Since 1992, with the release of 'Living with It' - a survivor's guide to panic attacks', Bev Aisbett has helped thousands of people reclaim their lives from crippling anxiety and depression.
Now, she reveals the deep spirit that lies behind her deceptively simple books. All of It is an unflinching self-examination, an exploration of Bev's life journey through and beyond crippling anxiety and depression.
The themes of love and loss, rejection, self-doubt and a longing for spiritual meaning are familiar to all those who seek to make peace with life on this complex plane called Earth.
Peppered with glimpses of 70s and 80s share-house culture and told with candour and tenderness, this is the story of an unconventional and multi-layered life and the ultimate quest to 'come home to myself and find a welcome there'.
Bev Aisbett is the author of more than 14 books which have sold over half a million copies in Australia alone. She is a sought after artist and illustrator with numerous exhibitions to her name and is a member of the Australian Cartoonists Club. A trained counsellor, she also convenes workshops, lectures and conducts professional development training for health and welfare organisations. Her books are widely recommended by health professionals, doctors and academics who admire her device of 'personalising' the inner critic by giving it a name.
All Of It
Author: Bev Aisbett
Question: What inspired you to write All Of It and explore your journey through anxiety and depression?
Bev Aisbett: I felt as if it was an interesting story and it explored many of the things I had looked at in my previous books but I really wanted to tell the story from a writerly perspective rather than a how-to perspective which is how the other books were written. I wanted All Of It to be about expressing myself in a creative way and also looking at the journey that leads to anxiety and depression and putting those pieces together.
Question: Can you talk about how your depression and anxiety came on and was diagnosed?
Bev Aisbett: I had depression and anxiety in the 70's and it was diagnosed by a psychologist that was recommended to me. Again, I experienced depression and anxiety in 1991 and in 1991 it was very severe and long lasting. A lot more was known about anxiety then because quite a few decades had gone past.
Question: What are the main symptoms of anxiety?
Bev Aisbett: Anxiety is unmistakable as you become terrified of everything and it is quite difficult to explain to someone if they haven't experienced anxiety. The whole world becomes frightening and it is as if you've walked into a nightmare of some kind where suddenly the whole world feels sinister and you don't feel safe in any situation. The experience is extremely difficult to comprehend.
Question: What impact can anxiety take on a females life?
Bev Aisbett: Anxiety is a major issue and it was difficult for me to just get through the day. Getting through each day took every bit of courage that I had and in the early stages I would receive four hours sleep and then I would wake with my heart racing at 130 beats per minute and often higher than that if I was experiencing a panic attack.
The saving grace for me was that I had set myself up as a freelancer and I had to go to work and if I didn't have that as a foothole and something to focus on and keep me going, it might have been a lot more serious and long lasting.
Question: What triggers someone to suddenly experience anxiety and a general feeling of anxiousness?
Bev Aisbett: Everybody has anxiety to some degree but the issue is when it becomes an overwhelming condition and those who experience that are more sensitised and don't have a good emotional resilience which is why life hits them pretty hard. Often those experiencing anxiety stay stuck in the past and are very negative about the future; your thinking has an enormous impact on what you're experiencing in the world. People with this problem tend to have a history of stinky thinking in terms of beating themselves up and are very hard on themselves with high and unrealistic expectations of themselves, others and life which is not a relaxed way to approach life. There is no single factor, it is layer upon layer that all need to be worked through.
Question: How did you go about managing your anxiety?
Bev Aisbett: Initially the first thing I came to recognise was my self-talk and that was crucial, the first stages were about putting all my energy into paying attention to the kind of language I used both in my internal dialogue but also the way I spoke about things to other people and I realised there was a lot of criticism, negativity and whinging which reflected how I saw my world. The more that I embraced and tried to be a little bit more neutral the more it took the sting out of it. I found I needed to face the fear, not run away from it, because it was trying to tell me something and what it was trying to tell me, quite simply, was that I was out of balance and that I needed to work on some things.
Question: Have you overcome your anxiety and depression?
Bev Aisbett: Yes, I am pretty well anxiety free at the moment. I am a human being, a sensitive human being and I will always need to be gentle with myself and not push myself too hard. It is important that you can recognise if you are easily stressed and not to push the boundaries, too much. Honestly I haven't had a panic attack, in years.
Question: Concentrating on breathing and counting the breath in and out is a proven method, how does affirmations manage anxiety?
Bev Aisbett: People with anxiety are terrible breathers, to start with, because breathing is about taking in life and that can be intimidating. When someone is in high anxiety they are often hyperventilating which throws out the body and brain chemistry which is why focusing on breathing to calm and centre yourself is a lot more than a psychological thing, it is actually bringing the body chemistry back into balance. Concentrating on breathing is a very helpful device when it's getting overwhelming.
Affirmations are interesting, the trouble is you often are not believing them so you may get into a loop about that but you can say something that is more affirming that you do believe that isn't going to throw you into a loop because you can't get there. You could say 'this will pass' because it does and you can say 'I'm going to be okay, I just need to work through this moment'. It's important to talk gently and softly because unfortunately someone with anxiety tends to tell themselves anxious things and then wonder why they are feeling even worse such as 'I'm stuck with this' or 'This is awful and I can't cope' which makes the anxiety flare up even more.
Question: What message do you hope readers take away from All Of It?
Bev Aisbett: The message is that there is a way through this journey and it's not just a nut and bolts book about anxiety it's a whole story but it's also a spiritual path because as one works through these things they're looking at big questions such as 'who am I?' and 'what's important?' and 'what are my priorities?' or even 'what can I let go of and learn to detach from what other people think of me?'
My own journey was very much about learning to like myself as I am, I needed to embrace my character and others characters. As the book says "to learn how to come home to myself and find a welcome there".
Question: If you could share one piece of advice to someone who may have been experiencing anxiety, what would that be?
Bev Aisbett: Buy my book!
Interview by Brooke Hunter