Advice | Carolyn Hax: When successfully managed anxiety starts to creep back in – The Washington Post


Adapted from two online discussions, here and here.

Dear Carolyn: After 10 years of grief events, things finally got bad enough that I asked for help with my depression and anxiety, and I made big changes. I got a new therapist and went back on meds. I felt as if I had a breakthrough. I was more content and secure and confident than I could remember feeling in years, maybe ever.

But over the past couple of weeks, little moments of anxiety have started creeping back in. The surprise ones that come from a divergent brain rather than reality. And the loneliness is coming back, too, the kind that comes with negative self-talk. It’s definitely not as bad as it was, but after feeling so good, it’s scaring the snot out of me. I don’t want to go back to where I was.

My awesome therapist has been busy (like many mental health professionals) and it’s been harder to get an appointment. I’m seeing her this week, but what can I do in the meantime? Is this normal? It’s not like I thought I was “cured” or anything, but I really did think I was beyond most of this.

— Freaking Out

Freaking Out: This is totally normal, yes. Even better, there’s some really good news in there.

Because you’ve been through this, you were able to see the signs. I’m guessing much earlier than you caught them last time, when “things finally got bad enough.” Now you are in full response mode just from noticing some flickers at the edges.

So give yourself due credit. You are on to the tricks your brain can play, and you are taking the right steps.

As you wait for your appointment, I suggest being meticulous in your self-care (food choices, exercise, sleep) and getting outside as much as you can. Walking can be a form of therapy for those who have the option. Force yourself to reach out to a bunch of different people, just to increase the chances that someone will engage with you. Play beloved music. Get lost in a story. Catch yourself as you’re dreading a negative possible outcome, and redirect it to a positive outcome that’s just as likely. Both are equally speculative. Starve your doubts.

All this is a version of “cured” you can believe in: being equipped to manage your health as circumstances change.

Dear Carolyn: I recently married and later found out that my husband started an affair before the wedding. He now says it was because of depression. I’m not buying that depression alone would cause him to lie in such elaborate ways to cover up his actions and to be so unethical in the first place.

Given all the stories of human frailty you read, does this even begin to pass the sniff test?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: 1. People struggling with depression can find themselves doing things they never thought they would do and justifying things they would never otherwise justify and regretting both intensely. Think of them as pain-relief-seeking missiles. (The ones able to motivate themselves to seek relief, that is.)

3. One and two can both be true. So, even if he is/was depressed (I can’t possibly know, but presumably you do?) and was self-soothing, that doesn’t obligate you to remain married.

I’m sorry you’re living this frailty scenario. Therapy for you alone might be just the thing, if only for a few sessions to dump some angst and clarify your thinking.