It’s a whiteknuckle ride

I came across an expression the other day which I absolutely loved. It was this: “white knuckling your way through an exposure” (found in this post by Angie)

It summed up something that I’d been thinking about in relation to exposures but I’d never heard mentioned in great detail. Having said that I think it could be the key to why a lot of treatment doesn’t work as adequately as it could.

So what is “whiteknuckling” your way through an exposure?

I became aware of it through a friend who is also undertaking ERP (Exposure Response Prevention) for her OCD. She was describing doing exposures but explaining that it all felt rather perfunctory. Whilst I heard her talk about the imagery scripting she was having to do it sounded as if she had very little anxiety from it. It was like she was doing it as a rather academic exercise but not really connecting with it. Once she described this I began to honestly reflect on some of my exposures and I remembered that I’d “whiteknuckled” my way through some of them too.

In my experience I didn’t always fully commit to the uncertainty and the exercise (sorry CBT therapist). In fairness to myself I did become aware of this but I never had a word to describe what I’d been doing.

Now I do. And it’s “whiteknuckling”. Whiteknuckling in my mind is doing your exposure but not really “being there” either. It’s doing an exposure but detaching yourself from what is going on. My friend spoke of not really believing it’s OCD so half heartedly doing the exercise fully expecting to have to “figure it all out” later. It’s gritting your teeth and kind of telling yourself that maybe you’ll believe that you’re contaminated/a paeodphile all the while telling yourself that you’ll keep checking later.

So now we’re aware that we all whiteknuckle our way through some of our exposures (we all do right?) what can we do to address this.

The first one is showing up wholeheartedly to whatever exposure it is. Really connect to whatever it is you’re doing; if it’s writing an imaginal script really embody the words that you’re writing. It’s no good writing it as if you were writing your times tables. You have to really step inside the script.
If you’re having to contaminate yourself with dirt then really smear it on and commit to the belief that you might be really truly dirty and so on.

Secondly, check your breathing. If you’re holding your breath then it might be a clue that you’re whiteknuckling through an exposure. When we hold our breath tightly then we’re often not really allowing ourselves to feel whatever sensations may arise (usually terrifying anxiety). I can remember having to look at pictures in magazines of children and kind of holding my breath and crossing my legs whilst I did it. I was doing my exposure right? Wrong, I was squinting at a picture but with one eye on the exposure whilst the other part of me looked in the other direction (metaphorically speaking).

Thirdly, be honest with your therapist if this is what you are doing. They may have some things they want to try to help you truly commit to the task at hand.

And remember it’s not about getting an exposure 100% right but it is about being honest with ourselves and getting down and dirty with exposure.

Any thoughts? Anyone else identify with whiteknuckling?

Emily x


Anxiety Symptoms

I was scanning the internet the other day and came across a list on an anxiety website (thank you Anxiety Centre) that listed common anxiety symptoms. I have to say this had to be one of the most reassuring things EVER –  many of the symptoms I experience I know are anxiety symptoms but some of the ones I have I hsf convinced myself were not the symptoms of anxiety but actually a sign that something even more serious was wrong (I should have just realised that this was the whispering voice of anxiety but nooooo I just lived with the cold certainty that really only someone with anxiety does that anxiety was the least of my worries because obviously there’s actually something more serious wrong with me, I mean obviously!).

So I’m going to post the list below and believe me it’s long – this list isn’t even exhaustive so if you’re experiencing a symptom that’s not on there don’t clutch your heart and think oh god I really am losing my mind because I assure you it will be anxiety being a sneaky devil and trying to trick you. I’m going to highlight the ones that I experience, not necessarily all the time but they will all be ones I’ve had at some time or another. I’m doing this not because I’m on some kind of weird sympathy trip but because I want to highlight a) just how much anxiety can play with you b) to reassure others out there that it’s not just you and c) because I want to try and tackle some stigma.
People make huge generalizations that people with mental health/emotional health can’t work or are somehow set up to fail in life and let’s face it I’ve presumably internalised some of that stigma somewhere along the road hence why when I feel anxious I spiral into a panic that starts the journey at I’m not going to be able to cope at work, takes in the view of I’m never going to be able to work again and stops the car at I will feel I’ve failed in life. Those ideas didn’t come from no-where and I’d be willing to hazard a guess they have their roots in society’s stigma of those with mental illnesses so I’m going to try and do my bit to challenge it. If people can see that I suffer any number of these symptoms and yet still plod to work – yes some days I may not be the most fun person in the office but hey frankly I’m willing to forego that honour and just make it through the working day and you know what I think I do a fairly good job.

So here is that list – I have to say thank you to Anxiety Centre for this as I’ve taken it from there, although made some changes as there were some things repeated and so on but it is their work. I have highlighted the symptoms I experience in bold so read it and I hope it reassures you:

Click here for the list of symptoms: anxiety symptoms


Why the blog?

The word anxiety is thrown around all the time. Everyone knows what it is to feel scared and yes to feel anxious, it can be helpful in many circumstances making sure we know when there is danger and sometimes even pushing us to do well.

This blog is for those where feeling anxious has gone beyond helpful – where it feels like it’s become a permanent guest, one you’ve asked to leave many times, you’ve told them that you don’t like the things they say, the way they make you feel but still they cling on, saying not very nice things, stamping their feet. That’s anxiety. 
Just to give a brief outline, I’m someone who gets bouts of feeling anxious (I don’t even really like the word anxiety, it feels too much like an identity so I’m trying to train myself not to use it). Ever since I was young I can remember having obsessive thoughts, some of which are very distressing and provoke extreme feelings of fear, no scrap that terror. At my worst, if the feelings get too much I vomit spontaneously, no doubt to expel some of the pressure and panic that builds up in my body. I have had long periods where it hasn’t been a problem (even though some of the obsessive thoughts have still been there). I’ve built up some avoidant strategies and that has kind of seen me through. Right now I’m having a flare up of anxiety, a rush of obsessive thoughts and general feelings of panic. 
The purpose of this blog is not to over-share and divulge all the ins and outs of my obsessive thoughts or worries but it’s to provide some reassurance I suppose to me and others, a place of safety if you will where we can just come and say “today I feel anxious”. I like the idea of posting things that are soothing and so that will really be the main aim. 
Please feel free to post comments (I will aim to reply) but please be aware that I am not a counsellor and if you are finding things really difficult there are professionals who can help and who you can be put in touch with. 
*There is hope and where there is hope there is strength*