It’s just a Ride…

So this is more of a personal post, it happens from time to time, as well as sharing things that have and do help me live with my anxiety I’m going to share with you some personal experiences as well. I think sharing that as well as what works may help to make me more of a human to you (if you read this and don’t know me, hopefully if you do know me then I’m already a human to you!), maybe help you feel better about the ups and downs of your life too. There is no magic bullet for this shit, there are always ups and down and we just get better at managing them, at riding the ride.

This is more me having a bit of a brain dump, talking things through with myself to see how I feel about it, get it out my system and figure out what to do. We are not alone with these experiences and I am not an expert in dealing with this shit, I am muddling through best I can, just like all of us – I get overwhelmed and defeated by anxiety still, it just doesn’t happen as much as it used to and I’m more savvy about what’s happening, why and what to do about it these days. However it still sucks and it still takes over me for a while.

Such as yesterday…

I knew learning to drive would be a huge challenge for me. Some of my biggest anxiety triggers are new things, not knowing what to do, not feeling in control, other’s judging me – all of which are clearly going to come up with learning to drive! These anxiety triggers are also the reason I challenge myself and put myself in situations that will be difficult for me, how can I live without trying new things, without learning, without letting go, without risking judgement? I tried that once… my life became so small, and the anxiety didn’t go away. It just doesn’t work, so now I push myself where and when I can.

The first two driving lessons my anxiety levels were very high, however, there was also a surge of adrenalin after the second lesson which gave me hope – but that’s the thing with anxiety, it can be impossible to pre-judge, a good or bad experience one time doesn’t always give a clue to how the next time will go. We have to develop a bit of a zen attitude to life when we live with anxiety.

My third lesson was yesterday evening after work. (Same as the second lesson annoyingly, which was fine)

Almost as soon as I woke yesterday morning, I felt the physical symptoms of anxiety which continued all day. My anxiety has clearly decided that it’s going to level up and now gives me the brand new symptom of chest pain. Most unwelcome! I spent the entire day feeling like someone had skewered me on a javelin feeling the pain in my spine as well as my sternum. While I can often put my anxiety to one side – like putting a misbehaving toddler in time out – as I did during my first lesson, sometimes it refuses to be ignored. I ignored the anxiety right up until the point I got asked to do something new half an hour into the driving lesson.

All I was asked to do was turn right across a quiet road into an equally quiet car park where we could look at reversing.

I started the car, started to move, then my entire system just went “NOPE”, I stopped the car and dissolved.

The entrance to the car park looked tiny (it wasn’t), turning right involved traffic wanting to travel down that side of the road (there wasn’t any), reversing risked bumping into the bollards (I’m in a dual control car, I have no doubt he’d stop it before that happened, he likes his car…).

As I type this, I can feel the fear welling up again in my throat, and actually, that’s weirdly comforting as waking up this morning free of anxiety symptoms I wonder why I ended the lesson early, why I couldn’t cope, was I just being weak and pathetically lazy? Thoughts which have tracked me my entire life as anxiety makes some of the most random things more difficult or impossible. Thoughts which have been vocalised by others not understanding how it is to live with anxiety. If just typing this brings back the fear then I can tell myself, no, I wasn’t being lazy, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I was trying to run on a twisted ankle.

My instructor is calm, understanding, and asks if I want to call a halt at that point, that it’s fine, but I can’t do that. That will be giving in. Maybe I can’t deal with something new right now, but I can damn well carry on with the lesson. The only way out is through, I tell myself. New things scare me so lets focus on this not feeling so new. So I do. We carry on. We practise what I’ve done before. But it doesn’t work, the anxiety doesn’t back down, and now I’m frustrated that I’m struggling with what was going so well last week, I can’t think clearly, I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying, I’m forgetting the sequence and I don’t feel safe. I’m getting it right one time and all wrong the next.

I call a halt after another 40 minutes. Too much of my attention and energy is having to go on keeping myself from panicking and crying (and not being successful at that) and I just don’t feel I should be in a car if I’m in that state. Nothing is going into my head and my performance is erratic, there is no progress here and my frustration with myself is growing with each passing second.

