Posting to this blog is helping. A LOT.
Yesterday throughout the day I was having a BAD anxiety attack. It was building up all day and I was holding it at bay by writing, focusing on my work, and reassuring myself it would be over soon. By about hour 6, I realized my anxiety was just acting up this particular day.
One of the ways I try to explain how anxiety feels to people is by comparing how a ‘normal’ person would feel doing an activity and how I may feel doing the same one. For example, let’s say you go home and take a sweet bubble bath. You have warm water filling up the tub and bubbles are popping up all over the place to hang out with you. Many people would find a bubble bath to be very relaxing. I will feel better, but never completely relaxed. The nature of my anxiety is that it is always always there/always present/always lurking.
It helps me to keep a picture of a thermometer in my head of where my anxiety level is at any given time. During a bubble bath it is probably at its lowest BUT IT IS STILL THERE. I can still kind of feel it. There are specific times I never have anxiety – but those times are rare. Even a bubble bath is not one of them. However, I have grown accustomed to feeling anxiety at some level - whether it be low or super intense – that the level I feel during a bubble bath ain’t no thang.
Yesterday was a challenging day. My anxiety thermometer was bobbing up and down up and down up and down then finally way way up.
How Do I know it’s Anxiety?
This is one of the most difficult things to learn. I realized that the intense ‘afraidness’ I was feeling majority of the time was not normal. This fear was guiding my thought process and in turn fueling negative emotions and taking them to a hyper level of feeling. I was a scatterball mess. I would overreact to situations and not realize I was blowing things out of proportion. My brain was always at odds with how I felt, constantly questioning: IF nothing is wrong then WHY do I feel this way?
My counsellor taught me something that has been an immense help. She explained that I can PHYSICALLY feel my anxiety. My body will do certain things and they will be the same things each time if there is an anxiety act up.
What are they?
1 – My heart speeds up. It beats really fast. If I am lying down and doing nothing my heart can still be thumping away like crazy. My favourite thing to do is run because it takes that fast heartbeat and really uses it. I always feel better after a run because I can really tell the difference as my heart slows down.
2 – A feeling of dread or of sinking in my chest. This feeling has got to be the scariest part. It’s the DANGER DANGER signal that my body is shooting out to every part of me. My body is physically reacting to the anxiety by making me feel like SOMETHING IS WRONG right in my chest. This one is the hardest to shake. When it’s gone I always feel relieved because I know that whatever intense anxiety was occurring has fully stopped.
3 – Breathing – I did not realize this one was happening until I really started to pay attention. I have to take deeper and faster breaths because I feel I’m not getting enough oxygen in my body. I feel light headed, I feel like the air isn’t absorbing. I am currently trying to mediate this with yoga, but it is a slow slow process. A tip I was given by my counsellor was to just suck in a deep breath, count to two then slowly release that breath. Repeating this tends to help. And it’s something you can do without having to remove yourself from any given situation.
The thing that takes a lot – and I mean the most effort – is reprogramming myself to realize that the anxiety I am feeling is baseless. It is not caused by anything. It is just happening. As people we constantly look for meaning, it is in our nature. The hardest thing to tell myself - to really believe and put faith in – is that the anxiety that feels so strongly in my chest – that remains so insistently throughout my life – is just a process my body is more vulnerable to. It is just something that is happening, that I am feeling, that has no cause.
This means that I cannot trust my body OR my mind when it is having an anxiety attack. I have learned/am learning to dismiss whatever I feel or think or expect during an anxiety attack. I always do a mental check if I feel something wrong – Am I having any of the physical anxiety symptoms? If I am then whatever is happening at the time, whatever the anxiety is making me focus on – gets dismissed as nothing. It’s nothing because I am imagining it to be more than it is because my body is fueling that reaction in my head.
Pretty weird right? Imagine not being able to trust how you feel OR how you think. It is/was one of the most difficult things to learn when you have this disorder. And I think over time I will learn how to sort what I am actually feeling and what anxiety is making me feel. I’m not there yet, so I have to make it very cut and dry as I learn more about how this disorder works in me.
What do you do when you have an anxiety attack?
There are a bunch of coping mechanisms that we create to use when we do not feel good. I took this idea and learned to apply it to my Anxiety. If I wanted to function as a fairly normal person throughout my day and I wanted to enjoy the good things in my life, I had to take treating this disorder into my own hands. There were a few different tools I have learned about and picked up on to help me deal with the disorder on a daily basis.
Yesterdays anxiety attack had built up for most of the day. I was focusing on something and obsessing about it. I knew I would do this and had written an email to myself in an effort to ward it off. I wrote that the anxiety could be there and could be really bad and I would deal with it if it did become too intense.
It reached a point where I could no longer distract myself or use the coping mechanisms I usually do – refocusing on what I am doing, breathing, drinking a glass of water. None of my usual ways to break out were working and the anxiety was getting worse. I had been researching a little bit about it during the day and realized that I was still fighting the attack. I wasn’t letting myself just feel it so I could get past it. I decided to just let go and see what would happen.
I ended up doing something a little bit stupid, I just started crying. For about 2 minutes. I just sat there and cried, told myself I wasn’t upset about anything in particular, I just didn’t feel good and reassured myself it would pass.
I came down from the crying and the attack started to calm down to the point where I could at least think. I felt myself starting to become angry about the situation I was obsessing about and wanting to place blame. I did a mental check for anxiety symptoms and sure enough they were all present and roaring at full velocity. Fast heart beat, breathing didn’t feel right, and overwhelming sinking feeling of dread. I told my self to “stop right now. You are not going to let your mind run away with you. You are having an anxiety attack. Let it ride out. Nothing is wrong.”
After another 5 minutes I was actually okay.I felt relieved. The sense of dread was gone and best of all - I had handled it myself. I hadn’t called anyone, I hadn’t told anyone it was happening, I just let. it. happen.
I think because I have been writing here and researching the condition and understanding how it manifests, I am able to realize how to handle it better when an intense anxiety level does happen. I think that my counsellors have helped tremendously by providing me with the tools and mechanisms I needed to fight this disorder.
But up until yesterday, I did not know if these tools were even working. Yesterday I had my first anxiety attack that I handled by myself. This is after about 6 months of learning to recognize and then stamp out an attack. When I first was figuring this whole thing out, I felt angry and frustrated. I knew, on a personal level, that I would not go on medication. I knew that if I was going to handle these attacks myself without the aid of medication it would be more difficult than it needed to be. I have it firmly in my mind that I cannot take medicine, that I do not want to be medicated for the rest of my life. This is a fear I have. But in order to reassure myself and account for another course of treatment if I need it, I gave myself a time limit. One year. One year of really working on the anxiety, learning everything I can about it. One year on my own to see if I could handle this disorder myself. Yesterday was the first day that I took a step in the right direction that makes me believe I made the right decision for myself. Yesterday I actually realized I have some hope that I can do this by myself. I am really happy about this, and I think I will be better prepared for next time, knowing that I could handle this time.
Day 2 of 21.