The benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy

I would like to use this blog post to touch on a rather personal subject in the hope of reaching and directly or indirectly helping likeminded people who struggle with anxiety too.

I feel I have had underlying anxiety for as long as I can remember.
At school, I was always the kid who refused to climb trees out of fear of falling off. I always took excessive precautions for the dumbest of things. Everything seemed too high or dangerous to jump off from. I first had to squat to “test the waters” until I felt comfortable enough to “let go and go nuts”.
There was no diagnose or any need to get diagnosed. There was no name for it. People just thought I was fragile and sensitive.

Nevertheless, I had a wonderful childhood. My anxiety was always present, but I never took the effort to label it, let alone grant it any importance whatsoever. It was just a feeling that crept up once every so often that made my body feel weird or tense.
Back then, I unconsciously developed some recurring symptoms that seemed harmless at the time but in hindsight were pretty revealing or indicative of anxiety. Shaky, restless legs, pounding or racing heart, upset stomach, you name it.

I never realized how serious my anxiety was until now almost five years ago. Before that, I never went through the trouble of having it diagnosed. Up until then, it had always been uncomfortable, yet manageable. In 2016, I suffered a traumatic experience and since then, the anxiety made sure to let me know it wasn’t going anywhere. It intensified and it got scary.

Prior to this experience, what soothed me was the naïve assumption that “I’m just too much in my head” and that things could never go as wrong as I fear. 2016 gave me and my anxious mind the lesson that the worst can actually happen. That was a lesson I’d gladly have skipped.

My anxiety got out of control by the end of 2017. I suffered severe panic attacks which I thought would be the end of me. My heart did all kinds of crazy things (palpitations, skipped beats, racing, pounding, …), my digestive system collapsed, I had a brief period of agoraphobia and I avoided all the things that I could avoid without too many repercussions. Work, trips, .. you name it. I paid more visits to the doctor and the emergency room than the entire 35 years of my life combined and I had the most invasive kind of tests done on me to rule out serious illnesses.

Before that time, I maintained a belief system that if I took some kind of vitamin or pill I would be fine. “I had coffee this morning. It’s normal I feel overly anxious.” And although it bears some truth that caffeine can trigger anxiety attacks in already prone individuals (quitting caffeine is one of the best things I did for my health), my anxiety was still my anxiety. It needed to be acknowledged and taken care of. There was nowhere for me to run anymore. There was no pill for me to take. My anxiety was here to stay. I couldn’t allow myself to be lazy anymore or that huge monster would take over my life.

Enter cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy) gave my mind the necessary tools to cope on its own. It has now been two and a half years since my last panic attack. I’ve come to miss my anxious moments because when it does hit, it hits hard and it makes me regret I wasn’t on high alert. Anxiety keeps me on my toes and serves as a reminder that I should take better care of myself. Rest more, care less, make more time for the things that really do matter in life. Zoom out. Spend time with and actively listen to my wife, make time for people I care about, not always be somewhere else in my head and worrying about things to come.
It takes a lot of time and patience – and experience – to make and notice improvements.but at least, I feel these tools are here for the long haul.
Some specific CBT tools which were very helpful for me:
• Focused distraction – while you’re having a panic attack, it will never be easy to distract yourself. But go through the motions and keep at it. The feeling will follow, your mind will eventually catch on. Sit with the discomfort temporarily and you’ll be rewarded.
• While you’re not distracted – stick with your anxiety. Be present with it. Observe and give it room. I used to have a mantra: “c’mon, destroy everything, show me what you’ve got”. Get yours.
• Persistence – don’t expect to see results straight away. You have to be patient. And when you feel like you’ve run out – be patient some more. It’s about the end game.
• The notion that no permanent physical damage is done, as intense as the panic attacks may seem at that moment.
• Probably the most important one: desensitization. The more panic attacks you have, the more you notice they can’t harm you. The more you just feel comfortable to let the storm pass.
• The circle of panic: allow, focused distraction, let the storm pass
• Intellectualizing the physical sensations of anxiety: A pounding or racing heart does not necessarily mean you’re having a heart attack. It is just your fight or flight response that works overtime. A constant feeling of having a lump in your throat does not mean you have cancer. More often than not, it is caused by severe stress or anxiety.

CBT focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions (e.g. thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes) and behaviors, improving emotional regulation and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems. The ultimate goal is to replace unhelpful and problematic thinking patterns with fresh, new, more constructive ones.

As I mentioned earlier, it has been a long time since my last panic attack but it serves me well to know that I will always be prone to anxiety. That is my personal kryptonite when times are hard. But thanks to CBT, I feel I have the necessary tools to not only cope, but to overcome it convincingly.

My life in film..

And music and video games. ”My life in film” just sounded better as a title.

