Easy to forget

It’s easy to forget how powerful the grip of anxiety is.

How despite all the measured deep breathing and rational calm talking, it refuses to lessen it’s grip on both mind and body.

How it feels like a spear through my chest. A physical weight and pressure in the centre of my chest both external and internal, through to my spine. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it feels like a balloon slowly expanding and taking up the space where my heart and lungs should be, making it hard to breathe.

It’s easy to forget how laboured my heartbeat can get at times, feeling like a knackered horse struggling to get up a hill, it’s erratic beats doing nothing to soothe and reassure.

It’s easy to forget that the words in my mind at this time aren’t real. Aren’t based in fact, but are my own fears and insecurities reflected back to me. They swell in my throat making casual socialising almost impossible to navigate.

It’s easy to forget that we can find evidence to anything if we look hard enough. Easier to accept the words spoken so passionately and evocatively. Best protect yourself against what is to come… it’s hard to keep fighting against the words when the physicality accompanying them doesn’t fade…. surely if your rationality and logic was correct you’d feel better by now….? And so it goes on.

Times like this, the dark and scary part of the ride we are all on, just hold on, remember to breathe and wait. Just breathe, that’s all that’s required today. It doesn’t last forever.

But it’s easy to forget.

Reset

I feel as if I have a reset button at the end of this week.

I’ve not planned past Friday (bar a few obvious essentials of having care and food).

I have vague thoughts of getting health and fitness back on track – motivation became subzero in the last few months. I’ll have to think about finding somewhere else to live and ponderings of rediscovering the “me”ness of me. But that’s all they are. Vague thoughts. The planning and execution of which will happen after Friday. After the big red button is pushed.

Any scifi/fantasy watchers out there will doubtless have seen a storyline involving the wrong version of a character – maybe the timeline got corrupted, maybe a transporter beam went awry, they got pulled in from a parallel universe or a spell went awry – and we as viewers know that this version is wrong, that for order to restored, for everything to be right again this character needs to be replace by the correct one – by the end of the episode the reset button will be hit and the wrong character will be replaced by the one we love. Then all is right with that world again. We know this. We expect this. We root for this.

But for the “wrong” character, all they know is they exist and they have to die. They may or may not agree with that, they may or may not know. But they stop existing.

This is the only way I can explain how I feel this week. Of course I know that I’m not going to stop existing. Surgery and general anaesthetic is scary but I don’t have a not going to wake up again fear. That’s not what this is, and I don’t mean to overdramatise things. But I do have a weird nebulous existential feeling that on Friday everything changes. I will go to sleep that afternoon. I will wake up sometime later that afternoon and everything will be different. I will be different. Irrevocably changed. There is no putting back what is taken (not that I want it anyway, it’s defective and needs to go).

The me that exists now, typing this, will not be the person who returns home at some point next week.

And as much as I have literally signed up for this. It’s an existential fear that just won’t quit.

See you on the other side…

 

 

Toddler brain

My anxiety can often be like a toddler having a tantrum.

I write this in full acknowledgement that I’m not a parent. But I’ve been around enough toddlers to see them melt down over the most random of stuff. And my anxiety does that too.

Unsurprisingly my anxiety is in storm force mode currently. It’s whirling around trying to find something to focus on. It’s amazing what you find when you’re looking for it.

Thinking of my anxiety symptoms like a toddler has helped me develop coping strategies.

1. Logic and reason. I can see parents shaking their heads already. Yes. This rarely works. But it’s always worth trying first. Acknowledge what’s going on and what’s being felt. Make a show of checking for monsters under the bed. Acknowledge not finding any. The reasons why we are safe. Sometimes it works. I can talk myself down. Often it doesn’t and we move on.

2. Love and hugs. Treats. Blankets. Time off. Bubble baths. Wine. Whatever this is for you. Yes it often involves spending money which sometimes means it can’t be done. It involves time which we don’t always have. If you can, give yourself a treat you won’t give yourself a hard time for later. Totally guilt free. Get cuddles from someone who won’t try and fix anything. Talk to yourself to find out what you need and deliver it. Be your own nurturing loving parent. After all we still love our toddlers even when they are throwing a tantrum and sometimes cuddles stop the tantrum. And sometimes they don’t.

