Why Inactivity Doesn’t Help Anxiety.

Today, I’m talking about cortisol.

‘What the chuff’s cortisol?’ I hear you say. ‘ It sounds like a mouthwash!’

No, that’s Corsodyl.

Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear (or stress) as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Normally, it’s released into the body when the fight or flight button is activated, like when you have a near miss in the car or you can’t find your purse at the checkouts in Tesco. Once the danger is passed, cortisol subsides and the body returns to normal. When somebody has panic disorder they become sensitised and their fight-or-flight mechanism responds to EVERYTHING as if it’s a threat. Put it this way. I once had a panic attack while watching Mary Berry on TV. I mean, who knew that Mary Berry could be so bloody scary? Maybe it was the way she was chopping her carrots?

We’d be forgiven for thinking that we should be lying in bed or sitting in a chair all day because our bodies are burning calories without doing anything and in any case, we feel too tired to do anything. Right?

Wrong.

The worst thing you can do when your cortisol levels are sky high is sit on your arse because anxiety LOVES inactivity. Why? Because it means that it has your undivided attention. Rest is good. We need to rest but only if that rest includes sleep or doing relaxation exercises. Lying on our beds, tormenting our minds with unhelpful thoughts isn’t restful. In fact, we are KEEPING THE CORTISOL FLOWING.

We need to break the cycle.

We need to DO stuff that distracts the mind from our fruitcake thoughts.

The idea is to bring those cortisol levels down, so go for a run or a long ramble. Take a gentle walk or do some light housework. Have a potter round the garden. Don’t those weeds need pulling up? Paint a picture. Knit a crap scarf. Put a shelf up. Mop the floor. Clean a window. Whatever you fancy as long as it distracts you from your thoughts of doom.

‘I can’t do it. I have no energy’

‘I’m too tired’

‘What’s the point?’

‘Just leave me TO DIE’

The point is that you will feel BETTER for doing it. No matter how retched you feel when you start, you will feel better for doing it because you will have distracted yourself from those unhelpful thoughts. Each time you do this you are bringing those stress hormone levels down. Do you see?

The trick is not to think about doing stuff because you will only talk yourself out of it.

‘I’m too tired today. I’ll do it tomorrow’

Tomorrow will come with the same old excuses but meanwhile those stress hormones are running riot – like a room full of two year olds. Don’t think about going for a walk. Just DO it. Tell yourself that, yes, you feel like crap but you will feel better for it when you’ve been. Get your coat. Open the door. GO.

Even at my very worst, I understood that going out made me feel better. I have walked down the street retching into my hand. But I kept walking and when I got home, I felt better than I did before I went out. It works. It REALLY does. Trust Mrs Fruitcake because she knows her shit. By Mrs Fruitcake, I mean me.

Cortisol & The Mornings

Not the name of a band. I’m talking about cortisol and it’s role in waking us up..

Normally, cortisol levels rise during the early morning hours and are highest about 7 a.m. This is where you start to wake up. It’s a gradual process..

Normally, cortisol level diminishes throughout the day.

Normal goes out the window with anxiety disorders. With a lot of us, there is no gentle start to the day. Our day starts with some bastard standing over us with a megaphone, screaming, ‘WAKEY WAKEEEEEEEEEY!!’ – metaphorically speaking, of course.

See, what happens is this. Normally, people have really low levels of cortisol in the evenings but after a day’s worrying, the anxious person’s levels are sky high before they even try to sleep. We toss and turn for hours, then finally fall into anxious sleep. Then our bodies try to wake us up. Our heart rates increase, blood pressure goes up and hormones go FULL ON NUTS around our bodies in order to rouse us from sleep.

Think of it this way. The non-anxious person’s morning cortisol is the long distance runner. His pace is slow but steady only gathering momentum in the final few laps. The anxious person’s cortisol is Usain Bolt. Nuff said?

This waking state can feel really uncomfortable because we are sensitised.

THIS is why so many people with anxiety feel worse in the mornings.

THIS is why most of my panic attacks happen on waking.

I’ve found that lying in bed after waking up suddenly at 5am isn’t the best idea. Even if I manage to fall back to sleep, the chances are that I will have dreams of the ‘orrible kind. It’s best to get up and go and do something. I find that having a piece of toast and a cup of herbal tea helps to sort out low blood sugar levels.

It’s also worth thinking about what you are eating (and drinking) at night because if you are are eating a heavy meal late at night, you are asking for trouble as digesting food requires the body to work it’s arse off. The heavier the meal, the harder it has to work. Yes? However, going to bed hungry is just as bad. A well thought out snack an hour or so before you go to bed will help to stabilise blood sugar levels. By snack, I don’t mean crisps. I’m thinking more along the lines of a milky drink and a plain piece of toast.

Here, I will sneak in a little note about what you DO before bedtime. Are you watching horror films or psychological thrillers? Are you listening to upbeat music? If you are, you are ramping up the stress hormones. An un-sensitised nervous system will cope with Freddie Kruger at 10pm. At worst it will result in a bad dream but when you are sensitised, you are adding fuel to the fire, so be mindful of what you are doing in those few hours before bedtime. Think, ‘winding down’, not winding yourself up.

If mornings are worse for you, you could try exercising?

