The dark cloud of doom

i am concerned
Cat image from here.

So i’ve had panic disorder since I was 15, and it really has been fun and games since then. I have:

Been convinced I had AIDS (I didn’t and I don’t), felt like I was sinking into the earth 1000 times and wanted to lie down in various city centres, ran away from a date with no explanation, developed a phobia of food and stopped eating everything apart from potatoes and rice, felt like I was constantly on drugs (depersonalization), became a fan of touching the colour red, made doctors perform various tests on my heart, moved countless items in supermarkets because something ‘bad will happen’ and that’s just some of it.

A panic attack is like a big rush of adrenalin, the kind you get at the top of a mountain when you’re about to fall off and die. When that happens 24/7, it does pretty much ruin your life. It consumes you in the same way a boy consumes you when you fancy them. It’s all you can think about, the anxious thoughts take over your brain and there is no getting rid. The worst part is that even when you are not having a full blown panic attack, you get pretty obsessed with thoughts about the next one, terrified in regards to when and ‘if’ it will happen and all the negative things that could happen to you.

messy

I have re-kindled my relationship with the trusty friend panic, as of late. Which is why I thought I would write about this, maybe some of you will understand, and maybe some of the tips I have learned can help someone now I am slowly getting better.

I had been on SSRI medication for many years, I felt great. Very good. Nice. Not really any panic attacks. So it was a good idea for me and my head to try and stop taking it.
Bad idea. Not good. Did not work. It all came rushing back. Worse, just as bad as before the drugs. Obviously I had not forgotten how to panic like I assumed, nor had my thoughts or behavior ever been challenged so it was back into old habits and being 100% convinced I was dying if I dared eat food, watch a documentary that mentions space for one second or best of all for no reason.

The doctor wanted me to up my medication again, I tried, I got worse. I went back down. I still felt shitty. I eventually got to the top of the waiting list for CBT.

I have been going for 8 weeks now, and it is my last this week. I have learned quite a lot. Perhaps the most obvious to some but least obvious to me is that being anxious is actually a choice. Before I always assumed that I couldn’t control it and that it was just my brain, but it’s not necessarily true.

Worrying to me seems ‘easy’, but as my therapist said, “How is it easy? It’s making your life much harder”. He also said people worry excessively sometimes when they want to put something off or ignore their real feelings.

For me I would say that it is true, the ‘blip’ this time was likely made worse by a decrease in medication but also due to the fact that I put myself under a lot of stress and took on way too much while other things in my life were happening. People who have anxiety disorders have to know their boundaries. Also, it is important to note that it’s impossible to live off 5-6 hours sleep a night and drink a ton of coffee and be okay. I think even people without anxiety disorders would struggle with that. Sometimes I think i’m superhuman.

Another battle that I have constantly had in my head is that I worry about worrying (it’s called meta worrying!). I have pretty OCD type thoughts, I will think something ‘bad’ or negative for example, that someone close to me will die. I will worry and obsess about it and try and prevent it happening. In my mind, moving something or touching something, or ordering objects can ‘prevent’ these so called ‘bad things’ happening. It’s like some fucked up God complex, and it really is ridiculous but it all seems to make a lot of sense when you’re in that state of mind. I guess you can liken it to people who get superstitious about things, except taking it to the next level, and the next, and the next…!

What I didn’t realize before CBT was that the general population who are not classed as having any mental disorders think stuff like that all the time. I was given a sheet with lots of thoughts that people have. Some were about harming their newborn children, jumping in front of a train, hurting a loved one etc. Knowing that these thoughts were just thoughts and didn’t mean that I was ‘crazy’ for thinking them, was sort of a relief for me and let me accept them a bit more, rather than trying to fight them (which causes more anxiety) or worrying about having them.

Dr Claire Weekes says in her book Self Help For Your Nerves that you should let your negative thoughts ‘float’ rather than trying and push them away or give them the time of day. Before CBT I guess I didn’t really know how to grasp fully what she was getting at, but now I feel like that is a very good description of what you really should do. Accept the thought, accept that it’s not nice, and let it float float float away. Like a cloud.

cloud
Cloud by Berndnaut Smilde.

When seriously anxious 24/7, depression sometimes comes hand in hand for a lot of people, unsurprisingly. Fortunately (and unfortunately) I had never really experienced this until last year. I had never thought of myself as depressed, but I became it. All you want to do is sleep, nothing is interesting, everything seems bad, the future feels like this slow drag, and you have no idea what it will consist of, no excitement for it. Art is boring. Music is irritating. Sleep is the only thing that feels like a good idea. The world has this horrible blurry tinge to it and colours are murkier.

It was at that point I began taking a new medication, I was not eating and I could not leave the house or be at work without having several panic attacks (though I hide it well, I’m sure a lot of people would never notice, I’ve always been able to do this. Which is funny, because obviously I am able to control it during those periods of the day where I feel I need to hide it.) I was mid way through CBT and it was helping me understand everything but I wasn’t able to face all the fears that I needed to properly. I was struggling to function day to day, anxiety was consuming me 99%. I would cry before work, at lunch time, and after work. I had to admit to myself that maybe I did need the drugs at this time in my life.

