Let me start off by saying this is an incredibly personal thing to share; however, I decided long ago that if I was going to embrace social media I would do it 100%. You truly know the real me through following me on facebook, twitter or by reading this blog.
So I have good news my friends.. I have slept- from 11:30 last night to 6:30! I was thrilled! The truth is Monday night I was having a bit of an anxiety attack. This is only the second time in my life I’ve experienced such a thing. I can’t explain it but will just say the brain can become fixated on a thought and it won’t go away. The crazy thing is that both times this has happened to me were after I thought I had dealt with the situation and had even felt some catharsis that it was over and then BAM!
It’s really hard to understand if you haven’t felt it. Fixating on something like fibro pain, which has been bad lately, or on possible changes at work, or on other personal changes, and you try to distract yourself but then it keeps coming back again stronger and stronger. At a certain point I even was getting anxiety about getting anxiety. Also, the more sleep you lose the more tense you feel.
The truth is the reasons don’t really matter. All that matters is that my thoughts changed my feelings into a sense of panic or loss of control.
Like I said, my other panic attack happened in 2007. At the time I hated my job and felt I had a black cloud over my life. No matter what I did I felt sad and worthless. No matter how much reinforcement was given me I felt like a failure. This was reinforced by the disdain showed me by my boss but it was also due to a feeling of ‘let down’ after being so important on my mission.
There was one particular day where I had finally had it with this boss. I had planned out my week to the tee and already felt totally overwhelmed. Then we got this new training on a huge new project. That was it. I couldn’t do another huge project. There was no way. I started crying as the girl in Florida (thankfully over the phone) was giving the training. (And I was not a crier at work)
After the training my boss (who was supposed to be my advocate- or at least that’s how I saw it) turned to me and said ‘well, you are just going to have to get it done. That was the tipping point. I just left and stormed out of the office and called my superior boss. This is a man I’d known for many years. He calmed me down and we discussed the situation. He said that he ‘shouldn’t have let this happen.’ (the mark of a great leader in my book). Then he said ‘we will talk about this on Monday’.
Situation seemingly resolved, I felt calm and went home. Then the little bug of a thought started in my head. What could happen on Monday? What if I lost control? What if I yelled and screamed? What if I looked like a fool? etc. For 2 days I tried to remove those thoughts from my head but they kept coming and coming. I just couldn’t figure it out.
Finally at Walmart I started to feel claustrophobic and my asthma began to flair up. I felt like I couldn’t breath. I made my purchases and went home. After calling my Mom, my brother and roommates came over to help me. I remember they were all surprised because, like me, they thought everything had been resolved when I spoke with my boss.
Eventually I was able to calm down and everything was okay. I did go to a counselor after this experience and found some great advice that I have put into practice many times in the last 5 years.
This week was kind of the same in the sense of building stresses, one on top of another, and then once I had thought I had it figured out, I became fixated on a thought. In addition, I was in pain and when you have chronic pain it is easy to get anxiety about having more pain. I can’t explain it but I couldn’t get to sleep and then began to feel anxiety about not getting to sleep. At a certain point you have anxiety about getting anxiety!
I did everything I could to snap out of it but you know what finally helped? Talking to a friend who had undergone a similar experience. She was able to give the perfect advice. I got out of the house (went to Walmart, the scene of the last crime). I took some medicine that is for emergency only. I used my Balance Doterra Essential Oils and I went to bed using as close to good sleep hygiene as I could. I also ate a very healthy dinner.
All of these things helped but just talking to a friend and feeling understood was probably the most helpful. Again, anxiety is not about events but its about how we process these events. How we feel about them. Those feelings are usually completely illogical but it doesn’t matter. Part of cognitive therapy is recognizing those thoughts and then creating a plan for future thought maintenance.
Feeling Good by David Burns has helped me immensely (hey it gave me 5 years in between anxiety! Pretty good!). If you don’t have it I will buy you a copy. Aside from the Book of Mormon (which I will also give you a copy of!) it is the most helpful book in my life.
He says “Negative events grow in importance until they dominate your entire reality- and you can’t really tell that what is happening is distorted. It all seems very real to you. ”
He then goes on to give 3 Methods for Boosting Self-Esteem (or shutting out negative thought). They are too complicated to explain here but very effective (like I said they worked for me for 5 years drug free). But in conclusion Burns says on changing our thoughts:
“How can this be accomplished? You must first consider that human life is an ongoing process that involves a constantly changing physical body as well as an enormous number of rapidly changing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Your life therefore, is an evolving experience, a continual flow. You are not a thing; that’s why any label is constricting, highly inaccurate and global…Your thoughts may be positive, creative, and enhancing’ the great majority are neutral. Others may be irrational, self-defeating, and maladaptive. These can be modified if you are willing to exert the effort, but they certainly do not and cannot mean that you are no good. There is no such thing in the universe as a worthless human being.”
Like Burns says controlling our thoughts takes work and we will have moments where we aren’t successful. That is okay. When this happens have a list of resources that you can turn to. I had mine and they came through for me in spades. Even just strategies like getting out of the house or making a list of positives can help.
I share this experience with you because I am a smiling girl 90% of the time. I love my life but like everyone else I have my battles. There is such a stigma around mental illness in our culture but I believe just like I can get the flu, I can get an anxiety attack. It happens. Its OK. Don’t be ashamed. You will get through it. People do love you immensely. Get the help you need and if the first thing you try doesn’t work try something else.
Also don’t be surprised if healthy people have a difficulty understanding your condition. To them, they may add up the events and think ‘what is the big deal?’ or even ‘why can’t she be more mature’. It doesn’t really have anything to do with events. Its about the thoughts and processing of those events which is completely within your own psyche. The best advice I can give is to be honest with yourself (no denial, no self-criticism) and then create a plan to move forward. Also, listing your distorted thoughts and a complimentary non-distorted thought (as Dr. Burns suggests) can be very helpful.
Now here’s to going another 5 years! (Its really kind of amazing I hadn’t had one last year with all the struggles but the previous one took over a year to build up to as well. Another lesson learned).
There is no such thing in the universe as a worthless human being.
Go to http://bringchange2mind.org/ to sign a pledge to end the stigma against mental illness and to find more information for both helping yourself and your loved ones.