Dealing With Anxiety
It's hard to be vulnerable. It's hard to sit here and admit to the entire world that I'm struggling. It's even harder to sit back and not try to do something for someone, and if writing a blog post that'll only even help one person, or that one person can relate to, then I've done something. Anxiety is hard. It's an ever-changing Ditto of sorts. A ninja that doesn't care if you're at the gym, or having a relaxing day, or on a first date with someone who you really want to impress. It creeps up and punches you right in the face, knowing you're undeserving. Knowing you're busy and in absolutely no state of mind to be focusing on every single breath you're forcing yourself to take. Trying to stand upright. Trying not to look absolutely wide-eyed and terrified in the middle of a grocery store. There are things I've come to learn in these past, admittedly difficult, eight years of my life. Panic doesn't control you. Your brain, the very thing telling you that you are anxious in the first place; the place where panic lives, is the one and only thing that is capable of making it stop. You are in absolute control, no matter what your negative inner voices tells you. Your brain brought on the panic, so you've got to train your brain to turn it off. (And yes, you can. I promise.)
Now I'll be honest, it's hard, and it takes a long time. It's your mindset that will make or break you. If you go into something telling yourself you're going to be anxious or telling yourself that you can't do it, then you'll be right. Just the same if you go into something telling yourself that you will be fine, and anxiety won't dictate your day. You'll be right.
I've been dealing with this for a long time. On top of that, I've been dealing with the most severe case of Panic Disorder my doctors have ever seen. (Part of me wishes they wouldn't have vocalized that to me, I mean come on guys). The kind of case where they just look at you with sympathetic eyes, gently hand you a bottle of pills, and say they hope you eventually find some way to live a full and happy life. Then the door closes, and you're on your own. You, the bottle of pills, and your brain. The same brain telling you that you're dying every second of every day. The same brain that tells you that you can't do it. The same brain telling you that living a low quality life like this isn't even worth it, and you're expected to heal this way? To thrive? Doctors are strange. You can go to your monthly check up, tell them you've been kind of stressed lately, they hand you a bottle of pills. You go to the doctor, tell them you cant breathe or stand or function as a human being at all because of your disorder, they hand you a bottle of pills. Pills are not the answer to everything, but many doctors seem to believe so. (We wonder why there's a prescription drug abuse epidemic in the U.S). I've been on pills, primarily Lexapro, for around 7 years now. It's a fantastic band-aid, but definitely not at all a cure-all. The only thing that is going to heal your brain is, you guessed it, your own brain. Lexapro has given me the ability to "chill out" enough to where I can figure myself out, my goals, and my end game. I don't want to be on medication for the rest of my life. There are more cons than pros here. I can't take certain (almost any) medicines or pain relievers. so even when I get a simple head cold, I'm basically screwed. About one month ago, I cut down my dosage from 15mg to 10mg. Yes it's hard. Yes I'm almost constantly anxious and in a mental fog again, but it's getting better. My body has been so reliant on these pills for so many years, it doesn't even know how to function without them. This is when I have to reteach it and use the tools I've learned over these past 8 years to replace the drugs and live a normal life. A full life. The silver lining of this is that I get to retry all of these tips and tricks, learn new ones, and share my experiences with those who feel alone and lost and don't know what to do. Well, here's where I can try to give you a place to start.
What Can I Do? -The first thing you have to tell yourself is that you're going to be okay. Panic attacks cannot physically kill you, they just like to make you feel like it. Evil little shits, aren't they?
-This too shall pass. Time goes slowly when you're anxious, making it seem like this feeling is lasting a lifetime, when in reality, it'll only last a few minutes to an hour at most. You've lived on this planet for YEARS, a maximum of one hour is nothing. You've got this.
-Distract yourself. When I feel anxiety coming on, acknowledge it. "Hello anxiety, how are you today? Cool, cool. Well I'm gonna go for a jog, it was nice seein' ya, I'm gonna go now." Make the conscious decision to not let anxiety slip in.
-Do something you enjoy that'll take your mind off of it. The more you dwell, the more prevalent it becomes. Whether it's going on a jog, coloring, reading a book, writing poetry, looking at memes, cuddling with a loved one, people watching and guessing their life stories, nibbling on some Cheetos, making a cup of hot tea step-by-step, envisioning your dream home, and even taking a nap. It's okay to do nothing sometimes. As long as you're not in bed all day, laying down with a soft blanket for a few hours just makes things better sometimes.
-Never let anyone make you feel bad for your anxiety. I have been called an inconvenience, a burden, and lazy more times than I can count. In reality, I was suffering. I was trying so hard. Sometimes you're in so much physical pain and mental discomfort that all you can do is lie down and try to relax your mind or your breathing. Trust me. I understand, and it's okay. Your feelings are valid.
-Caffeine does not help. Personally, I have always been a bit caffeine sensitive anyways ,so adding anxiety on top of that makes it something I really try to avoid. I've found that I can handle a cup of black tea though, but it varies person to person. See what your body is comfortable with and start from there.
