Anxiety: The Night Shift

 

What were you doing at 2am this morning?

Chances are you were asleep.

Me?

I was cleaning my kitchen.

Are you insane?

Well yes, but I don’t usually snap on the Marigolds in the wee early hours of the morning..

Thing is. I went to bed at 10pm last night and woke up having one of my not so wonderful nocturnal panic attacks. I’d been dreaming so I presumed it was around 4 or 5am, which is the time I usually wake up with a racing heart..

Then I looked at the clock.

IT WAS 11.30 PM!!

There was an ‘What the actual fark?!’ moment, right there.

I’d only been asleep for about an hour?

This was alarming in itself as I am used to waking up around 4 or 5 am. I have woken early on other occasions but when you are half asleep things are confusing and unfamiliarity intensifies fear which intensifies the sensations of anxiety.

I my breathing exercises but on this occasion they didn’t work. I was just too wired.

The adrenalin surged through my body affecting every part of me from my head to my toes. This is the sensation where my body feels electrified combined with a horrible feeling of foreboding. It’s a majorly shit feeling but I’m used to these sensations. I’ve experienced them more times than I can remember. Mostly, the deep breathing works, but sometimes my heart races on regardless.

That’s when I have to get up.

This was one such occasion so at 11.45, I gave in and got up.

On walking into the kitchen, my dog looked at me as if to say, ‘What the fuck are you doing, Human? I was having this totally awesome dream about me, a fit Dalmatian and a pallet load of Bonios and in you walk lookin’ all pale and shaky. Don’t expect me to lick your sweaty face anytime soon, yeah?’

Then she started licking her arse..

I don’t blame her. Like me, my dog is a creature of habit and doesn’t like surprises. I often wonder if she is autistic too?

My first job was to flick the kettle on for some herbal tea. Ginger for the nausea. Then I filled in one of my trigger forms for health anxiety. This is where I talk myself down from my state of irrational fear by asking myself what my worst fear is and what factual evidence I have for it. For instance, my fear might be that I will have a heart attack or my heart will stop and I will, like, die. Factual evidence for this thought are my symptoms – such as palpitations and chest pain.

Then I consider the evidence against this thought. In my case, I have had recent and extensive tests which all showed my heart to be working as it should albeit a bit fast due to anxiety. There is no evidence of heart disease. Also, I have had these episodes for the last 6 years and I am still here.

I remind myself that even if the worst was to happen, I have experienced and come through a major health scare when I was bleeding internally in my 37th week of pregnancy. My life and that of my son was in danger. However, despite understanding the seriousness of the situation, I felt no fear and did not panic. This suggests that if the shit was to hit the fan, I would cope.

I also remind myself that, relative to it’s power input, the heart is the strongest organ in the human body. It’s designed to keep going despite stress or trauma. This organ kicks arse yet because of the sensations of racing and humping, I imagine it to be frail or delicate? There is no medical evidence to support heart failure or disease. My heart is merely responding to the fight or flight mechanism. A necessary bodily function. It’s there to keep us alive. My brain doesn’t know that it’s my thoughts that are triggering the response. It’s simply doing it’s job.

Next, I consider the other possible explanations for the panic attack. What have I done differently?

In this case, I had eaten too much sugar and too many cups of decaf. Even decaf has a percentage of caffeine, so if you drink enough and are sensitive enough, it will affect you. I also ate a spicy meal which I know affects me. When I woke up, my mouth felt like a flip-flop, so I could also have been dehydrated and dehydration can trigger panic attacks.

So what did I do to cope with the situation?

I cleaned my sodding kitchen!

I worked with the adrenalin instead of feeding it with irrational shit.

I completed my worksheet by coming up with a realistic thought about my situation and this is what I wrote..

This is unpleasant but I have been here hundreds of times before.

These sensations always pass.

I can cope with this.

At around 3am, I reevaluated the intensity of my thoughts, emotions and sensations and noted that it had gone from 90% fear to 10% with my physical symptoms being less intense, so much so that I was able to go back to sleep.

It’s 8am as I am typing this. I have had four hours sleep and I feel exhausted but I got through another night shift.

I didn’t add fear to the fear.

I didn’t phone for an ambulance.

I didn’t disturb anybody else.

I will not fear going to sleep tonight.

If I have another panic attack, it won’t kill me.

It never has.

“That’s the advantage of insomnia. People who go to be early always complain that the night is too short, but for those of us who stay up all night, it can feel as long as a lifetime. You get a lot done” ~ Banana Yoshimoto

 

 

 

 

Panic Disorder: When The Fire Isn’t Out

 

Panic disorder is like a fire.

At worst – a raging inferno.

Your body becomes sensitised and responds to everything as if it’s a threat and each fearful response releases more stress hormones into your body. It’s like throwing petrol onto a fire that’s already out of control..