Last night I laid restless in bed feeling sick. The sick part is not what bothered me. What bothered me is that I was rearranging my music library in Google Music and suddenly felt really overwhelmed. My music library wasn’t good enough a representation of the person that I was or that I am, for that matter. It wouldn’t matter to a person who cares little about music but it’s such a big part of my life. I extended the thought to films, series and video games and I realized I don’t have a huge database called ”Raph”. I mean, no sane person does but I feel very strongly about the fact that I can visualize where I was or who I was with simply by remembering which artist or film I was into at that particular moment in time. Nostalgia is very important to me. I am so passionate about so many things that I feel it would be too much of a waste to not remember these things when I’m going to be older. Also, for me, it gets easier to focus on the future when I have my past in order. It helps define who I am and where I’m from. So in my head, I started working on a chronological list of musicians, films, series and video games that helped define who I am today (yes, I am such a freak, no, I kid you not).

I sorted the list by decade. Sometimes you’ll notice I put an artist, film or video game that was more famous in an earlier time period versus in a more recent decade. That’s because it played more of a defining role in my life at that time.

80’s-90’s

Michael Jackson
Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque
Sega
Wonderboy in Monsterland
Olive et Tom
Tortues Ninja
Game Boy
Tetris
Mario

90’s – 00’s
Home Alone
Home Alone 2
Beverly Hills 90210
Hook
Willow
The Ten Commadments
Rocky 1,2,3,4,5
Richie Rich
Beverly Hills Cop
My Girl
Spaceballs
Metallica
Guns and Roses
Bryan Adams
Full House
Mrs. Doubtfire
Dennis the Menace
the Offspring
Street Fighter II
SNES
Joan Osborne
International Superstar Soccer
Braveheart
Whitesnake
Fifa(‘s)
True Lies
Forrest Gump
Roxette
Mr. Big
Queen
Nirvana
Radiohead
Primal Scream
Wayne’s World
Rock and Roll Racing
Faith No More
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
Lenny Kravitz
Soundgarden
Notting Hill
Jerry Maguire
Les visiteurs
NBA Jam
Alanis Morissette
Championship Manager 97
Jamiroquai
Friends
American History X
REM
Sheryl Crow
Pepe Deluxe
White Town
The Faculty
It’s a Funny Old Game
Anouk
Krezip
Dawson’s Creek
Big Red Racing
Buddha Bar
Oasis
Incubus
Café del Mar
De Phazz
Saint-Germain
Twelve Monkeys
Pulp Fiction
Reservoir Dogs
Jackie Brown
She’s the One
Trainspotting
The Game
Cruel Intentions
Counting Crows
Placebo
Manu Chao
There’s Something About Mary
American Pie
Blink 182
Michelle Branch
Reality Bites
Smashing Pumpkins
Fight Club
the Usual Suspects

 

00’s-10’s

Almost Famous
Snatch
The Big Lebowski
The Killers
More Radiohead
Death Cab for Cutie
Coldplay
Before Sunrise
Before Sunset
Requiem for a Dream
Rage Against the Machine
Weezer
Moby
The Beach
Traffic
Road Trip
High Fidelity
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
Amores Perros
Jackie Brown
Dreamers
Stealing Beauty
Last Tango in Paris
Bob Dylan
Jimi Hendrix
The Strokes
Kings of Leon
Clap your Hands Say Yeah
Arcade Fire
Silversun Pickups
Crash
The Village
Closer
Lost
Prison Break
The OC
How I Met Your Mother
Eurotrip
The Butterfly Effect
9 songs
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Garden State
The Shins
Along Came Polly
Wicker Park
House of Flying Daggers
Sigur Ros
Lord of the Rings 1,2,3
Ocean’s Eleven
Fast and the Furious
Black Hawk Down
Vanilla Sky
Blow
Enemy at the Gates
Zoolander
Not Another Teen Movie
Amélie
Monster’s Ball
Clerks
Cidade de Deus
The Pianist
Minority Report
Bush
Placebo
Ice Age
Gangs of New York
8 mile
Austin Powers
XXX
Adaptation
25th hour
La Haine
Infernal Affairs
Hable con Ella
Lucia y el Sexo
Y tu mama Tambien
40 days and 40 nights
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Pirates of the Carribean
Stereophonics
Kill Bill
Lost in Translation
Big Fish
Habana Blues
How to Lose a Guy in 10 days
21 grams
Thin Red Line
Intolerable Cruelty
Tape
Sum 41
Goodbye Lenin
The Edukators
Swimming Pool
V for Vendetta
Memento
Sin City
Brokeback Mountain
Wedding Crashers
Madagascar
Paris
Munich
The Blair Witch Project
Hard Candy
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
The Departed
The Lives of Others
She’s the One
Die Welle
Happy Feet
Paris, I love you
New York, I love you
Ratatouille
Into the Wild
Little Miss Sunshine
You Me and Everyone We Know
The Unicorns
Juno
I’m not there
Southpark
Family Guy
The Dark Knight
Auberge Espagnole
Burn After Reading
Kung Fu Panda
Hurt Locker
You don’t Mess with the Zohan
Yes Man
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind
Enemy at the Gates
La Vita e Bella
David Gray
The Fray
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
That 70s Show
The Hangover
The Pianist
Ash
Noir Desir
Ratatouille
The Believer
Matchstick Men
Annie Hall
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Jack Johnson
Ben Harper
Irreversible
La Meglio Gioventu
L’ultimo Bacio

