Anxiety: All Aboard The Crazy Train

 

It’s normal to have aches and pains in middle-age. The problem with minor aches and pains when you have a fearful and sleep deprived mind is that you start to overthink them until they turn into something terminal, like cancer.

This is health anxiety.

Since my late 30s there has always been a part of my body playing me up. This week it’s neck pain and I’m having another IBS flare up. I’m constipated and there is a niggling pain in my lower bowel region. A few months back I would have Googled my symptoms, come up with bowel cancer and scared the metaphorical crap out of myself.

This is what I now call ‘climbing aboard the crazy train’.

The crazy train is the runaway thoughts train. It’s a scary ride. Scarier than ANYTHING you have ever ridden on in any theme park.

Or ever will.

It’s fulled by your catastrophic thoughts. There is no driver. There are no passengers. There is only YOU.

These are just some of my anxiety symptoms over the past six years.

  • Allergies
  • Back pain, stiffness
  • Breathing problems
  • Blanching (pale face)
  • Body Aches
  • Body Jolts
  • Body Zaps
  • Body shakes
  • Body Tremors
  • Blurred vision/sensitivity to light
  • Body Temperature (going from very hot to very cold)
  • Bloating
  • Brain zaps
  • Brain fog
  • Burning sensation on skin
  • Buzzing in hands, arms and feet.
  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Chills
  • Constipation
  • Craving sugar
  • Crazy thoughts
  • Difficulty speaking (slow speech)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Depersonalisation
  • Difficulty thinking/concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Fear of dying, of losing control and going crazy
  • Feelings of unreality
  • Feeling that the tongue is swollen
  • Frequent urination
  • Hair loss
  • Headaches/migraine
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hot flashes
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mouth (burning tongue and clicking jaw)
  • Memory loss
  • Muscles (vibrating, tremors, weakness and wastage)
  • Nausea (retching and vomiting)
  • Neck (shoulder and neck tension and stiffness)
  • Nervous stomach
  • Night sweats
  • Numbness in fingers, feet and arms
  • Rapid/irregular heartbeat
  • Pulsing sensation
  • Sensitivity to foods and medication
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Shooting and stabbing pains
  • Skipped heart beats
  • Soreness on scalp (like bruising)
  • Twitching
  • Tinny taste in mouth
  • Tinnitus
  • Lightheaded
  • Weak limbs
  • Weight loss

To list ALL my symptoms would obliterate my word count but you will see that my anxiety symptoms have affected me literally from my head to my feet and I have multiple symptoms at any one time. In my case, being menopausal and autistic means that there are overlaps but the anxiety makes things profoundly worse. For instance, my Tinnitus isn’t an anxiety symptom per se but it is worsened by the anxiety.

The most comprehensive list of anxiety symptoms I know of is here.

The next time you say, ‘THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NO WAY THIS SYMPTOM CAN BE DUE TO ANXIETY!’

Have another read through the list!

All these symptoms and the ones listed in the above link are symptoms of stress.

Heart symptoms are classic anxiety symptoms but you should ALWAYS get them checked out if they are new for you. I underwent tests on my heart and the doctors concluded that my ticker was doing everything that it should, it was just beating faster than it should because my body constantly thinks it’s in danger.

I have generalized anxiety with health anxiety that is now in ‘remission’ cos I got myself some therapy, innit? I’m also autistic which is where the roots of my life-long anxiety problems lie. A lot of autistic people have mental health issues. Most, I’d say. This is because it’s stressful living in a world that you don’t understand and which doesn’t understand you. I also have OCD with sporadic bouts of depression. Not forgetting the good old menopause which means I am lacking in the hormones which kept me sane (ish) for 30 years – discounting one week out of every month where I went psycho and would have willingly stabbed somebody for their Mars Bar..

Over these past six years, I have been UTTERLY convinced that I have having a heart attack or that one is imminent. Or that I am riddled with cancer or some other insidious disease. Yet, ALL the tests keep coming back clear. The horrors that I have tortured myself exist only in my imagination. Whoever said that autistic people don’t have imagination? I have a fabulous imagination. Ask my GP!