It’s time to leave the battlefield, regroup, and consider another tactic.

Perhaps fighting anxiety for 10 hours before the lesson, including constant physical pain, just wore me down too much. My defences are usually better than this. There’s only one way to test that theory, have the lesson earlier in the day. If that lesson goes better, then that’s how I proceed, if it’s just as bad, then perhaps driving isn’t for me after all. I’m fine with having myself at risk, that’s my choice, but I can’t and won’t put others at risk, and if I don’t feel safe in charge of a car, if I don’t trust myself not to panic, then that’s what I’m doing.

Honestly right now, I don’t know if I’d be running away from something I can do if I push myself, or stepping away from unnecessary anxiety attacks. I guess that’s a decision to consider next week though…

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Disclaimer

I wanted to write a quick thing about how we are all different.

It seems my last post was read almost 100 times and as far flung as India & USA if the stats are to be believed… that’s a little scary if I’m honest and makes me feel responsible.

I’m aware that in writing this blog, in sharing my story and experiences and writing about such things as acceptance and gratitude, I may well myself become a passive aggressive meme that can be used to beat yourself up. That’s the opposite of what I am aiming to achieve.

So…

We are all different.

My story and experience is mine.

In sharing it, many have said that they experience something similar, but many will not. Many have a different experience which is just as valid and real.

What helps me may not help you (and certainly will not help some).

What I am attempting to do here is lay out a series of tools. How you employ them and what you make with them is up to you. Pick them up, play with them, feel free to change and adapt and explore, let them be a catalyst, don’t let them be set in stone.

Your recovery is your own journey and it will contain it’s own twists and turns and last as long as it lasts. Don’t let anyone else dictate your direction and distance – certainly be guided by those you trust, but I am Person-Centred trained (actually that’s not true – my course was Integrative, but I’m Person-Centred by heart), you are the authority in your life and ultimately, if you are honest and congruent, you know what you need to heal.

My anxiety is life-long. I will never be without it. That said, it doesn’t define or control me and I don’t wait for it or expect it. I plan for it, certainly, but that’s different, that’s having a safety net and I then try to stay up on the tightwire rather than letting myself fall. There are certain situations and experiences that are very likely to trigger it (going by past experiences), but I’m always happy to be proved wrong. It’s a fine balance, which I don’t always get right, but each time is a chance to learn and refine my techniques.

I believe that there are very broadly speaking two types of anxiety/depression (I know there are really many many more) – Reactive and Chemical.

Reactive means it’s a reaction to something, there’s often a root cause that can be discovered and dealt with.

Chemical means a part of us is a little wonky, a little miswired, like having a weak ankle or needing glasses.

My anxiety is chemical, my depression is reactive.

I’ve always been able to find a cause for my depression and ultimately do something about it (sometimes that has taken years however, it’s not necessarily easy! It can take a LOT of supported digging to reach the root cause), there isn’t always a cause for my anxiety. Honestly, sometimes my damn nervous system has been set off simply because there’s nothing wrong and it couldn’t cope with that!

So… ultimately, all I’m trying to say here is if you try anything I suggest here and it doesn’t work for you – don’t fret! Don’t beat yourself up. Not everything works for everyone. Explore, try something else, try the same thing in a different way.

Just keep trying something when you’re able to.

And for those times you’re not able to try anything, just be kind and see how you feel tomorrow.

With love and respect to all those struggling today.

Gratitude

Gratitude can be difficult when we’re struggling with anxiety issues, the world can be a scary place, our brain chemicals are going haywire, often our bodies are achingly tired and being aware of anything other than perceived threats can take an effort we don’t feel we have the energy for.

Gratitude can also be a spiritual tool to beat ourselves up with as passive aggressive meme’s suggest that we wouldn’t be in the state we are if only we were more grateful for what we have, reminding us that many in the world are worse off than we, so how selfish are you to be struggling? Not useful, not kind, not actually spiritual in my little corner of the world.