Work with the adrenalin. Go for a run and get those endorphins going. If elective sweating isn’t for you – or if you find it too stimulating – go for a walk or do some relaxation techniques. Experiment and see what works for you. Just don’t fear the sensations. Your body is doing what it should, it’s just that you are sensitised.

It won’t always be like this.

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay

 

The Show Must Go On

I’m struggling today. I need to write how I feel because it helps me and maybe in helping myself I can help you too?

The anxiety isn’t as severe as it has been. It’s a manageable 6/10 but my numerous annoying ailments have decided to come out and play at the same time. My neck is sore. My tinnitus is driving me INSANE and I have the beginnings of yet another migraine.

I try to look at the positives. As in, I’m still alive. I wasn’t one of the 151,600 people in the world that died yesterday. I’m still here. Yet it’s like trying to drive on a flat tyre. Only in my case, a new tyre isn’t an option. The tyre represents my brain and I can’t just go out and buy a new brain. Unless Ebay have started selling brains?

A lot of the things I am experiencing today are not actually anxiety symptoms. I’m 47, therefore it’s natural for there to be wear and tear, especially as most of my jobs were heavy manual work. I’m only five foot one with a small frame so I’ve put a lot of strain on my body over the years. What can I say? You do what you have to do to put food on the table.

Due to my autism, these little annoyances become amplified and it has to be said that anxiety, while it doesn’t cause them, DOES make them feel worse. Stress hormones affect the bones and joints and I’ve always noticed that when I go through a phase of increased anxiety – my aliments are worse. Obviously, the answer is to address my anxiety and all these other things should start to improve. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel pissed off though. I’ve forgotten what it is to feel ‘well’ because it’s been that long since I felt that way. Another thing that pisses me off is that I never appreciated good health when I had it. I used to hear older people say, ‘You don’t appreciate good health until it’s gone’. Too farking true, me dears.

I get it. I’m middle-aged, post-menopausal and slightly mad. How can I expect to feel like I did in my twenties or thirties? I’m lacking the necessary hormones for a start. My body is crumbling like Cheshire cheese. I’m getting older and let me tell you that it comes around TOO DAMN FAST. It seems like yesterday that I was snogging Nick Rhodes on my bedroom wall. Now I can see 50 waving at me (hopefully) and with that comes the realisation that I am well over half way through my life, if the three score years and ten is to be believed? Sobering thought, eh? Enough to make one want to pissed, only I can’t drink because I have ANXIETY.

Another way of looking at it and probably THE best way is not to mourn my youth but to thank my stars that I have a decent amount of life to look back on. Health wise, that is.

I lost my friend to cancer last year. She was one year older than me with so much more to give, especially to her eight year old son. When I think of what she went through it makes me guilty about whinging on about stuff. She’d have given anything for my problems to be hers instead of the cancer which was invading her body at an alarming rate. However, if you are reading this and thinking that her death should have been enough to make me ‘get a grip’, then my friend, you have NEVER experienced anxiety disorder because it is an illness. I’m not talking about the normal anxiety that every human being experiences, like the nervousness before a job interview or those few seconds after you hear a loud bang. I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that’s debilitating and destructive. It’s a very real illness. Just not one that can be seen. It’s effects, however, are visible to all. If you look close enough, you will see the fear in their eyes. You will see the tremor in their hands. You will notice their inability to be still. If you are sensitive enough, you may even smell their fear. These are the outer signs of a body that’s fucked up due to stress.

Thankfully, I know that recovery from mental illness is achievable for most of us and if it can’t be cured, it can definitely be managed to give quality of life. That thought acts as a light when my skies are dark. Another light comes in the form of my children. A funny text or a phone call from my eldest boys. Or today when I woke up to a dark inner sky. A sleepy voice said, “Cuddle me mama?” and some of those dark clouds lifted. Not enough to make all of this sodding crap go away but enough for me to have the energy and will to keep fighting it.

If you are struggling with anxiety, know this. You will win some battles and you will lose some but you CAN win the war. It really isn’t about how many times you fall down but about how many times you get up again. I know you are tired. I know your soul is weary but KEEP GETTING UP. Even when your legs feel so heavy you don’t think they can support you. THEY WILL. They are STRONGER than you think. YOU are stronger than you think. Rest if you need to but then you must get back up.

Life is a show and we must get on with it as best we can because this isn’t the rehearsal. There never was one in this show called ‘Life’. So, do that pile of ironing, even if it you do it sitting down and it takes you ALL DAY. Walk the dog. Hoover up. ON WITH THE SHOW!

The show must go on
I’ll face it with a grin
I’m never giving in
On with the show.

The Show Must Go On ~ Queen ~ Brian May

 

My Anxiety Arse-Kicking Kit

I’ve had anxiety all my life. Right from when I was born. I think I actually clung to the walls of my mother’s foo-foo screaming ‘WTF IS THIS?! DOES THIS THING DO REVERSE? AND WHAT’S THAT FURRY STUFF? I’M NOT READY FOR THIS CRAP!! MAYDAY!!! MAYDAY!!!

Or something along those lines…

I’ve had generalised anxiety disorder and health anxiety for years so I’m becoming somewhat of an expert in this particular area. In my quest to rid myself of this illness, I have scoured the internet for self-help tips. Some things work. Some things don’t but I’d like to share with you a few of the things that have worked for me in the hopes that YOU can find some respite from this SHITTY ILLNESS.

