapies so I hope it helps you find a way to manage your anxiety and the memories of your crash x

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  5. I can relate to your feelings of driving for peace. I too have no family support so sometimes I just hate the idea of having to drive with two toddlers in the backseat. It’s not relaxing at all. But pleased to hear you made some progress.

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  6. I am sorry that you had go through not only the accident but also the anxiety afterwards. It is so nice of you though that you are sharing your experience and feelings with the world, it will help a lot of people. I am sure that the next level of CBT will work for you <3

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  7. How horrible for you . I am so sorry you have had to go through this . Anxiety is a horrible thing , I suffer bad with it but hopefully your CBT lessons will help . Kira

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  8. This must be so hard for you :( Well done for being motivated to try and 'fix' your anxiety. I also personally suffer, maybe not to the same extent but it is nice to know that you aren't alone. I hope the next level is better for you.

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  9. This is so important to chat about as I bet there is lots of people who suffer the same but don't know who to turn to for help. I really hope that the 2nd stage helps you

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  10. I can relate. I was involved in a bad accident many years ago. It was a scary experience.

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  11. I have suffered from anxiety my whole life and spent years in and out of CBT. It has really helped me and I hope it will help you too. Lots of love.

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  12. Oh my gosh... I’ve just read about your car crash. Blimey!!! Of course you would be anxious about driving again. Anyone would. Even just getting into a car. You are being very brave to give this type of therapy a go. I hope it starts to help more. Xx

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  13. Honestly you are so brave to have gone through exposure therapy because it must be difficult to try and get over your fear of driving in light of the crash. I am thankful that you are alive but I can see why you are frightened of driving again. But you are so brave to seek help for your mental health struggles and I do hope that it will continue to help you out.

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  14. I had a nasty car accident when I was pregnant with Kian (he is 18 in august) and I remember being very anxious in and around cars for years afterwards. I am ok now but still have times when I feel anxious, especially if I am not driving. Sounds like treatment is starting to work

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  15. Oh my word Helen, I've just read your post about the crash. I really hope that driver lost their licence as they should not be on the roads endangering lives like they were. It's no wonder you have such bad fears about driving again, it's completely understandable. I really do hope the therapy works and even just gives you a little bit of confidence to get your freedom back. My sister was involved in a car/bicycle incident a few years ago and it's affected her quite badly. She won't drive on motorways at all and avoids the area where the incident occurs if she's behind the wheel.

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