Everybody is different when it comes to anxiety. My symptoms may not be your symptoms but the one thing I have learned about anxiety is that it affects your WHOLE body. Symptoms are transient. They stick around for a few days or a few months but then they go to be replaced by something else. To the exhausted mind – new symptoms equals fear.

‘THIS time, I’m really ill.’

Yes you are, but the illness is mental not physical. Dear.

A few months ago I would have been hyperventilating in my GP’s surgery at the onset of a new symptom but I have been there, done that and the t shirt is a mangled mess. Now, I calmly remind myself to acknowledge the symptom but not to Google it. If it lasts longer than two weeks, I see my GP.

It is important that I don’t CATASTROPHISE.

Yesterday it was neck-pain to the point where I needed painkillers but instead of allowing my mind to start shitting me. CANCER? OMG AM GONNA DIE kind of thing, I thought it through logically..

Last week, I’d been decorating, as in, climbing up ladders and looking up. I was working muscles that I hadn’t used in a while. Plus, I have arthritis. When you look at it rationally it’s easy to see why my neck would be giving me gyp. Simple isn’t it? IBS symptoms? I’ve been back on the beans and onions. To the exhausted mind – ANY pain – fires up the stress response. It has to be an illness, right?

Nope.

Don’t believe everything you think.

I didn’t allow my thoughts to run away with me. I took painkillers and each time the ‘what if?’ Gremlin wandered into my mind, I acknowledged it for what it was – A THOUGHT – and carried on binge watching Benidorm. Today, there is no pain and I had a decent night’s sleep because I didn’t climb aboard the crazy train.

Way to go, me.

The point of this post is to help you to understand that anxiety affects the entire body. Often there will be no explanation other than stress hormones affecting your body. I wouldn’t have thought that my scalp feeling bruised was an anxiety symptom but it is. Or a clicking jaw. The good news is that your symptoms will start to fade away as your stress levels recede. If you need the reassurance of your GP, by all means go and get your ten minutes worth.

Then ACCEPT it when they tell you it’s anxiety, especially when tests come back clear.

The crazy train will come for you.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO CLIMB ABOARD.

 

Mind, Shut Your Mouth

 

Would you like to know what my mind is like at night?

Pull up a chair. Get comfy and we will begin…

**************************

I’m dreaming. Yet another night terror. The third tonight. I try to fall back to sleep but I can’t because the dream was horrible. The harder I try to push the thoughts away, the stronger they become. Then, I notice that my arms and legs are tingling…

Oh my God. I feel weird. Weirder than usual, that is.

You’ve been here a trillion times before. They are just sensations.

But this is different. It feels different.

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and my body feels icy cold. My rational mind is fighting with the fear and somewhere in-between is a song with it’s verse stuck on repeat.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

You know the GP has told you that the tingling is Spondylosis. You’re catastrophising!

Yeah BUT I’ve had no tests. It could be a brain tumour or MS. I’m partly deaf in one ear. What if it’s not normal hearing loss. What if it’s a tumour?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

I see myself in a wheelchair and feel the surge of stress hormones as they perceive the imagery as a real threat.

This is unhelpful. Breathe!

I remind myself to breathe from my tummy and I feel calmer for a minute.

BUT the tingling is STILL THERE!

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

How would I cope with a brain tumour?

It has to be a brain tumour because I keep forgetting stuff.

That’s part of the menopause, you loon.

Yes, BUT…

But what?

It COULD be?

I force myself to remember things. Things I know I should remember, like my name, my kids names and what I had for tea.

I can’t remember what I had for tea! I CAN’T REMEMBER!!!

See! It IS a brain tumour!

No, it’s not!

I have migraines!

Yeah, since you were 23!

How would OH cope with me having a brain tumour?

The Boy wouldn’t cope without me.

HOW WOULD HE COPE WITHOUT ME?

How would I tell my lads?

I start to cry and my breathing becomes shallow. So shallow that it physically hurts to breathe. Then my entire body shakes uncontrollably..

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Oh this MOTHERFUNGLING SONG!!

It’s ear-worm because it was the last song you heard on the radio. Think yourself lucky it wasn’t Justin Bieber, eh?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Use your distraction techniques, you KNOW what to do!

OK, I’ll think of countries and go through the alphabet.