Here is my anxiety arse-kicking kit…

Podcasts

The clue is in the name. Anxiety Slayer gives you the tools to help calm anxiety, stress, PTSD, and panic attacks. It was started in 2009 by Shann Vander Leek and Ananga Sivyer. These ladies are incredibly supportive and help to take the fear out of anxiety with their wealth of knowledge via comforting podcasts and articles. They can be found here.

The Anxiety Coaches Podcast

Another great anxiety podcast hosted by Gina Ryan, who it has to said, has THE most calming voice in the entire universe, except for ‘Whispering Bob’, who’s voice can put people into a coma. It’s super informative. After trawling through these 3oo plus podcasts, there will be NOTHING you don’t know about anxiety!

Herbal Tea

There are literally SHIT LOADS of herbal teas on the market but Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Valerian are the ones that work the best with anxiety. Always check that herbal stuff doesn’t faff about with any medication you are on, as in, interactions. Herbs are incredibly beneficial but are also greatly underestimated. For instance, I took St John’s Wort once. Like an idiot, I took more than the recommended dose. It was just a herb, right? What could possibly go wrong? Then I went out and drank ONE glass of wine. The next thing I remember was waking up in bed with just my bra and pants on. I have NO recollection of what happened in-between. Such is the power of herbs, so respect them, yes?

Magnesium

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Magnesium is THE original chill pill but food processing strips this mineral out of our food, therefore many people are deficient. Magnesium plays an important role in biochemical reactions all over your body. To put it bluntly.. if we become severely low in magnesium we are in the poo poo. Stress depletes magnesium so it’s an idea to supplement our diets when struggling with anxiety. You must first check with your GP or pharmacist that magnesium will not interact with any medication you are taking. Unsurprisingly (to me) many people’s anxiety has miraculously disappeared after a few months of taking magnesium. This is because low magnesium levels can actually the CAUSE anxiety symptoms in the first place. Who knew?

I used to take a supplement but frazzled my brain with the carbonate/ citrate argument. What’s the difference? Well, I’ll tell you. Basically, carbonate is cheap and ‘orrible whereas citrate is more expensive but easier on the stomach. Problem is, the tablets tend to be the size of horse pills and I had a few ‘near choking’ episodes until I bought a pill cutter. This sorted out the choking issue but the rough edged tablets didn’t slide down the ol’ clackeroonie without me feeling like I’d swallowed cat litter, NOT that I’m prone to doing so. Haven’t got a cat for a start. Anyway, I gave up taking them. HOWEVER, I’ve recently discovered magnesium oil – so the problem has been solved. 🙂

Matt Haig

Matt Haig writes fantastic stories but some stories are more important than others. Reasons To Stay Alive is one of THOSE books which has the power to save lives. Matt knows about anxiety and depression because he’s lived it. This is his story of how he came through crisis and kicked the arse of the illness that almost destroyed him. GPs would do well to advise people to read Reasons To Stay Alive before (or alongside) the obligatory medication. If you are struggling with mental health, READ THIS BOOK!

Humour

If there is one thing that fear can’t stand, it’s humour. It’s like Harry Potter waving his wand and giving it some Expelliarmus – which by the way is a disarming spell. That’s exactly what laughter does to fear. It DISARMS it. Humour is THE most important part of my anxiety-arse-kicking kit. I watch funny films. I read funny books. I listen to funny people. Most importantly, I take the piss out of my anxiety. Laughter is therapy.

And it’s cheap.

Relaxation

Relaxation is important, whether it’s having a doss on your bed or basking in the summer sun with a good book. Here’s the thing though. It’s hard to relax when you have anxiety because of the stress hormones. Imagine drinking six Red Bulls, five espressos and swallowing a pack of Pro Plus, THEN trying to relax with a good book. Not going to happen. Why? Because you’re buzzed off your kahunas – that’s why. THAT’S what it feels like to have my degree of anxiety.

You need to do techniques that relax your body, such as deep breathing exercises and mindfulness. Breathing is important. I mean, obviously, because NOT breathing equals being dead (or unconscious) but I’m referring to shallow breathing which exacerbates anxiety symptoms. Breathing dodgers like me can keep this shit up ALL DAY LONG. This is why I’m a regular at A & E innit? Having hyperventilated myself into the MOTHER of all panic attacks.

Keep reminding yourself to B R E A T H E.

Mindfulness

I was wary of mindfulness at first. Staring at teabags wasn’t my, er, bag but I think I was taking things a bit too literally? Mindfulness is about being in the moment. So often with anxiety and depression our minds are in the past or the future. Rarely are they in the present. We exist, rather than live. I have had so many moments stolen from me due to this illness and it’s obviously regretful but there is no point in dwelling it because that in itself takes me away from the here and now, innit? Mindfulness has been scientifically proven in reducing anxiety so what are you waiting for? Be at one with your cheese sandwich. 🙂

All these things have helped me in my fight against anxiety. I hope they can help you too.

GO FORTH AND KICK YOUR ANXIETY’S ARSE!!

CC Image Via Flickr

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

 

Coping With Anxiety Relapse

GUESS WHO’S BACK.

BACK AGAIN.

So, after a few months of relative peace from my ‘hardcore’ symptoms of anxiety disorder, I’m back on the wheel of fear. I have relapsed, again.