-Consistent exercise has helped me more than anything else. Going to the gym is more mental work than physical, honestly. Constantly telling yourself that you can do it, that you can push harder, that you can handle just another 10 minutes. It's like talking to your brain during a panic attack. If you can add 25 more pounds to your weight, you can fight off a panic attack any day. It's all just a mental game. We fight anxiety on a daily basis, we can literally do anything. Go to the gym, get those chemicals pumping, and profit. I cannot recommend this enough. Your brain and your heart will thank you.
-Smile. Yup, that's it. Smile. It tricks your brain into thinking that everything is a-okay. Because guess what? It actually is.
Family, Friends, and Significant Others It varies person to person, but for me, this is the most difficult part about my disorder. No one truly understands what it feels like to have a panic attack unless you've physically had one yourself, but they can try their best. You just have to do your best to communicate what you are going through and what you are feeling, just as they need to do their best to listen and be open to helping you in any way that they can. Just because they can't physically see that you are suffering doesn't mean that you aren't. Communication is key here, on both sides.
-What are you physically feeling? -What thoughts run through your mind before, during, and after? -What would you like someone to do to try to help, if anything at all?
As for the other party, try to listen to everything they have to say. Anxiety is a difficult thing to try to put into words to describe to someone. Hold them, ask questions, show that you care, even if it's difficult to grasp. Just the act of trying to help or showing that you are listening means the world. Anxiety / panic makes you feel very alone, so just being there is a big help already. Now, I've kind of been poorly trained here and am ever so slightly scarred. I was always a little embarrassed to be anxious in front of someone, i.e. a boyfriend or significant other, so back when I was in a relationship, I expressed that to him, and he made it clear to me that he was always going to be there to hold me and that we would get through this "together". Him being my boyfriend at the time, I trusted his word and decided to go ahead and open up. It was hard, but I slowly did it. I would start to feel anxious and would tell him. He'd put on a cute cartoon and make me a snack to distract me and wrap me up into little Lauren-blanket-burrito. It really helped, most of the time. On the few occasions that panic had other, more severe plans, I would curl into a ball of convulsing sweat and tears, and just like he said, he was there for me...for a few months. Then he got tired of it. Got tired of taking care of me. Got sick of the responsibility. I became a burden, and he made sure to let me know it. My panic became more controlled, and the anxiety wasn't nearly as often, but it still happened. Three years later, on the floor of our apartment, only months before my run in with Serotonin Syndrome in the ER, I lay on the floor, crying; terrified, asking him to help me. My panic was back, and more intense than ever. I didn't know at the time that my medication was poisoning me, but I could tell that something was up. I begged him to call an ambulance, and as I did, he looked me dead in the eyes, expressionless and said "Get the fuck over it," and slammed the bedroom door. I learned then that not everyone can handle your occasional episodes, and that's okay, because you can easily remove those people from your life. And so I did. I am now terrified to open up to anyone about my anxiety, for fear of another "get the fuck over it", but I'm progressing. I learned more about myself, having panic attacks alone. I found new ways to deal with it, and have since gotten stronger. As many other people with panic have learned, you can only rely on yourself above all, but if someone comes along that genuinely cares and wants to help, scoop them up. That's rare, and absolutely beautiful. Don't let them go. Emotional and physically support is so nice, and can really speed up the healing process.
Medication Since I was diagnosed back in 2010, I have been on Lexapro, then tried Celexa, and am now back on Lexapro. I tried for about 6 months to be medication-free right after being diagnosed, (because I try to live a relatively holistic life), but it wasn't working. The yoga, meditation, and green tea could only do so much on their own that with a case as intense as mine, medication was eventually necessary to aid in my recovery. It honestly helped the process so much. The anxiety was diminished, however, I was a walking zombie. I didn't really care though, (mostly because I was a zombie and the part of my brain that cared was basically turned off and numb), because it lessened panic, and that was all I'd asked for. To those of you in the beginning stages of figuring out your anxiety, medication isn't always necessary, and I would say to try as many other things as you can before committing to the medication route. Medication is just a band-aid, so if you can train your brain with other things instead, I would push for that. Medication weaning and withdrawals can be brutal, so if it's not something you physically need, don't put yourself on that path. If your symptoms are severe and get in the way of your relationships, jobs, and are taking a toll on your quality of life, still try to take the medication-free route first. You'll learn a lot, so if you do end up needing medication down to road, you'll have more of a knowledge of yourself and your panic, and will have an all around better grasp on how to deal with things. Trust your doctors, but more importantly, trust your body. If something doesn't feel right, make it known. Fight for your happiness and comfort.
Everyone has their own cross to bear, and anxiety isn't an easy one, but it IS conquerable. If you've made it this far, even if you're just hanging on by a thread, you can keep going. It's making you stronger and more capable every day. You are basically a viking warrior, battling this enemy head on. Your anxiety is SHOOK, backed into a corner, and raising it's white flag as we speak. Go out there, put on your war paint, and take your life back. The only person capable is you.
If you or a loved one are struggling or just want to talk, call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255