Monday, 1 April 2013

The Downward spiral of Anxiety

Mental Health issues are too readily dismissed because no physical symptoms can be seen. This does not however cure the issue or make it go away it just simply makes those that ignore these very real illnesses complete assholes. Some of my favourite ones about anxiety are:

"Its OK every gets nervous!" - Really because I feel like im going to throw up and faint is that normal?

"Some people are just shy" - Nope I'm not shy I'd really like to take part my body is just temporarily crippling me

"Not everyone has something important to say" - I do my mind is like a big melting pot of stuff I'd like to say but my body is just completely against this idea.

My Story - The beginning

My problem started around 5 years ago, I do not know what the trigger was and would not really like to go prodding about my past to find out (imagines all the psychiatrist couches were I have to recount that time I dropped my favourite action man down the drain at school and felt a mixture of guilt and loss). The thing about all the supposed offers of help and support they all amount to one thing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in essence you need to retrain your brain to think differently. If only we lived in the matrix and I could download that package called "Confidence beta 2.5.6" but alas the only way to train to do anything is invest a lot of time.I think perhaps my workplace anxiety may have been quickened by a rather funny story that happened to me. I used to create different internal systems for the company and have to gather information and build the system then hand it back to the department to run going forward. I had a rather powerful client who had wanted an easy to use system for work reception which I built. They had booked a room in a big fancy conference centre and I was going to present using a laptop and a big screen. As I was setting up about ten minutes before the ten attendees arrived I bent down to plug in my projector and heard a rather loud tear, my pants had split from my crotch right up to the base of my back. I panicked and considered phoning a colleague to come and lend me their pants but didn't have time. I quickly thought on my feet and decided that I would make the meeting inclusive requiring them to present to me as a demonstration of how simple the system was. The meeting was well recieved and I didnt have to leave my seat the entire time, although I did get funny looks at the end as I pretended to organise my papers as they slowly left, insisting I'd tidy up myself. Who knows if that had any bearing on my anxiety but I do remember that meeting with terror.

First attempt at addressing it

The weird thing about my anxiety was that it was so localised, I am rather outgoing when I am on a social event with friends and family (I do however tend to have the same friends and family rather than meeting new people all the time). The anxiety is associated with my work, not the doing of the work or the capability but the meetings and weird Americanised social gatherings they have adopted. I hate the type of meeting that you have to go to without any prior information, without a clear direction of this will be inclusive of participation or this will require you to answer a question on the spot. My First panic attack hit me like a train, I remember thinking Christ I think I am actually dying, some sort of stroke induced by my frantic smoking and drinking in my earlier years. I used avoidance techniques after this because I was terrified of having another one. The panic attack became the focus of my anxiety rather than the event that was causing it. This is the thing about anxiety it creeps up on you then bang its here to stay and makes itself at home, a bit like a squatter who has taken up residence in your bath. But eventually it gets bored of waiting as you avoid the thing that causes your anxiety and it creeps into other parts of your life like it needs fear to live so will grow and grow infecting your whole life until suddenly your locked in your room 24 hours a day rocking backward and forwards scared to do anything (OK maybe not quite that bad but some days I have felt like doing that). So as it began to infect more and more situations I went to see my DR, he gave me a sick note for 3 weeks off work. I spent those six weeks watching TV enjoying life thinking wow I feel much better maybe it was just stress.
On my return to work the feeling of stomach cramps in the morning and shaking prior to and during meetings resurfaced.

Second Attempt at Addressing it

I continued on this avoidance route for another year before eventually speaking to a friend about it, a friend who had suffered mental health issues themselves so less likely to laugh at me. He told me about CBT and gave me some meditation tips. I had a rather interesting conversation about CBT and meditation with him and could only really express my feelings by coming across like I was Bipolar. Basically when I try to fix my brain by reading books or listening to advice it has already begun to listen to my plan and I can sense it working out all the reasons why this will never work because my brain is much cleverer than me. He looked at me and said "You do realise your brain is you and its not some separate entity" Let us dwell on that point for a minute. So if I got a sore throat the thing making me feel ill is bacteria that has caused a bodily reaction and swelling. If I have anxiety and panic attacks its actually not any external influence it is you doing it to yourself. This is possibly the hardest part for sufferers to deal with, the realisation that it is you, not the humour me and agree type of realisation but the actual realisation that you are inflicting this pain upon yourself like a self harmer would cut their arm. You are the one causing all your problems and pain by allowing your thought process to be hugely negative. Once you really understand this point and I mean really agree, not agree but your brain is saying "shut up that's daft!" I mean REALLY accept it then you are ready to recover.

So I followed the below simple steps:
- When your brain begins to think of negativity stop it, distract it anyway you can either via meditation or distraction through entertainment.
- Start slowly to introduce small elements to your life of the thing that gives you anxiety in my case it was attempting to say things during meetings, even if it was just a question.
- Don't over think it, there is no point in analysing the anxiety or trying to figure out what caused it because it will likely only heighten the anxiety.
- Dont dwell on failure, beating yourself up about not saying something you wanted or doing a task you had set yourself. You cannot change the past let it go.

I also removed alchohol from my life, as I often found that a hangover was the point I was at my lowest and every time was like a four day recovery, not physically but mentally.

A story I enjoyed that sums up life is this:
A Monk is walking through the forest when suddenly a tiger appears, he runs and it chases until he falls from the edge of a cliff, before tumbling to the ground he grabs a thorny bush. Below him lies another tiger awaiting his fall and as his hand begins to hurt from the thorns on the bush he notices a small fruit. He Eats the fruit which tastes wonderful, unlike anything he has ever tasted.

This signifies that whilst the past may be scary and the future scary also you should always live in the present because although it can hurt it may bear the most wonderful fruit,

What would have happened

My journey to recovery ended last year when I left my job (Due to redundancy I didn't just give up) and had a child. I do not really have as much time to dwell on  things as I did and parenthood throws you into situations you may not be comfortable in but have no choice because you put your child's needs, wants and desires before your own. Perhaps I may have continued and bettered myself even further or perhaps I may have gotten worse. I cannot proclaim to have the answers as my ultimate end was complete avoidance. I now work for myself so have very few of those types of situations and when I do have large meetings they are generally something I have specifically chosen to attend.

Some coping  mechanisms 

If your struggling to cope then discuss the solution with a trusted friend or someone with experience. Don't discuss the issues or the problem but discuss your plan of how to improve as this will provide you with hope.

If you suffer a panic attack just do whatever is easiest for you, leaving in the middle of a meeting or phoning in sick is not a brilliant idea but it may be the one you need right now, DO NOT dwell on it as this will heighten your anxiety. Let it go and when your feeling better you can begin to plan never to let it get the better of you again.

Life won't stand still

Life today is fast paced so will not wait on you while you recover, you need to recover during life. Integrate it into your everyday life and make sure it is something that is manageable for you. You can never legislate for what life throws at you, it may indeed present a solution to you that previously you couldn't see. Life is funny like that sometimes it gives you thorny bushes other times it gives you wonderful fruit.

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