We’ve just done the holiday thing and my anxiety has been gathering momentum over the past few weeks. One, because I am autistic and change makes me cranky and, well, hols are ALL about change. Two, my unhelpful brain was reminding me that I was mentally unwell during last years holiday and I ended up in A&E the week we came back.

Yes, me old mate, Fear, showed up and was constantly reminding me of how bad I was and, ‘You know what, Trace? This time will be EVEN WORSE!

This time. YOU GONNA DIE! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

He’s a right vile git, is Fear. He’s like a really shit relative who you would like to get arse-probed by hostile aliens. Did I say that out loud? Anyway, as I was packing our suitcases, Fear spotted his chance and flung himself back into my mind…

Didn’t I send you packing a few months ago, you little arsewipe?

Yeaaaaah but I told ya I’d be back to bugger your life up again.

So it’s fair to say that I was ramping up the stress hormones BEFORE I inflicted myself on Northumberland. Then I started with some tingling in my arms and legs but I didn’t Google it. Nor did I log onto any anxiety forums. Been there. Done that. Had the breakdown. There was NO WAY I was going down THAT wormhole! I’m used to tingling in my hands and feet but not entire limbs so I made an appointment to get checked out. GP checked my heart out and said my blood pressure etc was fine. Seemingly I wasn’t about to keel over. Then she asked me to turn my neck to the left and right and noticed that it sounded like a pepper grinder. Yep, it really does sound like that.

‘I’d say the tingling is due to a touch of spondylosis.’

Spondywhatus?

‘Wear and tear, Dear.

Great. I’ll just add it to the ever increasing list of old codger ailments I already have ffs!

This comforted me for all of about half a day because to my deranged mind it was a new symptom to deal with and Fear lost no time in reminding me that doctors can get things wrong and it’s actually a brain tumour. Of all my imaginary illnesses, I’ve yet to do brain tumour in any great depth and the little arsebiscuit knows it…

The holiday started off well enough but as the week wore on sleep became an issue with night terrors and waking up at hourly intervals only to fall into yet another Stephen King/Quentin Tarantino inspired dream. Wednesday night was the worst with NO sleep at all. I lay there and could feel the cortisol surging over me. Wave after wave. I felt sick and my bowels were playing up so I was plonked on the loo at 4am. This and I was MILES away from home, although, I did happen to know where the nearest hospital was. You know that your life is particularly shit when instead of admiring the beauty of the surrounding area, you are hanging your head out the car window looking for the nearest A&E!

By Thursday morning I could take no more and I asked, no, BEGGED to go home. OH didn’t argue. We just packed and left. As soon as I was on my way home, I started to feel better and guilt hit me harder than a right hook off Rocky Balboa. Only we couldn’t go back because that would have totally sent The Boy’s brain into a twizz and that would have made things SO much worse.

So I felt the familiar feelings of despair.

I had ruined the holiday with my shit mind.

At that moment, I hated anxiety with EVERY ounce of my being.

For the next few days, I lay in my pit and moaned (to dead people, mostly) that life is shit and what’s the effing point if all there is for me now is this?

Relapse is like crawling your way up the mountain. You can see the summit. It’s within touching distance. Then some git swipes your feet from under you and you fall back down, taking a few head shots along the way. You lie there in a tangled heap wondering how you will EVER find the energy to start climbing again?

BUT YOU DO.

Relapse is about learning.

It’s part of recovery.

What I’ve done is to work out what I’ve done differently. It’s about taking back control, innit?

When I had my nervous breakdown, I lost a lot of weight. I looked like a walking bone, if you can imagine a bone wearing Converse boots? So to get the weight back on, I ate chocolate. A LOT of chocolate. I also started having a beer. Only a couple of pints at the weekend. Real ale, mind, none of your poncy lager..

The symptoms started to creep back in but I IGNORED THEM.

On my holibobs, I went from a couple of pints at a weekend to one and a half pints EVERY night. Also, by now, I was eating enough chocolate to put myself into a coma.

Here’s the thing…

Chocolate contains CAFFEINE and CAFFEINE is a humongous NO when it comes to anxiety. Especially when you are SO sensitised that someone farting two streets away can trigger a panic attack. Chocolate (and all foods high in unrefined sugar) leads to a greater release of cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine – giving you ‘sugar spikes’. You are INCREASING the stress hormones, therefore, increasing your anxiety symptoms and their severity.

Alcohol also raises levels of cortisol and I downed seven and half pints in a few days! Way to go, fool!

Recovery from panic disorder takes a LONG time and even though I was feeling better, the stress hormone levels were still raised – just not high enough for them to be a major problem like they were before. Because I felt OK, I stopped doing what had helped me to get better.

I DID THIS. *smacks wrist*

So I’m back off the chocolate and the alcohol. I’m listening to my body and I will slowly make my way back up the mountain. It might take a few months but I have faith that I’ll get there and instead of looking at what happened on holiday as a negative, I choose to see the positive side and not beat myself up about it. After all, it was only a few months ago that I struggled to leave the house unless it was for a trip to the doctors or hospital.  I think I did well to manage four days in a strange place, no?

If you are struggling with anxiety, SCRUTINISE your lifestyle and see if you are adding fuel to the fire. Write everything down and see if you can eliminate the triggers. Sometimes, relapse just happens but it’s certainly worth looking at what you are eating, drinking and doing and by doing I mean social media, TV and adrenaline boosting activities.

