Yesterday, my anxiety disorder really put me through the ringer. As many of you know, I make no secret of the fact that I have an anxiety disorder.
My anxiety disorder stems from a lot of bad experiences in my childhood, including both physical and sexual abuse.
As a result, I struggle with social situations, as well as a lot of phobia and irrational fear based anxieties.
Now, not everyone who has an anxiety disorder has had a difficult childhood. Anxiety can affect anyone and at any age.
My social anxiety disorder started when I was in my teens, but never really felt unmanageable to me then. It was only when my son was born that my anxiety really took a hard grip on my life and started to really have a detrimental effect.
I'm not sure why this was, therapists have suggested that it was my need to protect my son. A fear that some of the things I had experienced as a child might happen to him and that I would fail to protect him.
Now let me explain as best I can, how anxiety works.
Ordinarily, if someone thinks about going somewhere, to a party, for example. They will generally consider things like. "Do I feel like going? What should I wear? I wonder who will be there?" Just normal healthy thought patterns. They might feel a small amount of anxiety around what to wear or maybe who will be there, but it's not a huge deal.
When you have and anxiety disorder it doesn't work like that. If for example I was asked to a party, this would be my thought process:
"Who will be there? What if they don't like me? What if people stare at me? What if people start talking about me behind my back? What if I say or do something wrong? What if I have a panic attack? What if I can't go in? What if it's hard to leave when I need too? What if I don't know anyone and am left sitting in a corner by myself? What if there are younger people there who will make rude comments or be unpleasant to me? What if I am left on my own while we are there? What if I want to leave and my husband/ friends don't? I don't want to spoil anyone else's night because of my anxiety. What if my back gets too painful? What if I can't hide the pain? What if people think my pain is due to my weight and judge me badly because of it? What if someone has a go at me for being a drain on the NHS because of my weight and the fact that I am in a wheelchair?
I could go on and on. It wouldn't just be the party itself that would make me anxious. I would also get anxious about the weather because the weather affects the journey there and I struggle to cope with traveling in the car in wet, icy or snowy weather.
I'll also worry about the car. Constantly tense as I try to listen for any noises that don't seem quite right and then working myself into a state about what will happen if it breaks down. Let me show you a bit of that though process.
"What's that noise? Is that normal? I don't think that's normal. It sounds like it's coming from the wheel. Omg! is the wheel going to come off? What will happen if the wheel comes off? Will we crash into another car, wall, hedge? Omg! we're going over a bridge, what if it tire goes while we are on this bridge? What if we go through the wall and into the water? What do I do? Will I be able to get Kye out, with my bad back? What if I can't get my seatbelt off? I'm a better swimmer than Dan, so it will have to be me who gets them out." Of course, we can be long over the bridge, but it won't matter because there are always more bridges. And therein lies the problem, There are always more things my brain can find to focus on and freak out about and when this happens, which is pretty much every day and in anything I do, it can be debilitating.
My anxiety affects me most when it comes to visiting doctors or dentist, being involved in new social situations, having to go places where I might bump into people who I haven't seen in a long time, going out in the car, going anywhere new, where I don't know what disabled access is like, or when dealing with people I see as official.
Now anxiety can be managed with a lot of hard work, but it is a very long process and it is also an illness that can return again and again, even after you have worked hard to fix it.
There is also medication that is meant to help; however, my experience with anxiety medication so far has not been good. In fact, both types that my doctor has tried, have done little to effect the anxiety, but given me a whole lot of unpleasant side effects.
Cognitive behaviour therapy is supposed to be great at battling the anxiety and I use a little bit of that and also have started to force myself to deal with situations that I am not comfortable with, slowly and surely, little by little, because of this, I am now able to do some things that I never thought I would find possible.
So what happens when I find myself in a situation I can't cope with?
Well, very quickly I'll become over emotional, breathing will become difficult, my mouth will become incredibly, dry, I will get stomach cramps and churning that can make me feel that everything inside my tummy has instantly turned to mush. My thoughts will race out of control so it can be hard for me to focus on any one thing and I will get chest pains and heart palpitations.
How do I stop a panic attack?
Well, that depends on if it is an attack that gradually builds or not.
If it is a gradually building attack there are ways my husband can distract me from it, such as asking me questions about my day and pushing for an answer. Yes, he has to push, because if he doesn't I tend to just remain focused on the fears. This works because it is difficult for me to focus and respond to what he is saying while allowing the fear thoughts to roll.
There are also ways I can help myself once in the panic attack, sometimes too. Such as looking around me and thinking about what I am seeing and simply saying what that is. So see a tree, say "Tree." see a sign say "Sign." and it is amazing how well this can work.
If things escalate too far, say when we are in the car in bad weather, pulling over for a while can sometimes help, even if it is just into a layby. The fear will, of course, build again as soon as we start moving, but if you have got past the point when distractions can be used, this can bring you down enough to start the journey again, using the distraction techniques, mentioned above and thus, keeping the anxiety at a manageable level.
What it is important to remember, is that anxiety affects everyone differently, all I can tell you is how it affects me and what helps me.
Some people may try these methods and find that they have no effect for them, whatsoever. It's really just a case of trial an error.
I am working hard to beat my anxiety, but I am also aware that even once I think, I have it beaten, there is still a good chance it could come back at a later date.
Before I end this post I want to look at a few things, I think everyone should know about anxiety.
You shouldn't get mad at people when they are having an attack. They don't have control of what is happening to them, and it will only make things worse.
Don't stop asking them to come out with you. Okay so they will probably say no, and that's okay and you should let them know that's okay, but not asking them at all can make them feel left out and only further enforce their anxieties about how people perceive them.
Make an effort to go and spend time with them, where they do feel comfortable, the more excluded and alone we feel, the worse the anxiety seems to get.
Try to learn a little bit about their anxiety disorder. Not so that you can quote suggestions and ideas at them, but so that you can understand what they are going through.
If you do find things that people have found to help with anxiety, such as asking the person questions in an attempt to break their thoughts away from the fear. Try it without telling them what you are doing. If it seems to help, then talk to them about it, ask questions like "Do you think that me asking you questions like that, help? Is it something you would like me to try again in the future?" as this will help them to feel they can trust in you and that you won't push them when they don't want to be pushed.
when someone has anxiety remember to take things slowly. Don't judge or try to push them and definitely don't tell them that it's silly and their fears are irrational. We're not stupid, we already know this. We just can't help it.
Well, I hope this helps people to understand this disorder a little better. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer them.
love and hugs all