Paul’s Story

Case study - Paul

“I read a newspaper feature about anxiety and there was something in it I recognised.”

I’m a practicing Buddhist and I attempted to give a lecture at the end of 2006 – this is something I’m expected to do in my position, and it’s something I want to do actually. I went into a blue funk though. I disappeared… I didn’t even turn up… and I plummeted into a state of desperation for weeks.

Sometime after that I read a feature in the paper about anxiety. There was something in the piece I recognised, and I also saw there was a possibility I could do something about it. I must admit, I had no real confidence in the chances of success from therapy, but I was so desperate that I made contact with the Trust.

“I’d often be embarrassed in social situations, and when I’d blush I felt like other people knew about it.”

The treatment taught me to confront social situations I found difficult. Part of the therapy was to put myself in experimental situations with others – these were, say, social situations at lunchtime when people sat around having their sandwiches. That would be a place I’d usually be reluctant to stay because I felt very, very self-conscious. I might be alright for a minute, but sooner or later I’d feel like the focus of attention, or I’d say something, go red and embarrass myself.

So, I started to use those situations – like a lion’s den – to see if I could take on the lion. I’d just try and stay there, talk naturally and listen to what people were saying. One of my old strategies was to perform because I felt I always had to be interesting. I had to sling this strategy out of the window and be myself… then see how that felt, see how people reacted to me.

“I had to relearn the way I’d been dealing with things.”

Checking with others how they saw me was not something I wanted to do at all. If I felt someone had witnessed my embarrassment, I just didn’t want to see them for ages. With the support of the therapy though, I forced myself to check the reality… to check with people whether what I was feeling was actually what they were seeing.

I discovered through a process of biting the bullet that many times that they didn’t see what I was feeling. And even if they had noticed I’d been embarrassed, it really wasn’t a big deal for them.

I also learnt to stop focusing on myself all the time. Thinking about myself would always exacerbate the problem so it wasn’t really helping me.

“My therapist was able to push me but support me at the same time.”

My relationship with my therapist over the weeks and the months was really, really important. He was able to push me but support me at the same time. I would also get feedback, which meant a lot to me. It was something I could build on and it would give me confidence.

Recently I was reviewing the goals I had written down after the first session of therapy. There were three. My first was to be able to give a Buddhist lecture and not give myself a bad time afterwards, because I would usually be fearful of an event, go through it, and then invariably give myself a bad time afterwards. The second was to be able to give feedback at the management team meeting where I work without going red or worrying about it. And the third one was related to authority figures and how difficult it was to be myself around them.

These things changed during the process of the treatment, but the proof that the therapy had worked for me was that I was able to give that Buddhist lecture three weeks ago.

“I felt triumphant.”

For me, that almost felt like a miracle. People can’t understand it – they think I’m confident and educated and articulate, but I could never get over that feeling of utter incapacitation from the anxiety. I unusually felt nothing but utter panic and couldn’t even prepare.

In addition, I didn’t feel bad after giving the lecture. I didn’t do the normal thing of analysing everything and picking on any signs of imperfection. I felt triumphant actually and I’ve got another one booked already.

“I’ve still got some work to do, but I know how to intervene between my feelings and reality now.”

The second and third goals are still work in progress, but one of the things we’ve talked a lot about during the therapy is just being ‘so good’. I now know that my perfectionism is another source of anxiety for me, so I’m allowing myself to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I haven’t done that quite yet’… to see if the earth implodes or something. I’ve been testing it out with the help of my therapist and I’m still alive to tell the tale!

I think one of the keys to success has been committing myself to the process, doing my homework and taking time.

“The thing I found most astonishing was that I wasn’t the only person in the world who suffered from this.”

To find that these kinds of situations cause anxiety in lots of people and not just me: that really surprised me. That was a wonderful discovery.

 I’d really encourage other people to try therapy because anxiety can really stop you from fulfilling your potential, and stop you from being happy. In the therapy, you have to put yourself in situations you would usually run from, but you’ll be supported.

For me, it’s about taking up your courage and trusting this work, the approach. It really can help you to confront your demons and conquer them.

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