Once you start to feel better, you’re not recovered. That’s where I made my mistake. You need to manage your condition and that means to keep doing the things that make you feel better, so diet, relaxation, meditation and staying away from the world’s drama. This doesn’t mean that you can never have caffeine or alcohol again as once your body becomes desensitized, the odd drinky-poo won’t hurt you. For now, listen to your body. It really is trying to tell you what it needs and doesn’t need.

When it comes to sleep, aim to be asleep at 10pm because any sleep you get before 12pm is worth four hours as it’s the restorative phase of sleep. I have been making sure I’m in bed for 9pm and asleep by 10pm all this week and I do feel better for it.

Most importantly, try not to see relapse as failure. Negative self-talk like, ‘I’m never going to beat this’ and ‘What’s the point’ will only help to keep you in a funk because depression and anxiety go hand in hand. I know how hard it is to try and think positively when you’re flaying around on the floor but think of Rocky who took an absolute battering from Apollo Creed but REFUSED TO STAY DOWN. Anxiety will try to go for the knockout but it’s up to us how we respond to it’s punches. Ultimately, WE have to take back control.

Keep going. I promise, you WILL get there.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall. ~ Confucius

Finding Your Happy in a World That Farts in Your Face

The first five years of my life were happy because I was at home reading my books, doing my own thing, y’know? Then I started prison (school) and my constant state of happy changed to happy that came in moments, none of which happened there. Since then, life has been hard work with a huge amount of effort going into every single day. The world has farted in my face more times than I’ve had inappropriate thoughts about Nick Rhodes and for the last five years it’s been more about existing than living, thanks to my anxiety disorder. You become wary of life itself. Exhausted. Burnt out. Unhappy.

When you suffer with anxiety or depression, it’s hard to thrive. Moments of happiness (if any) are fleeting and hysterical laughter can change into a snotfest of sobbery within a matter of seconds. You can look at something beautiful and be, meh, or you can moved beyond all comprehension. NOTHING is balanced and it shits your family right up cos they think you’re madder than a box of frogs, innit.

You watch the news and see the face of a six year old boy smiling back at you. He has no hair and there are tubes up his nose. He’s dying. Despite everything he smiles THE most wonderful smile and you feel guilty because you’re alive. This child is grabbing every single second of his life and making it count while you’ve spent another afternoon horizontal on your bed having done sod all but binge watch box sets of Life on Mars.

Yes, I’m talking about me.

There is NO shame in having a mental illness. Nobody is ashamed of any other illness so why be ashamed of anxiety or depression? It’s an illness just the same but just as we take steps to get better if we have the flu (or whatever) we have to take steps to improve our mental well-being, innit?

With my ongoing therapy, it’s becoming clear to me that I can’t change the world or the people in it. However, I can change how I react to things they say or do.

I can change how I think.

So, new motto is…

*drum roll*

EFF ‘EM.

There are so many thoughts and memories that make me unhappy. Like limpets on rocks, they are an absolute bugger to prise off. But you know what? I am done with being unhappy because of other people. I want to be unhappy on my own terms, not theirs. So eff ’em, eff em even more and then eff em again. I’m not the problem. I never was the problem. THEY are the problem.

They are no longer MY problem.

*breathes in for four seconds and out for eight* *smiles serenely*

My heart wants to be happy. How do I know? Well, our bodies thrive with happiness but wither with sadness. This is scientific stuff. So doesn’t it make sense to try and find our happy? Hopefully before we die?

My children make me happy.

OH makes me happy.

Books make me happy.

Music makes me happy.

My psychotic lurcher makes me happy.

My friends (online and off) make me happy.

Those who love me, make me happy.

They make breathing in and out worth the effort.

What makes YOU happy?

There are things we can do to combat anxiety and depression and bring ourselves a bit of happy. Yes, I know how hard it is to see the light when your world is so dark but trust me, it’s there.

Exercising ~ Even a short walk will get the endorphins flowing. You will always feel better for it.

Mindfulness ~ Bringing yourself into the present by noticing the world around you instead of focusing on how shit you feel.

Do Something New ~ Trying out something different, like photography. Anything that takes you out of yourself, even it’s for five minutes.

Goals ~ Having something to aim for in each day, even if it’s to get that ruddy great pile of ironing done.

Therapy ~ Go unleash your shit onto somebody who gets paid to listen. Fill your boots. Use ALL their tissues.

Sense of Purpose ~ We all have a place in this world. We all need a sense of purpose to give our lives meaning. Find your purpose, you glorious being, you.

Focus on the Good Bits ~ Life can be EPICALLY CRAP but try and focus on the better bits, no matter how small. I call them, ‘my lights’. Grab those lights and hold them tightly and when the darkness threatens to overwhelm you they will shine all the more brighter, just like stars.

We may not have had any choice in being here. After all, we are the result of our parents having ‘sexy times’ and we were the best swimmers, but seeing as we ARE here, we might as well try and make the best of our time because in the great scheme of things, it’s very brief. Like, blink and you’re dead – brief.

No matter how sad you feel, happiness can ALWAYS be found.

A wise old wizard once said: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

I’m with you, Dumblydore.

mumturnedmom

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Stars

Health Anxiety & Me

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It’s three years since my first nocturnal panic attack and in that time my anxiety has developed into generalised anxiety disorder, health anxiety with some depression.