Atta girl!

A Australia

B Brain Tumour

Oh ffs

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

What if OH has a crash on the way to work. I’d be on my own. I COULDN’T COPE OMG!!

What if he didn’t have a crash?

YES BUT..

Or what if he had one but wasn’t hurt at all?

YES BUT..

What is it with you always killing people off?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

PLEASE.

JUST STOP!

They are just thoughts, fruitcake.

They can’t hurt you.

It’s 3.30am. The stress hormones have gone feral. You know this. Fear is LOUDEST when the world is at it’s quietest. You know this. BREATHE!

I’M TRYING TO F**KING BREATHE!

Try harder!

Keep trying. Keep doing it over and over and over. These sensations will pass. They always do.

Yeah, but this time it’s different. THIS time, I’m REALLY ill.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!

****************************

Dawn approaches and the room gets lighter. Oh the RELIEF that night has passed. The thought clouds my mind that the days will start to get shorter soon and I will have to endure this crap for longer..

Daytime is easier because there are distractions. At night, it’s just me and my mind. I glance over to OH and resent the fact that he is sleeping soundly. I feel like elbowing him in the ribs to wake him up but I don’t. Instead, I look at him and whisper ‘You lucky git’. Because I am aware of EVERYTHING. This is when I feel that I am the ONLY person on the planet. Yet I know that I am not because there are thousands of us fighting with our minds. I want to put my arms round each and every one of you because I know how hard it is.

Exhausted, I fall into a dream, so fragmented and bizarre you’d think I was on some kind of hallucinogenic drug trip. Yet I’m not on any drugs. It’s because the stress hormones are flooding my body. I know why it’s happening. I’m a bloody expert when it comes to anxiety. It’s just that fear overrides rationality.

Sleep brings little respite for me unless I manage to get those magical two hours in before midnight but anybody with insomnia knows that a nighttime hour feels more like two, three or even four. Night time is different to day time. No distractions, see, and the silence only amplifies the mind chatter.

My mind is tired. After five years of panic disorder, it’s exhausted. My instinct is to fight but I have to accept all this for what it is. Just thoughts. My thoughts are NOT reality. If they were, I’d be in deep shit. My body is reacting as if they are but it’s up to me to change that by changing how I think. For a few months, my sleep was better. Not great but bearable so I know I can achieve it. It will just take time and instead of fearing another night, I need to accept whatever comes. You drown faster when you struggle, right? If you float, you have a better chance of surviving. That’s what I need to do. Float.

I have done my best to describe what happens to me at night and this is by no means a one off. Nor is it the worst case. I’ve gone for somewhere in the middle. But this is only about half an hours worth. Can you imagine hours of this shit? I hope you can’t because anxiety disorder is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. If you can identify with any of it, I feel for you and you need to know that you are not alone. There are thousands of us in the insomnia club.

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”Poppy Z Brite

 

Yours Mentally

Three days ago I stood outside my local cafe and hesitated before I opened the door.

‘Just sodding well go in, you loon!’ I bollocked myself.

I walked in and sat down at my usual table and within minutes the cafe owner was at my side, notepad in hand.

“Nice to see you! What can I get for you?”

‘Tea and toast please’

Five minutes later I was drinking my tea and was overcome with a sense of achievement.

I sent OH a text..

In the cafe. ON MY OWN! *smiley face*

I’ll forgive you for thinking ‘what on earth is the idiot on about now?’ but what if I was to tell you that it was the first time in over 12 months that I had been in ANY cafe on my own?

Being autistic, going into any public places requires effort due to my sensory and social issues but this post isn’t about my autism, not directly anyway.

The anxiety which has shadowed me from birth morphed into Panic Disorder in 2014, then General Anxiety Disorder and after three years of my body being constantly flooded with stress hormones, I had a nervous breakdown.

Definition: A nervous or mental breakdown is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress. During this period, you’re unable to function in your everyday life.

At the peak of my illness,  I visited my GP ten times, A&E twice and the out of hours GP service twice – this was in a period of two weeks. EACH time I was convinced I would be admitted to hospital. EACH time, I was told it was anxiety.