I am very thankful, but it slowly seems to be working for me. The first two weeks on it were horrible, I felt like I was taking speed, but now it is leveling out it seems to be working some magic on my brain. I can eat without thinking about is as much and panicking that I will die, and I am noticing the colours of the world again. I have also been writing lists of things I like to do, and making sure to include these activities in my days, I think this is a very important part of getting better. It is called behavioral activation and the more that you do of things you enjoy (even when you have to force yourself) the more accomplished you feel and the more you will slowly be able to do again.

I tried to come off medication because I felt like it was maybe it was ‘dulling’ part of me or leveling me out too much and as a creative person that concerned me. The reality was that it wasn’t and it isn’t. It just helps you to function like a normal person, I experienced more happiness on them than off them, and I did my illustration degree on them so that concern was pretty unfounded really. I also realize that I can be on them for years, but it doesn’t mean I’ll be on them forever. Now just wasn’t the time.

What I am learning is no matter how bad things get with your anxiety, things will get better. I was pretty convinced this time that it wouldn’t. But it is slowly, and that’s nice and a good thing to remember.

?
Image from here.

11 Responses to “The dark cloud of doom”

  1. This is a really well written piece, just the right amount of personal experience and information. I’ve suffered with anxiety but thankfully nowhere near as bad or as all consuming as this. You’re very strong to keep seeing the positives and moving forward – you’re going to be perfectly fine because of this.

    X

  2. Hannah this is such a brilliantly written piece, but under that, thank you for writing it and for raising awareness on something I think a lot of people try not to talk about. It’s so good to hear you are doing better and more in control/ aware of what is happening, and amazing that you can share your experience. Xxx

  3. Thank you for writing and sharing your experiences, and I love the pictures you have used to illustrate your points. I also like that you’ve written how important it is to take care of ourselves, including making time to do things we like. I am glad you feel better, and I hope you are taking good care of yourself. xxx

  4. Thank you for writing this, it’s good to know that someone is going through this and doing well. I’ve had different levels of anxiety throughout my 20s and seem to be going through a bad patch at the moment. I’ve been thinking of seeking therapy, like CBT, to help manage it a bit better. I read the book you mentioned a few years ago and it really pulled me out of (another) bad patch so I think I’ll track it down again.

  5. This is an amazing blog, thank you Hannah, for putting it together! Living with panic and low level (but bloody perpetual since, well, childhood) dysthymia, I can definitely relate to a lot of what you described. I’m really thinking CBT may be the way to go as I feel I’ve “plateaued” on my SSRI and am facing the prospect of upping my meds ;-/

    I look forward to hearing how you progress and wish you happiness, health and serenity -x-

  6. it’s so interesting to read what goes on inside your head from somebody else. i have panic disorder and have struggled to keep it under control for years. this hit home s little too close. my boyfriend has trouble understanding why i’m scared of mundane things, every week another vegetable would get added to the “possibly allergic to” list and i’m still struggling with reintroducing foods.

    a lot of my panic calmed down when i realized that I AM in control of my reactions. you don’t have to be scared if you don’t want to be. if your throat starts swelling from the mushroom that you’ve eaten twenty thousand times before don’t worry we can call an ambulance… unless were out camping and there are no hospitals around (oh god the train of thought you can get caught in!) or the space thing! jesus christ. a mere mention of space and i was popping a xanax. you don’t have to be scared if you don’t want to be. it takes time and practice, but remembering who is in control is so amazing. when you start hearing that voice or that creeping in your tummy just yell, “no! i am in control! i don’t want this!” either in your head or out loud. i do this all of the time and it’s helped me regain control over my life. yoga was good for a bit but i hate focusing on my breathing because it gets me more anxious… i was always scared the next breath wouldn’t come.

    good luck on your journey! it can only get better! thank you for your post and sorry i got so carried away :3

  7. Firstly, I hope you’ll forgive me for commenting on a post so far back in your archive! (I know this can freak people out for some reason?!)

    I just wanted to say that I was reading your blog because I love your work, and I was moved to comment when I read this post – no one really talks about mental illness properly and that bothers me, because ‘invisible illnesses’ are so easy to misunderstand. I too am a worrier. I’m on my second year of my illustration degree at Kingston University and I suffer from depression and have done for years. Your description of sleep being the only appealing option is spot on, I stopped taking my meds back in April and I’m still trying to find the courage to make a doctors appointment to go back on them, as without them, my degree is almost unbearable.

    Stay strong, you’re an inspiration :)

    • Of course it’s not weird, thanks for commenting!

      I don’t think I could have completed my degree at Kingston without medication/Citalopram. For a long time I felt bad for being on it, after I finished my degree I thought I’d been on them for 4 years, I should stop, I must stop, I was doing OK and it wasn’t great to be on them for a long time, looking back, the amount I worried about that was probably a sign I shouldn’t have come off them.
      Now I know that it’s best (for me anyway) to be on them for now, and for as long as I need to be! But I’m very glad I did try to come off because I had CBT with the best therapist i’ve had and it really did help change my life.. (that sounds cheesy) but still to this day the stuff I learned from that therapist helps me now. You should really try and go to CBT!

      I hope you feel better soon! And if it ever gets tough the tutors at Kingston were pretty understanding with me, especially Jane and Jake. Xx

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