My nature is to research so there’s not much I don’t know about anxiety and the havoc it can wreck on the human body. Three years ago I was 10 stone, today I am 8. The weight loss isn’t due to the anxiety alone though..it’s also due to having made dietary changes to try and alleviate some of the symptoms such as palpitations. I avoid sugar as much as is possible and don’t drink alcohol anymore. *weeps*

A few weeks ago I decided to cut out wheat and replace my usual bread with gluten free. The next day my anxiety level went from a 7 to a 3. I had no ‘brain fog’ and the burning mouth syndrome I’d had since July last year disappeared. On top of that I had energy but it was normal energy, not the nervous kind I usually get with the anxiety. The second day was the same so I figured I was onto something with ditching the gluten. I’m not allergic to gluten but I do think I have become sensitive to it just as I have become sensitive to certain other foods, drinks and products.

Unfortunately I didn’t take into account what a dietary change like that would do to my already sensitive digestion system. Having replaced my bread with GF foods made from rice flour (combined with having to take calcium supplements for Osteopenia) I became, er, bunged up. Now in a non-anxious person this would not be a problem. Just neck a few laxatives or up the fiber and Bob’s your uncle but with a lunatic like me it’s not so simple.

I didn’t have constipation, you see.

I had bowel cancer.

So I decided to sod the GF diet off and eat my usual bread and within twenty minutes of eating it I felt sick and exhausted with a migraine. I forgot to mention that since going gluten free, my migraines have all but gone too.

So I went back on the GF diet.

After a few tricky toilet sessions I went to the GP. By this time I was feeling fairly unwell but in my head it was because I was dying. I sat in the doctor’s and told him outright, “I feel as if I’m dying!” as if I have first hand knowledge what it feels like to die..

I also had a ‘feeling’ in my right hand side that had been niggling at me for a few months which only added fuel to my fearful pyre. It wasn’t even a pain but because it was different my lunatic brain homed in on it and made it terminal totally bypassing the less sinister (and more likely) things it could be.

I saw a locum doctor that day who was very supportive and reassuring. He checked me over and told me he couldn’t find any reason to admit me to hospital. I was that sure I would be admitted that I’d cleaned the house and wrote a list of instructions for OH. The fact that people who are genuinely dying don’t tend to whip the hoover round beforehand was lost on me at the time..

The word ‘anxiety’ was brought out for the TRILLIONTH time and I broke down crying. How could I feel this ill and it be anxiety? The doctor was kind and told me ‘Don’t worry, we will get you better’. This was in contrast to the previous week when I had a panic attack in front of another GP who simply carried on writing while I hyperventilated in the chair. Helpful, no?

Unsurprisingly, I left the locum doctor feeling much calmer than when I went in. That’s what happens see.. you go in full of fear and with a bit of reassurance suddenly you’re not at deaths door anymore..

Until a few hours later when the ‘what if’ gremlin pops up again. THAT ANNOYING LITTLE SHIT!

I should point out that another GP had already ordered an abdominal and pelvic scan because of this sensation in my side..

Meanwhile poogate got worse and I ended up having a phone consultation with a GP because I was convinced I was having a prolapse. But he obviously had my nutter notes in front of him and sounding unconcerned told me to take some Lactulose and if I was still worried on Monday to go in for an examination.

The ‘prolapse’ turned out to be a bit o’ stubborn poo so no botty-fingering was required. Phew!

I didn’t take the Lactulose either. One because I am practically a medication-phobe and two because I figured it best to try and clear my pipes via my diet. So I upped the fiber, water and switched my calcium supplement from carbonate (which is known to cause constipation) to citrate.

Needless to say, I was able to perform.

After that I was back to normal, well, normal for an anxiety- ridden lunatic!

The rational stuff was all there in my head. I’d changed my diet radically and wasn’t having my usual amount of fiber as I’d been averaging five slices a day. Combined with the calcium, it was no wonder I got bunged up. While I convinced myself I didn’t have a tumour blocking my bowel, there was still that ‘sensation’ in my side.. so I was back to dying again.

So I had my abdo scan and was 100% SURE they would find something wrong. I figured if it wasn’t bowel cancer then it must my gallbladder about to explode, yes?

No.

They found nothing wrong.

I hassled the bloke who did the scan..

“Are you absolutely sure?”

I even questioned him on the size of my kidneys!

I’m sure it chuffed him no end to have his expertise questioned..

I’m not dying.

Not today anyway..

What I do have is health anxiety.

The sensation in my side was real enough but was most likely due to muscle tension. I tend to hold my stomach in a lot with anxiety and only became aware of this by doing progressive relaxation. Because I am so sensitized, I am aware of every little ache and pain. Since doing those exercises, it’s, er, kind of disappeared.

I have tried to add a bit of humour to my situation but health anxiety is no joke. It’s mentally exhausting. I hope you don’t read this post and think ‘You need to get a grip, Mrs!’. If only is was that easy, ducks! I don’t want to be like this. Nobody wants to be like this, trust me.

I understand this post may be a bit tmi for some people but I wanted to show how something simple like constipation can be turned into something terminal by the power of thought. It’s called catastrophic thinking. A headache becomes a brain tumour. A cough becomes lung cancer and so on. Not everyone who suffers with anxiety will have health anxiety but for those who do have it, it’s yet another fear to overcome.

