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.
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.
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.