3. Distraction. Ooooh shiny! Mindless TV, games, craft projects, books. The trick is something entertaining and engaging enough to keep the attention but not difficult or stressful. Again they his takes time which sometimes we don’t have so…

4. Time out. Sometimes we just have to get stuff done. We’ve tried everything else and it’s just not working and the job has to be done, the bills have to be paid. Sometimes I have to put my anxiety on a virtual naughty step and just let it cry it out. Breathe through it, wipe those sweaty palms and do the job. Later, when there’s time, there will be a prize. And it can be anything you like (that is feasibly within your ability and budget to get) because you’ve had to tough it out.

This are my coping strategies. Yours may vary 🙂 these work for me. They don’t go in order. I don’t go from 1-4. Often I know which one to pick but sometimes I don’t. Sometimes a tried and tested technique fails. Sometimes they all fail. But only sometimes. Like with toddlers, consistency is important, following through is important. Don’t promise yourself a treat and don’t deliver. Don’t have a treat then give yourself a hard time over it!

The toddler in our heads may not grow up. But at least it won’t become a teenager!

Mental Vs Physical

Two recent events got me thinking.

Event 1 – I gave up the driving lessons due to the anxiety attacks they were causing.

Event 2 – I twisted my ankle.

Why is it so much easier to look after ourselves, and to let it be known that we are in need of looking after, when it comes to physical pain? Why is it so much harder with mental or emotional pain?

Admittedly sometimes and for some people it still isn’t easy and I know many who will push themselves past what is sensible and not let themselves rest and recover (not to be confused with those that push and find themselves more capable than previously expected, that’s different, I’m talking about those that don’t stop then fall over seriously broken).

With my ankle, there was a clear visible sign of hurt, for a while I simply couldn’t put enough weight on it to walk and I felt grateful rather than guilty that a friend travelled over to lend me a crutch so I could get about easier. I had to cancel some plans, and although I didn’t like having to do so (the timing sucked!), I didn’t feel guilty about it.

When it came to giving up the driving lessons, I gave myself a hard time. I’m not someone who gives up easily (any more), and having experienced the pride that comes with achieving something once thought out of reach, I am happy to work hard to feel that pride again. I know now that my anxiety is not an indicator of my ability. Having taken a long time to get to that realisation, it’s one I cling to. Nowadays, I intensely dislike my anxiety getting in the way of what I want and I’ve been known to pursue something simply because the thought of it causes anxiety (the tandem skydive I once did being a prime example of this, technically it was to raise money, really it was because the thought of it caused a panic attack so I decided to do one just to show my anxiety who was boss).

However, although I knew that technically I could continue with the lessons and eventually pass, I realised that I simply wasn’t willing to allow that much anxiety into my life. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I didn’t want to.

At the moment I have other things that I wish to give my attention and time to, not to mention a job I care about that I need to be on top form for, and the level of anxiety I was experiencing for 24 hours before the lessons was getting in the way of that.

I came to that realisation after I gave up the lessons however and spent a fair few days feeling like a failure and being grateful for my ever loving and supportive circle of friends understanding me and telling me what I needed to hear.

Now that I pride myself on overcoming my anxiety, my self-image took a knock when it felt like anxiety had won. It took a few days of mulling it through, talking it over with some friends to realise why it was absolutely the right decision for me and to be okay with having made it.

Look at the difference in those two paragraphs! There is a need to explain, to justify perhaps, with giving up driving. The paragraph about the ankle is essentially saying – yeah, hurt ankle, got some help, couldn’t walk for a bit, didn’t push it.

I can’t seem to say the same for a hurt nervous system. It’s not treated the same by people around us. We’re expected to push through, carry on, just be stronger. Yet few would advise someone to keep running that marathon on a twisted ankle we can’t put weight on. Is it just that there is no visible sign to point to?

Maybe one day we will get there, in the meantime, see if thinking of your mental and emotional issues as physical ones helps. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. It helps me at times.

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.

Acceptance – Part two

Already I’m thinking, who the hell am I to blog about Anxiety issues like I have something to say that will help? How fucking arrogant, get a grip and crawl back under your sofaduvet.

But I just bought myself a GISHWHES t-shirt that states “don’t listen to the demons” so I’m not. I’m going to blog anyway.