I will overcome it though.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” Game of Thrones

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Guess Who’s Back

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Therapist: ‘I’d like you to imagine your worry is a tree’

Me: ‘Tree? I have a bloody forest in my head, love!

My therapist laughs and so do I but my laugh is manic whereas hers is not.

It’s what it feels like in my head. On my worst days it’s gnarled trees and demons. If my mind was a novel, it would be a Stephen King one.

Fear.

I’ve known Fear for as long as I can remember. It’s always been with me. The bastard was there when I was born, watching and waiting for the moment when it could scare the crap out of me.

I don’t know what it’s like to live without anxiety. I’ve had panic attacks since I was a little girl. One minute I’d be fine, the next my stomach would lurch and I’d feel sick. Sometimes I would be sick. It would often happen after I’d seen something unpleasant on TV. My chest would feel tight and the room would spin. I remember feeling this way whenever Panorama came on. To this day, I can’t watch it.

Two years ago I had my first nocturnal panic attack.

I woke up in the early hours utterly convinced I was having a heart attack. It became the norm to wake up with my heart pounding. Things reached a crisis point in February when my heart started beating erratically at about 5am one morning. It wouldn’t slow down despite triple-bagging my Chamomile tea and deep breathing. I ended up in Accident and Emergency and once again I was convinced that Death was coming for me…

He wasn’t. Obviously. Or I wouldn’t be typing this.

It was a severe panic attack. I was given a beta blocker and sent on my way.

That day my anxiety went orbital. I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. The drugs made me so ill that I lost half a stone in two weeks. I chose to come off the medication and CBT became my only hope.

CBT has been helpful because it’s all about changing your thoughts. Medication is great (when it works) but it only deals with the symptoms, not the cause. CBT has given me some useful distraction techniques aside the old worry tree.

Two weeks ago I noticed the good days were starting to outnumber the bad and I was controlling the panic more. I wasn’t waking up with my heart going nuts every day and dared to think that I’d got this thing beaten.

‘I think I’ve turned a corner!’ I proudly told the therapist after giving her my scores for how anxiety is affecting my life.

‘You’re doing really well’, she soothed down the phone.

I told her that I’d taken up ironing again after a 10 year hiatus. I hate ironing with a passion but figured it might help me if I imagined the creases were my fears which were disappearing with each glide of the iron. The therapist was impressed and I think she wrote it down because she went quiet. Either that or she was updating her Twitter..

Got a right one here #loon #needacareerchange

This week the symptoms have been creeping back in. I’m back to the 4am waking up with my heart pounding. This morning it was 4am then again at 5.30 and I know I’m not breathing properly which is why the palpitations are back.

I feel SO disheartened.

However.

I know setbacks happen with anxiety. I know it’s a long way back from where I’ve been. As soul-destroying as it is to relapse, it’s a normal part of the recovery process.

Some days I wish they give me a lobotomy.

I feel too much.

I think too much.

There is just too much mind-traffic.

The Boy and I came up with an analogy which helps him describe what’s going on in his head as being autistic he struggles to describe how he feels. We say his head is like a motorway and on a good day it’s running smoothly and traffic is flowing. On a bad day it’s congested and people are peeping their horns in frustration. My personal version (for grown ups) includes lots of wanker signs, road rage and multiple collisions. Of course, there are fatalities because my thoughts are catastrophic ones.

It drains you. The happiness goes out of your life as if you have a Dementor circling around your head only you have no wand. But wait, I DO have a wand. It’s in my head. An imaginary one along with the imaginary thoughts that torment my mind. So I whip out my wand and send those thoughts spinning into oblivion.

EXPECTO PATRONUM, MOTHERF*CKERS!

Obviously, Harry Potter didn’t call them motherf*ckers but I bet you anything he was thinking it…

I hold onto the thought that I’ve been here before and things have got better.

I hold onto that thought tightly when Fear threatens to overwhelm me.

I know that worrying about symptoms and constantly body scanning triggers panic attacks so I try to acknowledge the sensations but refuse to take it to the next level because that’s where the shit happens. That’s what Fear wants me to do because then it can control me and I’ve had enough of it controlling me.

I will no longer run from it.

I will look it in the eyes, smile and say.

‘Hello, Fear, you bastard.’

‘I’ve been waiting for you.’

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”~ Frank Herbert – Dune

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Papa Tont

 

Send In The Clowns

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I was an anxious child and constantly imagined I was dying of something horrible. One day I noticed lumps on my wrists so I worried myself sick thinking of all the terrible things it could be when in reality they were my perfectly normal wrist bones. I wasn’t dying but I was suffering from anxiety and unfortunately the anxious child grew up to be an anxious adult.

You see, I’m a worrier. Glass half-full? How about glass smashed to smithereens all over the floor and shards sticking out of my size fours?

Anxiety in some degree is a constant but every now and then Blind Fear shows up doing a Slim Shady singing, “Guess who’s back, back again Fear is back, tell a friend”. At this point my body is screaming, ‘ENOUGH WITH THE WORRYING ABOUT STUFF YOU CAN’T CHANGE, YOU TIT!’

So Fear showed up about six weeks ago..