10’s-20’s

MGMT
Yeasayer
The Black Keys
The Beatles
Woods
My Bloody Valentine
Transparent
Parks and Recreation
Like Crazy
Silver Linings Playbook
The Americans
Warpaint
Alt-J
The Wire
Breaking Bad
Game of Thrones
Happythankyoumoreplease
Liberal Arts
50/50
Interstellar
500 days of Summer
Knocked up
40 year Old Virgin
Girls
This is 40
The Big Short
Wolf of Wallstreet
Inglorious Basterds
Les poupees russes
Casse tete Chinois
Le premier jour du reste de ta vie
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Fauda
The Band That Visits
Waltz with Bashir
Lebanon
Creed
He’s just not that into you
I love you man
Up in the Air
Social Network
The Beatles
Blue Valentine
Birdman
The Last Waltz
La La Land
Inside Out
Incendies
Get Him to the Greek
Bridesmaids
Crazy Stupid Love
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Limitless
Super
Scott Pilgrim Against the World
Kick Ass
Dead Pool
Dead Pool 2
Star Wars 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
The Office
Midnight in Paris
Friends with Benefits
Curb your Enthusiasm
Modern Family
Entourage
Moneyball
Portugal. The Man
Naked
Django Unchained
Schindler’s List
The Hunger Games
The perks of being a wallflower
Trainwreck
Stuck in Love
Moonrise Kingdom
The Master
There Will be Blood
No Country for Old Men
Bohemian Rhapsody
Puccini Tosca
Life of Pi
Meet the Patels
Master of None
The Hunger Games
Her
Orange is the New Black
Blue is the warmest color
Mektoub, My love
To Rome With Love
Inside Llewyn Davis
Boyhood
Dallas Buyers Club
Blood Ties
Fruitvale Station
Californication
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ex Machina
Inherent Vice
Funny People
People Places Things
Flight of the Conchords
The Revenant
Broken Circle Breakdown
The Cure
The Smiths
the Marvelous Mrs Maisel

I heart London

For people who are not too much into the semi-literal meaning of sentences and who need clarification for above title: I love London. I love Paris as well. But in my head, whereas I always saw Paris as bright, effervescent, illuminating, whimsical, romantic and artistic, I consider London to be Paris’ dark, brooding, melancholic, grey, cool and brilliant brother.

My girlfriend and I went for a long weekend in the context of a ”just the two of us” kind of city trip. It was a freaking success!

We always tend to walk a lot but I think we might have pushed it a little this holiday. I do think it is the best way to see as much as possible and to experience local life to the fullest.

I’ve drawn an approximate walking route on Google Maps to illustrate which neighbourhoods we tackled and when. Please note that it was never this straight as our walks were coloured by walking into random shops, sipping tea at quaint little bakeries and tea rooms, snacking, detouring, etc.

Day 1:

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Day 2:

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Day 3:

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My top 10 of London experiences, not in any particular order:

  • Camden Market: colourful, intense, counter-cultural, exotic and local (you know what I mean), dense food market in Camden Lock. I had the meanest Mac ‘n Cheese there (The Mac Factory) and discovered a massive amount of awesome tea at Yumchaa
  • Homeslice Pizza in Neal’s Yard. Crisp, thin, creative pizza in a pleasant, urban atmosphere
  • Fantastic views in Primrose Hill
  • Primrose Hill Books: quaint, little, very charming bookshop which despite its size contains a wide variety of genres. Proper selection
  • Camden Town & Lock neighbourhood in general. I like to compare it to San Francisco’s Haight and Ashbury
  • Walking through the little Soho streets and entering its plethora of independent cafes, stores, bookshops
  • Foyles needs no introduction. I think I got lost in there. Their selection is definitely more of an asset than the store itself
  • Koya Bar in Soho – cafe-style, orgasmic Udon noodles served on a communal table. I’ll be back for you, Koya Bar
  • Krispy Kreme – needs no introduction AND YES, I did manage to recommend a  giant chain doughnut corporation on my blog.. because.. oh, mamacita!
  • Brick Lane Market & Brick Lane: don’t expect an extremely picturesque walk and mind-blowing views. Its eclectic, traditional, folk-like street spirit and tiny slightly torn down side streets and alleyways provide for a fuller, more wholesome travel experience. I loved the graffiti cladded walls and the infinite amounts of touristy Indian-Pakistani-Bangladeshi eateries.