I have something to say because I’m someone who lives with an anxiety disorder and for the most part manages pretty fucking well, thank you. There have been times when it’s overwhelmed my life, there have been times when I’ve beaten it into submission by the force of my paddington bear stare. Most of the time we wobble about in the middle somewhere. I’m aware I’m about to head into cranefly season which is one of my most ridiculous phobias, so I really have no higher ground to stand on as once those flappy little fuckers hit my workplace it will be panic attack city for me for a few weeks and apart from getting myself signed off work (again!) there really is little I can do about it. So please don’t think I’m writing this from any sense of doing better than you. I’m not.

I started to cope with my anxiety when I accepted I had it.

That’s the main point of this post – Acceptance.

It’s hard to accept things we don’t like, to accept feeling like shit, feeling weak and tearful and lost and confused.

But if we don’t, we waste energy on trying to hide and deny it. That leaves us with less/little/no energy to actually deal with our lives and do the things we need and want to.

In worst case scenarios we can numb it with substances or activities that can be harmful or detrimental to our health and lives. Perfectly understandable and I’ve done this myself – it much easier to focus on the physical pain I caused myself than the mental and emotional pain that I didn’t know how to process or express (or even that I had a right to feel what I was feeling). Much easier to numb it or transmute it into something physical and understandable.

Thing is, it doesn’t go away. This shit hangs around forever and resurfaces every now and again. The toilet analogy is very fitting here.

If we accept it, we can start working with it.

An easy sentence, it’s not easy I know. But honestly, it’s not really more work than all the effort that goes into hiding or denying it, it’s just working in a different direction.

The hard bit is believing you’re worth that work, and that where the anxiety/depression/etc has it’s hooks because it will tell you you’re not worth it. If you were, you wouldn’t be feeling this way in the first place and you’re trapped in an endless catch 22.

Accept you’re worth it and accept your state of being as it is right now and let go of trying to change it.

It is what it is.

You’re worth loving regardless of how you’re feeling and coping right now.

Keep reading that. Try and accept it.

(image from ruthiedean.com)

Dusting off

So I’m dusting off my old blog.

Been a while, please excuse the dustbunnies (don’t feed them, it only makes them cough) and don’t look in the corners, that’s where I hide the bodies.

Why am I dusting this off?

Because some people I know are having issues with anxiety and it occurs to me I have things to say about that. I have experiences to share, advice to pin up on this virtual wall (take all advice like a pick’n’mix, just take your favourites, there’s no one answer, we have to find our own favourite sweets and create our own blends, and just generally offer support and love to share for anyone struggling with the inside of their own head.

Coz I know what that’s like.

So I’ve gone through this blog and removed the crafting stuff and left anything to do with mental health, including my own breakdowns and struggles during the time this blog has been active (oh dear sweet reader there have been so very many more!) – maybe there’s already something there helpful for you?

This is just something to get me back to this so I will leave you with my favourite poem.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things

Of phobias and panic attacks

This week I have been pushed face first into the deep end of my personal phobic pool (because it’s different for each of us). It’s been so long since I’ve had to face this issue that I’d actually forgotten just how phobic I am of Crane Flies/Daddy Long Legs. I’ve been more used to my anxiety being the Generalised kind that is amorphic and nebulous.

Having such a sharp focus to my anxiety is different. It means as soon as I’m away from the trigger I can start to recuperate and recover – although the anxiety has rippling after effects evidenced by my difficulty in getting to sleep all week (as soon as my eyes shut my brain decides to regale me with how the next day could be so much worse!).

However my trigger is ALL over work… I’m having to walk past a van windscreen that is blacked out with them, having to walk past them clinging to the walls of narrow corridors – or worse, they are flying chaotically in a corridor that is too narrow to get past safely, I’m trying not to look out of floor to ceiling windows spattered with them, their corpses litter the stairwells I have to climb sometimes disguising the ones that still live – and this just reinforces the phobic belief that they can come back to life if I get too close to them.

Even leaving work is hard, they pepper the glass doors, get inside the sections of the revolving door and line the underpass I have to go through. Monday that triggered an attack, Tuesday I cupped my hands over my eye so I could only see the ground right below me and barrelled through whispering “it’s okay” over and over to myself, the panic still rose as I stepped on a dead one and I had to firmly tell myself “now it’s REALLY okay” a few times once I was out the other side. Luckily today there was no lady to stare at my strange behaviour as today’s behaviour was much weirder than yesterday’s! On Wednesday I had asked a friend of mine to draw me a picture of an armour wearing flamethrower weilding bear to protect me. He duly did and I printed out that picture and held it inches from my face, staring fixedly at the bear whispering “the bear will protect me” as my mantra as I walked through. That day I didn’t have a panic attack on the other side.