The signs had been there for a while. I was unable to complete the simplest task, struggled to read a sentence (let alone a book) and I’d lie in bed for hours with irrational thoughts zipping around in my mind. Not to mention that EVERYTHING (and everybody) irritated me.

I ignored it all.

In the last 7 years I have had to cope with a divorce, moving house (3 times) The Boy’s abrupt entry into the world and my mother’s abrupt departure from it, The Boy’s autism diagnosis and getting married. Oh, and the menopause. Stressful, no?

Things came to a head when I woke up one morning at 5am with a racing heart that refused to calm down. I’d been having occasional panic attacks for two years and I’d always been able to calm myself down but not this time.

This time it was different.

This time there was something wrong and I was terrified.

I woke OH up and begged him to phone an ambulance. At first he refused because he was used to me having panic attacks but quickly relented after I bellowed, ‘PHONE AN EFFING AMBULANCE!!!’ in his face.

Within twenty minutes the paramedics came and stuck things all over my chest.

‘Am I having a heart attack?’ I asked, my eyeballs bulging with fear..

“Doesn’t look like it. It’s just that your heart’s beating very fast and it’s jumping a bit so we’ll take you in to get checked out”

‘Jumping a bit’? It felt like I’d got sodding Diversity in there!

So I lay in the ambulance hoping for some comforting banter from the paramedic but he kept yawning and looking at his watch (you don’t get that in Casualty, folks) so I tortured myself with a bit of hardcore hypochondria instead which worked an absolute treat in keeping my heart rate through the roof.

To keep the story within an acceptable word count, my ECG’s and bloods were fine so after four hours of hyperventilating while listening to some poor sod making noises akin to a distressed Yak, I was given a beta blocker and told it was psychological.

“Not dying then?”

“Not today”.

At this point I’d calmed down. Death wasn’t pointing his bony finger at me so I was able to relax and then came the realisation that I was wearing my skanky dressing gown and reindeer slippers. Oops!

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Slippers of shame.

My dressing gown hadn’t seen the inside of the washer for about three weeks and it had various stains on the front.. mostly tea but one was curry. The Boy had attached a ‘Good Work’ sticker to me at some point so I covered the yellow stain with that TOTALLY forgetting that the doctor had already seen it along with my cactus-legs and scary no-make-up face.

THE SHAME!

You don’t care what you look like when you’re convinced you’re about to shuffle off your mortal coil, at least that is my excuse. *cringe*

The next two weeks were a blur of particularly nasty side-effects from the beta-blockers and then anti-depressants of which I managed ONE before telling my GP where to shove the rest. The drugs don’t work, they just make everything worse – some bloke from Wigan once wrote.

The drugs made me feel as sick as a dog and one day the sight of one of Mary Berry’s recipes actually triggered a panic attack. So I chose to come off medication and address my stress levels. That’s not to say that medication doesn’t work at all because it does work for many people. Alas, not me.

In those first weeks I existed from one hour to the next. The nervously knackered tend to think in minutes and hours as opposed to days and weeks. I became obsessed with my symptoms. My heart raced and there were moments where I genuinely felt I was losing my remaining marbles and would be carted off in a snug fitting jacket but I kept telling myself that they were just sensations caused by adrenalin. There were rare moments where I felt ‘normal’ and that in itself would trigger a panic attack!

In my lowest moments, I miserably thought I was broken and would never know normality again, or at least normality as I know it. Fear really messed me up this time!

I know about anxiety (am bit of an expert) and I understand that the worse thing you can do is lie on the sofa every day. Daytime TV is shit for one and I knew I was heading for trouble when I caught myself watching Jeremy Kyle’s (non) Emergency Room. So I pushed myself to work with the panic attacks by doing housework or walking the dog in order to burn off some of the adrenalin. I felt abysmal but knew that I would feel slightly better afterwards and slightly was better than nothing. At night I’d wake up with my heart racing but I’d breathe it out. If sleep still eluded me, I’d get up and clean something.

I’ve also removed all the news apps from my devices. It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on in the world, it’s just that my mind can’t take anymore grim faced drama. Recovery lies in understanding how a tired mind can affect the body. My body is working as it should. It’s reacting normally to me bombarding it with adrenaline with my negative thinking.

My recovery also lies in humour.

Gone are the police dramas and murder mysteries, for now at least. Happy Valley (a misnomer if ever there was one) remains unconcluded in my Skybox and I’ve turned to comedy to give my body the endorphins that come from having a good old belly laugh.

It’s therapy.

Optreden Rolling Stones in het Feijenoordstadion, Rotterdam; Mick Jagger , kop *2 juni 1982

Fear doesn’t like humour because laughter chases it away, if only briefly.

I imagine my fear to be Mick Jagger and when my heart starts racing I visualise him doing his ‘rooster strut’ and can’t help but smile. The effect is instantaneous and it takes the edge off my fear. Similarly in Harry Potter where the children take what terrifies them with scary bastard Bogart and make it funny. I think there’s a lot to be said for sending in the clowns when it comes to mental health. However, it’s not lost on me that many of the clowns themselves suffer from anxiety and depression.

It’s taken years to bring me to this point and there isn’t a quick fix, especially without medication but hopefully CBT will succeed where drugs have failed. I realise that my negative thinking has got me into this state so changing how I think should help to get me out of it.

Or maybe a lobotomy.

Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrows troubles, it takes away today’s peace.

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Image Via Creative Commons

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