So, you work your backside off to get better and in time those do flames die down. The panic attacks reduce and are less severe or they stop altogether. You’re no longer in fight or flight mode 24/7. You sleep better. You feel better. You think you’ve recovered.

So, you stop doing the things that helped you to feel better..

This is where you make a big mistake because those embers are still burning away..

The fire isn’t completely out.

The way it works is this: Your body has been sensitised for a long time and even though you feel better, you still have a higher than normal level of stress hormones knocking around in your body. These are the burning embers, if you like. Meaning that it doesn’t take much for the fire to be rekindled. Then a few months down the line you wake up at 4am with your heart thumping in your chest. You feel sick and dizzy and the full weight of despair punches you in the face.

There’s Fear, suitcase in hand, with a big smile on it’s fugly face.

HEY HEY HEY!! I’M BAAAAACK! DID YOU MISS ME?

Fear doesn’t wait for an answer. It’s already pushed it’s way past you and before you know it the little shit’s sitting with it’s size 10 feet up on your imaginary sofa.

WTF?! How did this happen?!

Here’s how..

You went back to your old habits and for a while your body tolerated it because you were less sensitised, but when you have been nervously exhausted it really doesn’t take a lot for things to get out of control again. The good news is that there are signs that let us know us that our stress levels are increasing.

  1. Increase (or return) of addictive behaviours
  2. Increase in obsessive compulsive behaviours.
  3. Rumination
  4. Tensed muscles
  5. Inability to complete tasks.
  6. Seeking reassurance.
  7. Completely losing your shit over trivial stuff.
  8. Living in the past or the future, never in the present.
  9. Avoidance behaviour.
  10. Insomnia.

These are all signs that anxiety is flaring up. Those embers are now flames but it doesn’t have to escalate into a full-on inferno. Recognising these warning signs gives us the chance to address our stress levels BEFORE things get out of hand.

The Fab Five.

Five important steps that will put you back on the road to recovery.

  1. Diet
  2. Relaxation exercises
  3. Thoughts
  4. Sleep Hygiene
  5. Acceptance

Diet

Have you lapsed back into poor eating habits by eating crap? By crap, I mean sugar-laden or fatty foods? or caffeine? The foods that made you feel shite when you were poorly?

A reminder.

Eating such foods releases CORTISOL into the body. Cortisol is a STRESS HORMONE.

If you want to get your cortisol levels down – you have to watch what you eat and drink. Boring, I know, but it depends on how much you want to kick this anxiety shit out of your life?

Relaxation

When was the last time you did some relaxation or meditation? Chances are you’ve gone from doing it religiously every day to when you can be arsed or never at all. It’s good practice to do some kind of relaxation EVERY DAY, even when when you feel better because it helps to keep the stress hormones down. Mindfulness lowers cortisol levels. FACT.

Thoughts

Be aware of your thoughts. Are your thoughts in the past or in the future? They should be mostly in the present. Thoughts about the past can produce pain if your dwelling on painful events whereas thoughts about the future can produce fear because the future is unknown. Fleeting thoughts about either are fine, necessary even in order to make plans. The problem is when you are living in the past or the future (or both) instead of the present.

Sleep Hygiene

How are you sleeping? If it’s poorly. What are you doing differently? Are you on social media before bedtime? Or watching stimulating TV? If so, remove all the electronics and read a book. A really boring book and aim to be asleep by 10pm.

Are you ingesting caffeine (inc chocolate) after 3pm? If so, stop. Caffeine is a stimulant. All you are doing is ramping up the stress hormones.

Are you lying there thinking about problems? If so, try mentally put those worries into imaginary balloons (or whatever you like) and watch them float away. You can address them the next day when you can actually do something about them. You can’t do much in your rollers and nightie, can you?!

Acceptance

Acceptance is the most important of them all.

You must accept every bewildering symptom.

You must accept every bewildering thought.

You must accept that you will have crap days.

You must accept that you will have some monumentally crap days.

You must accept that the road to recovery isn’t short.

You must accept that you need to keep doing the things that made you feel better EVEN WHEN YOU FEEL BETTER.

It’s called MAINTENANCE.

As long as you fight against your anxiety, you will never beat it and I do mean, NEVER. Those embers will keep on glowing with the potential to flame up at the slightest bit of stress.

Fear is the firestarter – the twisted firestarter. Deprive fire of oxygen and it will be extinguished. Deprive Fear of stress hormones and it becomes powerless. Make no mistake, Fear will try to knock on your door again and again but each time you will become more adept at seeing him coming..

The day you no longer react WITH FEAR to Fear, is the day you’ve well and truly beaten that nasty little shit and with time (and effort) you will put that fire out completely.

 

 

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

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