 

 

Oh, the places you’ll go!

This is the absolute last book by Seuss and man, did it become my constant comfort during tough times.

Like a lot of awesome things in this universe, the book is advertised for kids but is carrying a lot of deep, meaningful messages for adults. Apparently, this book is often gifted to college graduates before they head off to ”the real world”.

Compared to his previous works, the illustrations are a little bit rusty but it is clearly compensated for by its content and meaning.

The main message of the book: Life can be extremely tough at times. Just keep on the road and face your challenges head on.

The hero of the story is a little man who heads off for a life long journey and receives the writer’s best wishes. During his travels full of exhilirating, colourful landscapes he finds himself in a variety of situations – some wonderful, some depressing, some frightening.

Just to show off the use of the metaphors in the book, in the middle of the story, the hero gets stuck in ”the Waiting Place” where ”everyone is just waiting”.

This is a piece of my heart and I warmly recommend it to anyone.

71zqXqhXL7L

Tamino – EP

Recently I was sauntering around town with my girlfriend. Her cousin called and asked if we wanted to join them in the park for a free concert. ”A fellow countryman of yours is about to perform. Tamino or something”, he said. For those who do not know me at all, I am a Belgian living in Amsterdam.
Upon his invitation, we tried to hurry so we could get there in time but sadly the performance was already over. We ended up having a lovely time, nonetheless.
When I got home, I was curious and searched him up on my Spotify. And am I happy I did! What a freaking revelation.
For now, he only released one EP but a spectacular one, at that.
I looked up some background info on him, because after all, he’s a fellow countryman and awesome musician. He’s only 20, born and raised in Antwerp (same town as me), with Egyptian roots, an aspect you can definitely withdraw from the music at times. I’m talking about the occasional Middle-Eastern vibe.
I was clearly on another planet because in one year, Tamino managed to win ”De Nieuwe Lichting”, a talent contest for up and coming musicians on Belgian’s alternative radio station Studio Brussel, sell out a large concert venue twice and play at Rock Werchter, Belgium’s biggest rock festival.
What is so special about his music is that he has a unique sound. A very shy, deep, melancholic tone of voice that can be brazen when necessary. The musical arrangement is very minimalistic. The sonic landscape is quite barren but you rarely feel like you need more than what he provides. A dear friend made a comparison with Jeff Buckley. I think there is something there. What they both convey is a kind of inherent beautiful sadness that they meticulously translate to musical ingenuity.
Sounds like an intense dream..
Listen to his EP – it’s on Spotify. Give him 20 minutes of your time.

tamino-anton-coene-EP

 

On religion/spirituality

On the ”about me” sections of my Twitter and Instagram pages, I describe myself as follows: Cultural Jew, semi-practicing Buddhist, hopeless humanist, reluctant agnostic, unflinching liberal, inept occasional guitar player, bookworm, yearning traveler

I always like to refer to that description because it forced me to summarize myself with a limited set of characters.

I don’t adhere to any kind of organized belief system. I do identify myself as a cultural Jew. What does this mean? I grew up in a family of non-practicing Jews and more than anything else, and because Jews and Judaism can be classified as ”a people” and ”an extremely old tradition and set of values” next to merely a monotheistic religion, I have grown very attached to this part of my upbringing. I am agnostic, which means I do not actively believe that anything is known or can be known of the existence of God. I am a strong believer, however, in the fact that in Judaism – believing in God is optional. How I interpret it (because that’s how it works – whether you like it or not), is that this traditional backbone provides a spiritual framework for me. Is it better than any other? No! If I had grown up Muslim, I’d have probably chosen to continue being a cultural Muslim. The thing with Judaism is that it’s MINE. Consider it more like a strong cultural identity than anything else. It doesn’t define all of me but it’s an important part of my heritage.

I am completely, 100% aware of the fact that, purely based on logic, any religious scholar would lose in a debate with a devout atheist. But if I’m absolutely certain of one thing, it’s of the fact that we’re not always looking or even should be looking for logic. If you spend your whole life trying to understand your fellow human being by purely and solely applying logic to each moral or practical dilemma, you’ll soon be left clueless and very frustrated. There’s a big part of ourselves and others we can’t even begin to understand. I don’t claim any kind of God is the answer because that is very dangerous and I do believe we need to extend our logic and knowledge for as much as possible. What I do mean is that I’m trying to be forgiving and even loving of this big part of us that is irrational and abstract.

I won’t ever condone someone forcing their religion or any kind of belief on me.