Even just last week I felt I’d got to the point where I could tell myself “I don’t get panic attacks anymore” – When I could feel one building up, it was usually possible to breathe/talk my way back out of it (I don’t mean to suggest this is easy for anyone who struggles with panic but that it is possible to some degree and everything is individual and relative to your life – no beating yourself up if you get panic attacks and can’t talk yourself out of it you hear?).

I was proud of how I dealt with my anxieties and proud of how I’d changed from a bullying attitude toward my fears to one of supporting and understanding myself.

None of that seemed to apply this week!

Since Sunday lunchtime I’ve had 6 panic attacks of varying intensity and length. One of which hit me as I was seconds away from meeting the group I support and I had to turn to my colleague, beg forgiveness and run to a toilet cubicle to give into the fears and tears for a bit then try and get myself back under control to meet my group and start the day.

Another caught me as I was about to walk into work… the number of flying bastards plastered to the outside and on the ground meant I panicked and couldn’t walk into my workplace! I wasn’t at all sure what to do and just stood helplessly in tears (feeling like a prize twat of course) until someone came out to help and I walked in blindfolded (ironic given I work in vision impairments) with him being my guide. Took me half an hour to get over that one and my colleagues had to help me out by bringing my group up to my room so I could stay there in a blissfully flying fuckers free zone.

They’ve been lovely, actually, as the week has gone on it must be clear to them that this can’t be something I’m exagerating or making up and it’s getting worse as the week continues, the same colleague escorted me along the corridor so I could get to the canteen for lunch!

I’ve had to try and explain my weird behaviour to colleagues, painfully aware to my own ears of sounding childlike and pathetic. I can’t imagine anyone else thinking kindly to me over this as I can’t think that way about myself. I hate that something as insignificant and harmless as a flying insect has rendered me thus. I hate that I can’t seem to talk myself out of this one.

I’m aware of course that this attitude just adds to the anxiety and stress, but I can’t seem to help it. I can hear the words I’m using – condemning and judgemental words, rationalising and downplaying my reaction – but I have to admit I feel I deserve them… It makes asking for the help and support I need to cope with work difficult to ask for as I transfer all of my feelings onto them. I feel so pathetic and stupid, how could they think any differently of me?

This of course isn’t helped by the few that presumably have no form of phobia or anxiety in their lives or the lives of loved ones close to them, that’s the only explanation I can think of for their careless dismissal of my struggle. I’ve been told stories of when there were more flying fuckers than now, of one being in their car and they just had to get on with it, that they can’t do me any harm, comments along the lines of “what are you like you crazy thing?” and an illjudged joke of “watch out for that crane fly behind you” when there wasn’t anything there (that “joke” triggered a panic attack…) – I’ve tried to calmly answer that they aren’t helping or aren’t funny. For the lady with the crane fly in her car who “just got on with it”, I politely and quietly answered that I was really pleased she was able to do that. She got the message and actually walked along the corridor to my office in front of me to clear the insects away. She was forgiven!

Fortunately most of them do think differently and have continually offered their help or just their understanding and slowly as the week moves on, it seems I’m able to become more accepting. I guess I just have to… I mean there’s sod all else I can do apart from work on accepting this state, I can’t control or stop it and I can’t not come into work. I’ve noticed a gradual thawing of attitude toward myself as this week progresses (this post has been written over the course of this week as a form of therapy for me) and I’m not quite as loathing of myself as I was on Monday.

I do wonder if I’ve been through a version of Flooding this week. Sleep has been less than ideal so I am so very tired today and today I’ve not had a panic attack… I honestly think I just don’t have the energy for one and that’s so absolutely fine with me right now! The flies are slightly less in number and I’ve managed to squeeze myself down corridors on the opposite side to a wall clinging flappy. I’ve also been able to ask my colleagues to do a few things meaning my exposure to certain corridors, windows and stairwells has been limited.

I feel very humbled as I reach the end of this week. I bow my head and admit maybe I’m not as far along my path as I perhaps thought, that some issues remain just as strong, I just haven’t faced them in a while. It’s a reminder to me not to assume about myself and that there’s always room for improvement when it comes to Acceptance of things we wish weren’t so as without that acceptance I wasn’t able to make the adjustments I needed to perform at the best of my current ability.