“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.”
– Arnold Schwarzenegger
There I was, living my life with ease. Almost ten months had gone by without a panic attack. The pesky depression, depersonalization, and agoraphobia that had plagued me relentlessly were nowhere in sight. I was doing things I never thought I could do again, like drive on highways and take vacations.
But amidst all this progress, there was one thing looming over me like a dark cloud: the fear of relapse. For anyone who has ever dealt with depression, anxiety, or addiction, the fear of relapse is a very real and menacing threat.
When you’ve found yourself at the bottom of a black hole, and it took every single piece of energy in you to scrape yourself out, of course you never, ever want to fall back into that hole again.
Whenever any sign of the anxiety and depression started creeping back in, I immediately became frozen with fear that I was headed back into that horrible black hole, and that this time, I wouldn’t be able to get myself out.
I realized quickly that this fear was only inhibiting me from being happy with my progress here and now. I needed a way to overcome this fear if I was ever to move forward. Here are a few tips that helped me see past the fear of relapse.
Trust your own strength.
When I imagined relapsing, it always came with the thought, “I won’t be able to handle going through this again.” I doubted myself and my strength. But then I started looking back on all the times when my own strength has surprised me.
There was a time when I never thought I could go a single day without a panic attack. There was a time when depression allowed me to think I couldn’t possibly put one foot in front of the other, or breathe one more breath. And here I am moving and breathing and flourishing.
Make a list of all the obstacles in your life you have overcome. Recognize that you have a perfect track record so far of dealing with what life throws at you because no matter how hard it was, you’re still here.
Trust that you are strong enough to handle whatever comes your way, because you are.
Realize that you have more tools now.
The very first time I had a panic attack was the scariest moment of my life. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t know why I was feeling so detached from my surroundings.
But through my recovery, I learned so many valuable tools that allowed me to deal with my anxiety more effectively. I learned what works for me and what doesn’t.
Even if you tried, you can never “un-know” the things you’ve learned. If you’ve made it out of a tough situation before, odds are you learned strategies to cope. Those will always be with you. You’ll never have to go back to that initial surprise of flailing around in confusion.
Have a plan.
Make a list of all the tools that helped you recover. Then, be prepared to implement them again at the first sign of a setback.
When I sensed anxiety creeping back in recently, I got out my list of tools and went through them one by one: I reached out to my loved ones for support. I got out my workbooks from therapy. I continued to do everything I would normally do, even though my fear wanted me to stay “in safety.” Sometimes just reminding myself that I have plenty of options to help me through the setback is enough to calm my fears.
Creating a plan can help to take the surprise out of a setback. You’ll feel more ready and prepared to take it on.
Look at it as a way to practice your skills.
Instead of viewing a difficult moment as a setback, look at it as a way to show off all the skills and tools you now have under your belt.
When panic started knocking at my door again, instead of thinking, oh no, here we go again…, I switched my thoughts to, this is a wonderful chance for me to practice my skills. I could practice deep breathing, positive affirmations, and whatever else I gathered in my treatment to demonstrate to myself just how much I have learned and grown.
Recently, I noticed that it took me about a minute to talk myself down from a panic attack, while in the past, it would have turned into a 20-minute full-blown attack. Instead of being upset that my anxiety was flaring, I was so proud of myself for showing just how far I’ve come and remembering the self-talk tools I’ve collected.
Allow yourself to truly celebrate your successes.
Since I was so focused on relapsing, I couldn’t truly enjoy how far I had come. I was living in fear of something that may never happen, and it stopped me from seeing how beautiful and strong I had become right here and now.
Every day, celebrate your successes, even if it just means getting out of bed that morning. Don’t let the dark, fear-of-relapse cloud block the sunshine that is your progress. You’re here, you’re breathing, you’re strong. Let’s celebrate!
The possibility of a relapse may always be a reality, but my fear of it doesn’t have to inhibit my life any longer. The more I started to focus on the positive aspects of my progress, the less space there was for the fear to enter my mind. By shifting my attention to my unwavering strength, knowledge, and success, I can now embrace my progress with an open heart.
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9 thoughts on “Overcoming the Fear of Relapse”
A very inspiring post, specially since I have been dealing with a lot of fear lately, but it’s true, having a plan has changed a lot for me. I guess just knowing that you have a plan for the difficult times helps to relieve a lot of the anxiety involved.
Also, one thing that my girlfriend taught me is that it’s ok to feel my emotions. As a guy you usually get all this “boys don’t cry” thing and you end up repressing your own emotions. For me accepting that it’s ok to be afraid has helped me a lot with anxiety. However I think i never reached the point of a panic attack.
Thanks for the inspiring post!
Thanks for sharing, Alex! I love how you said you’ve started “accepting that it’s ok to be afraid.” That’s such a big part of it! Wishing you well on your journey.
Great read, thanks for sharing your story. Having been out of similar phase over 3 months ago I can relate to anxiety and fear falling back in the same loop of negative emotions. Its great that you are focused on controlling your thoughts and are making an effort to live in the moment.
Thank you! Glad you could relate. Wonderful that you’ve gotten yourself out of it. Just remember how strong you are and there’s no need to fear going back! Best of luck to you.
Inspiring read. thanks for sharing your story. I can relate to this since I experienced a dark time in my late teens. It took some effort and support from my family to keep me from coming back to that dark time.
Thanks for taking the time out to comment, and I’m glad you could relate. How wonderful that you had a support system to see you through your hard time. Wishing you the best on your journey!
Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom Malia! I suffer from anxiety and have had some difficult situations dealing with my panic attacks. I truely understand and can relate to that black hole you talked about. I have been there and know all to well it’s dibilitating effects. I have started to climb my way out…but am always fearful of that relapse that can land me back to the bottom of the black hole. The tools you have shared are invaluable and I will use them to keep myself balanced in life. Thank you once again for sharing!
Staying present and mindful and being able to monitor my own emotional mastery is such a big part of staying grounded. It’s a level of practiced awareness to maintain everyday.
Thanks for your clear writing,
Thank you for sharing your knowledge! I have mostly recovered from my first bout of anxiety 6 months ago (after lots & lots of internal work). Now, I fear relapse. You remind me that acceptance is key and relapse is nothing to be afraid of!