Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that is designed to help people manage problematic fears. Through the use of various systematic techniques, a person is gradually exposed to the situation that causes them distress. The goal of exposure therapy is to create a safe environment in which a person can reduce anxiety, decrease avoidance of dreaded situations, and improve one’s quality of life. A number of mental health issues can be treated with exposure therapy. Many people with anxiety and trauma-related issues have found exposure therapy to be helpful. Applicable mental health issues include, but are not limited to: phobias, social anxiety, general anxiety, post-traumatic stress (PTSD), obsessive compulsive anxiety issues (OCD), and panic attacks.
My mental health conditions started when I was younger. My depression for example was diagnosed when I was in the 5th grade, shortly after my grandpa passed away. My PTSD started when I was in middle school, and my other conditions, like anxiety with panic attacks and my OCD all started when I was in high school. Since then I’ve been diagnosed with other conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD, and social anxiety.
I didn’t really start receiving any treatment for most of my conditions until around 2009 or 2010, and I didn’t start going to therapy regularly until 2014.
The idea of exposure therapy was first introduced to me back in 2010, when I saw a show on VH1 called The OCD Project. The show featured multiple patients who all battled with various forms of OCD, anxiety, and phobias living in a house together and over the course of the show the patients would receive different types of therapy, including exposure therapy which put each person into a controlled worst case scenario situation. To be honest I don’t remember much about the show, I don’t remember if the exposure therapy helped any of the patients. The idea though of exposure therapy has stuck with me since seeing that show.
Since I started receiving therapy I had always hoped that my therapists would want to try exposure therapy on me. I truly think that I would see benefits from exposure therapy, especially when it comes to self confidence. Bob and I have sort of been doing small exposure therapy things since we moved down here and started going to Disney World and Universal. I have a really hard time with crowds and Bob has always been comforting and supportive every time we’ve gone to a park and kind of let’s me go at my own pace, and he doesn’t force me to do anything that may make my anxiety worse. Just from the handful of times that we’ve ventured to the parks I have already seen some growth in the confidence department.
Then two or three months ago my Facebook friend Craig and I were chatting the topic of Disney marathons came up, and he mentioned that there were openings for the Star Wars 5K. Immediately in my mind I saw it as exposure therapy, and kind of without hesitating I decided I would sign up. I knew that if I allowed myself time to think about it, I would somehow talk myself out of it. I have never been someone who likes walking more than I have to, let alone running. The last time I really remember running was back in middle school when I was on the wrestling team.
I started going for walks by myself, which was already a big step for me, and eventually I found that I could walk a few miles almost every day. Bob was supportive of me going for walks, I think he saw it as real growth for me since when ever we go anywhere he always kind of has to be glued to my side, but with these walks I am doing them alone and I’m doing them on my own, nobody is forcing me to do them.
I do do my typical worrying when I am on my walks, I am constantly worrying that someone will attack me from behind, or someone will try and rob me, or someone will break into the house while I am gone. So to say that I am easily going for the walks isn’t true, each and every walk is kind of another war that I have to fight in my head. And honestly, if I had to say what has made it a little easier, it’s that I now tell myself “so what, let it happen” every time a bad thought comes up. I mentally have to build myself up before each walk and I leave the house expecting the worst to happen to me and then when it doesn’t happen and I make it back home to find that everything is ok, then I can relax.
Around the time that I signed up for the 5K, my therapist went on maternity leave, and she tried getting me set up with another therapist. I’ve seen the other therapist 3 or 4 times now, but honestly I’ve felt like I’ve kind of been doing this on my own, preparing for the 5K without the help of a therapist. I received a call today from the therapist that is filling in and she said that my regular therapist will be returning in the next few weeks. I am really looking forward to doing the 5K this Friday, getting a medal, and then having it to show to my regular therapist when she comes back, I know she’ll be proud of me.
With the 5K just a few days away I already feel the bird sized butterflies in my chest, anytime that I start thinking about the 5K or chat about the 5K with anyone my hands begin to tingle. Yes I am very anxious about it, but I am also excited for it. Sadly Bob couldn’t get that day off of work, so I won’t have him there for support, but my friend Craig is going to be there and he says that he’ll be right beside me the whole time. I don’t want to bug him with my anxiety so I am going to try and internalize everything and do it on my own. I haven’t had a good nights sleep the last couple weeks, I say my prayers before I go to bed and as soon as I reach the 5K I begin worrying and then it all kind of snowballs into anxiety. Last night I began having a mild panic attack while praying and I ended up having to get up out of bed to take meds a couple times.
I didn’t go for a walk today, which I was kind of bummed about, I started wearing a different pair of shoes that I tied differently late last week and I developed a big blister on my left heel. Yesterday after my walk I saw that the blister had tore and I put neosporin on it and put bandaids on it. I am hoping it will heal up quickly so that I won’t have to deal with it on Friday. I’ve read a few articles that have different tips for how to prevent blisters and how to treat them for when you are going for walks and runs, so tomorrow I am going to try out wearing two pairs of socks to see if that helps. Then on Thursday depending on how the two pairs of socks works out I might try putting deodorant on my feet to see if that really helps or not.
The 5K will be the closest thing to exposure therapy that I’ve ever faced, I will have to deal with big crowds with everyone being kind of bunched up together. Unlike at the parks, everyone will be going in the same general direction, which will make it a lot easier. Craig and his friend Maria will be there for support and guidance, but I am going to have my earbuds on and will be listening to music.
I’ve never really had an opportunity to earn anything since graduating high school, let alone do something that the average person might not be able to do. This 5K will be a real test for me, and I am going to try everything I can to do my best. I know my anxiety will only be getting worse leading up to it, and knowing my stomach conditions I will probably be throwing up the night before and the day of and possibly right before and during the 5K. It’s going to be a battle, my body and mind aren’t going to want to do it, but I am going to have to overcome them.
Wish me luck on the 5K