When it came to symptoms, I had the works with my entire body from my scalp to my toes being affected. I felt sick ALL of the time and kept spontaneously retching. On one occasion I sat in the GP’s office retching violently into a cardboard bowl. She said I had a gastric bug but I’d been retching for the past three years (just not in public) so if it was a gastric bug then I was breaking some kind of record! Another time I was walking down the street and retched so hard I actually vomited over myself.

Barfing, not dancing, in the street.

My weight dropped into the 7 stone range and my muscles were starting to waste. I was starting to look like Skeletor, only less sexy..

My bowels woke me up at 4-5am with a ‘MOVE IT OR YOU’LL SHIT THE BED’ cramping in my lower regions. I’d also wake in the early hours shaking violently, not that it woke OH. Nothing short of the house blowing up would have roused him from his coma..

I couldn’t tolerate drugs, even painkillers. Come to think of it, even vitamins gave me gyp.

Palpitations? Don’t start me.

My mouth was sore but with no visible cause because I checked via a dental mirror NUMEROUS times. Yes, REALLY! You do things like this when you are mentally ill, see. You spend hours inspecting yourself and prodding your poo. Dignified, no?

I had test after test but all came back clear.

‘All those doctors can’t be wrong, Sweetie’, OH said.

‘They just haven’t found the cancer yet dearie.’ countered Fear.

By far, the most debilitating symptom was the feeling that I was losing my mind..

My grip on reality can be iffy at the best of times but this was in a different realm completely. I struggled to go out or be on my own. My stims became more noticeable and I had no control over them at all. My rocking went from my usual subtle movement to virtually falling off the chair-rocking and my lips were sore from frantically picking the skin off them.  I couldn’t see a way out and in my worst moment I actually wanted to be sectioned.

Yep, you read that right. I wanted to be thrown in the big house where they could put me to bye-byes and be there for me 24/7. I understand now just how poorly I was and If I hadn’t have turned myself around when I did, I may not have had any choice in the matter..

I threw everything at getting better. I did relaxation and yoga. I cut out sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten etc but none of it helped for long because I wasn’t accepting how I felt. I was fighting Fear ALL the way..

The breakthrough came when I was told I would have to have a colonoscopy. I was SO convinced I was coffing it that I accepted my fate AND all those weird and unwonderful sensations. I told myself to enjoy what time I had left because Fear could eff right off if it thought it could rob me of that too. With support from OH and a few good friends, including one who’s had a breakdown of his own, I began to see blue sky even in the shadow of my imagined death.

Beautiful Blue Sky

I stuffed food into my mouth and didn’t dwell on how crap it made me feel. I lived alongside Fear and accepted whatever it threw at me. What had I got to lose?

I started to put weight on and my tummy started to rumble again. I FELT HUNGRY!!

I told myself constantly that ‘whatever happens to me. I am here, NOW’.

Then my bum got invaded courtesy of the NHS, and everything was fine. I wasn’t dying (HURRAH) but I had to face the fact that I was mentally ill..

My weight is now back up to 8 and a half stone and my heart isn’t pounding all the time. The anxiety will always be there but I’m not in crisis anymore. I have taken steps to help myself, the biggest and most important being ACCEPTANCE.

There were many times when depression tangoed with the anxiety and I thought I would slip further into insanity but my mind is stronger than I could ever have imagined. It’s healing itself, especially now I understand that magic word, acceptance.

So, yeah, I went to the cafe alone. It was a GINORMOUS step and I’m PROUD of me. I know that recovery is a long process and there will be setbacks along the way but that’s ALL they will be because I’ve accepted fear for what it is.

We need fear. It stops us from being reckless but fear should work for us, not the other way around. That jumped up little git needs to know it’s place, innit.

If you are reading this and are struggling with mental illness, know that you CAN get better. It’s your thoughts that have put you where you are and it’s your thoughts that will set you free.

Yours, mentally

ACCEPT

 All Images Via Creative Commons

A Few Tips To Ease Your Anxiety Symptoms

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In the three years that I have had GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) I have trawled the internet and read countless books searching for ideas to ease my symptoms so I thought it would be a good idea to share what’s worked for me.

So, in no particular order..