Your experience is your experience and someone else being better or worse off has absolutely zero impact on how you perceive and interact with the world. Also, being grateful that someone is worse off than you isn’t actually gratitude – it’s comparison –  and that won’t have a positive effect on the brain…

Yet, despite it being misused sometimes, gratitude is a good habit to get into, and this is backed up by neuroscience (SCIENCE BABY, YEAH!). It doesn’t matter what we are grateful for, it doesn’t even matter if we can’t come up with anything, the act of looking for something to be grateful for can be the trigger to a happier brain over time. Google the neuroscience of gratitude and see what you find, there have been various studies done on the matter.

Over the years I’ve kept several gratitude journals for various periods of time, and I’ve learnt a few things.

1 – Don’t wait for the perfect notebook/pen etc. Don’t think, I’ll start this when I’ve bought a nice book to write in. That’s just procrastination, you’ll rarely if ever get around to buying the “perfect” book for your journal, it’s just a way of not starting the exercise. You doubtless have some form of paper and pen/pencil lying around. Use that. It doesn’t matter what you write on or even whether you keep it. The act of doing it is all that matters. You don’t even need a pen and paper, if you’re reading this, you likely have an electronic device you can write on. Use that! By all means get a nice notebook if such things make you happy, but don’t use that as a reason not to start. Start, then get the notebook as and when you can.

1(A) – On that note – don’t worry or give yourself a hard time about finding a certain number of things to be grateful for or even doing it each day – all that means is it’s easier to give up if you can’t achieve your certain number or you miss a day. Try and make it a habit (keeping it by your bedside for example) but if you miss a day, so what? Just pick it up again the day/week/month/year after. It doesn’t matter when you don’t do it, just when you do. Of course all these things are better when done regularly, but doing them at all is more important.

2 – Writing or thinking about WHY you’re grateful for that thing works wonders if you have the energy to do this. Once, many years ago, I was grateful for a random phone call from a fellow student. I wrote that down. Then I thought about why, and realised how isolated and lonely I’d been feeling in class and how that phone call had helped me feel a little more connected and part of the group. Suddenly I was even more grateful for the call and happier when I got back to class. Writing all that down takes effort, I know. You don’t have to, just thinking about it works too.

3 – It doesn’t matter what you’re grateful for. We all have days where all we have to be grateful for is our bed/sofa, blanket/duvet. Be grateful for those things, they matter.

4 – There’s always something to be grateful for, even if it takes some searching. If you’re reading this, you likely have the first layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sorted.

Maslow’s Updated Hierarchy of Needs

You likely have access to the internet and a device to access it on. You likely have a roof over your head and something to eat and drink that day. Hopefully a toilet that works. Someone you could interact with if you chose to. Clothes to wear if you wanted to get dressed. Sometimes paring back to the bare essentials is necessary, but these are still things to be grateful for. You can climb up the pyramid another day.

5 – It doesn’t matter how begrudgingly grateful you are! There are days you just don’t want to be damn well grateful! The world flipping sucks and why should you be grateful for anything damn it?! And that’s fine! Do the exercise anyway, allow the frustration and anger to be there as well. Looking for things to be grateful about doesn’t mean you have to not feel upset, sad, angry, frustrated and whatever else you’re feeling. You can feel those as well. Feelings are just feelings. We prefer some to others, but they all have their place and a right to exist. We can be angry and still grateful the bus arrived on time. We can be sad and still grateful we have a cup of tea. We can be utterly fed up with every single thing, and still grateful there’s an episode of something distracting to watch. We are manifold and we can contain many and conflicting emotions at once and that’s fine.

6 – Gratitude doesn’t have to be kept to a journal. This ties in with saying thank you to compliments. Say thank you to your loved ones, let them know as much as you’re able to how much you appreciate them. Say thank you to the bus driver or the shop assistant – why shouldn’t we be thanked for doing our jobs? Express little bits of gratitude whenever and wherever you can and gradually they work to make us feel better and the world less scary.

Thank you for reading this 🙂 Whether you’re a stranger or a friend, I’m grateful you took the time and if I do know you, thank you for being in my life, you give me lots to be grateful for.