Sugar

While diet doesn’t cause anxiety it’s fair to say that certain foods, like sugar, do aggravate the situation and making a few dietary changes can greatly improve symptoms.

When you have an anxiety disorder you can become hypersensitive to your body. Even small amounts of sugar can have a detrimental effect on the body because it’s absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. This causes an initial energy surge but once it wears off the body has to increase the production of insulin in order to remove the sugar from your blood stream leaving you feeling like a bag of shite. Cutting down or eliminating refined sugar from your diet will address the imbalances which trigger panic attacks and will improve your body’s ability to cope with stress.

It’s a good idea to learn bout how much sugar is in the foods you are eating. There is a smart phone app called Food Smart which allows you to scan the barcodes to see exactly how much sugar is in a product. It’s been quite the eyeopener!

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Mornings

Our bodies naturally release cortisol in the morning as we wake from a prolonged period of sleep. This is known as the ‘cortisol awakening response’. Non-anxious people wake gradually over a few hours whereas anxiety cases (like moi) get woken abruptly with the cortisol screaming “WAKE THE EFF UPPPPP ARRRGGHHH!!!”

Imagine having Slipknot waking you up at 5am with their screamiest song (plus scary masks) and you’re somewhere near.

Normally, cortisol is present throughout the day but at a decreasing level, the lowest being in the evening preparing us for sleep. It will spike during short term stressors like an argument or a near miss with the number 57 bus then subside again. The anxious person has consistently high levels of cortisol throughout the day which is unpleasant to say the least.

The best thing I’ve found on waking is to get up and move about – even if it’s 4am. I find that walking helps to burn some of that excess energy off. Lying there only makes me feel crap and if I try to doze off, I only end up having insane dreams of headless horses or toilets that don’t flush. Freud would have a field day with me, no?

I blog. I clean. I use the energy to my advantage and GIVE ANXIETY THE FINGER!

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Dr Google Will See You Now

Not everybody who has anxiety will have health anxiety but a good number unfortunately do.

Me, for one.

The problem is that anxiety presents with such a plethora of symptoms that it’s hard to believe that you’re NOT dying of something particularly nasty but instead of making an appointment with a GP, the cyberchondriac makes an appointment with Dr Google whose diagnosis is usually terminal. The sufferer then curls up into fetal position and awaits certain death only moving as far as their PC in order to post on anxiety forums which are full of threads like..

‘Pain In My Toe. Cancer?’

And..

‘I’m dying’.

Occasionally some desperate sod will upload graphic pictures of his/her poo for reassurance that they are not dying but as much as I understand and empathise with health anxiety, I really don’t want to see someone’s toilet massacre on my PC at 6am!

Or ever.

My advice would be NOT to Google your symptoms but if you really must then type the word ANXIETY alongside whatever symptom it is.

Instead of trawling though pages about diseases you imagine you have.. spend a good few hours researching the condition you DO have? Learn about anxiety and why the body reacts the way it does. Educate yourself!  It will also remove a lot of the fear and once you’ve done that you’re on the road to recovery.

Google isn’t all bad though because you will find great anxiety websites and podcasts.

The Anxiety Guru and Anxiety Slayer  are two excellent podcasts which are informative and help to normalise anxiety symptoms. Well worth looking up.

Exercise

In my opinion, the WORST thing you can do with anxiety is sit on your backside and do nothing. That’s a sure way to keep you in the anxiety/fear loop forever and ever, Amen.

There is a link between being physically active and enjoying positive mental well-being. It causes chemical changes in the brain which positively alter your mood. Even a fifteen minute walk can make you feel better. ANY exercise is better than none.

I walk as much as I can and do yoga. I ALWAYS feel the benefit during and afterwards even if I might not feel like doing it to start with. It’s the knowledge that I WILL feel better that has me reaching for my coat or yoga mat no matter how crap I feel.

Your body WANTS to move. It NEEDS to move to keep all your bits functioning effectively.

You have all these stress hormones whirring away inside you and they need to be diffused so work with them and SHIFT YOUR ARSE OFF THAT SOFA! Go for a walk in the sunshine or a jog if that’s more your thing. Put some funky music on and flick the duster about. Whatever floats your boat. JUST DO IT!

Be well and think positive thoughts.

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