Archives for Triggers
Last night before bed, I found myself putzing around on my iPhone on my living room floor. It's a nightly thing: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit. Rinse and repeat if I'm still not sleepy. But I was caught off guard while scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook news feed -- suddenly, I felt the floor shake. Always on high alert, I jumped. What was that? After a moment or two of frozen uncertainty, I audibly exhaled when I realized the source of the shaking: a heavy diesel truck, barreling down my street.
Suddenly, you feel sort of woozy in an nebulous way. Something feels "off", but you can't put your finger on it. Then, your heart starts beating faster, and you feel the need to sit down. Or sleep. Or vomit. You know your body is pleading for something -- but what does it want? What does it need? You continue to wonder as your body begins to sweat. These symptoms worry you, of course. "Is this a panic attack?" you ask yourself. After all, you've experience severe anxiety before. You know these uncomfortable sensations. You know that a racing heart and a woozy head usually signify an intense head-on collision with panic is just around the corner. Or is something else amiss?
What does a panic attack and a yoga class have in common? If you're anything like me, both panic and yoga can lead you to (uncomfortably) focus on the nuances of breathing. Yes, breathing -- that thing we do, day in and day out, often without realizing it. But after my first panic attack in college, I began to realize that I was breathing -- constantly. The awareness was neverending and disturbing. I struggled with the following thoughts: What if I accidentally held my breath without realizing it? Would my body's physiology wake up and kick-start my breathing again? Is it possible to just stop breathing, randomly, and not start again? WHENEVER I BREATHE OUT, YOU'RE BREATHING IN Thoughts like this became...well, uncomfortable, to say the least. I wanted to go back to the way I'd breathed pre-panic: without awareness. I just wanted my autonomic nervous system to do its thing, to keep me alive via breathing, without making me think about it day in and day out. I just didn't want the burden of having to notice my breath any longer. And then I walk into my yoga class.
Yoga stretches can feel soooo good sometimes. Case in point: three days ago, I had a bad panic attack brought upon by low blood sugar at night. (Sometimes, I'll eat dinner early, and get so engrossed in TV or internet or writing or crafting or cleaning -- or anything, really -- that I forget to eat.) For me, low blood sugar means this: shakes, sweating, and a profound sense of dread. I get nauseous and feel like I am dying. So I ran to the kitchen, chugged a giant glass of OJ, inhaled a granola bar for good measure, and sat down on the floor. (Waiting for your blood sugar to rise is a very panic-filled waiting game.)
For the longest time, I've been trying to read Peace From Nervous Suffering by Dr. Claire Weekes. My therapist recommended it to me eons ago and, while it's certainly a great read, its reader (read: me) is prone to distraction by means of shiny objects, internet memes, that Christmas box I just had to pull down from the attic today, and...and so on. But I'm chipping my way through. Slowly, but resolutely. Nervous suffering. What a quaint little pair of words Dr. Claire Weekes uses to describe the big bad beast of anxiety. While her language might be a tad outdated, her recommendations are timeless. And the time is obviously right to share with you a few of Dr. Weekes's most valuable tidbits about recovering from "nervous illness", as she also calls the affliction that is panic disorder:
Think back to first grade, if you can. Alphabet posters on the wall, Dr. Seuss books, and simple math. You were probably pretty comfortable with counting to ten, twenty, thirty, and beyond. In first grade, you probably began doing some easy addition and subtraction problems, too. Maybe you used flashcards. Maybe you remember your teacher using beans or pasta or coins to illustrate the concept of adding something more or taking something away. And then, you feel like a genius when you master 7 + 2. And then, you move right into long division. Right? No. Come on. Of course not. You can't jump right to long division right after learning how to add. It just doesn't make sense. ONE STEP AT A TIME And likewise, it doesn't make sense to dive right into treating your worst fears when you've got some minor and mid-level fears that you need to work on first.
I really like Google's autocomplete feature because it makes me feel like I'm rifling through the world's garbage. That sounds weird, I know. Let me explain further: A curbside trash bag filled with old to-do lists, kitchen waste, and empty product packages can teach you a lot about the creator of the waste. If you snoop hard enough, you can likely determine all sorts of details about the person -- and their culture -- based upon what they toss in the trash. It's like archeology. Dirty and stinky, yes, but still archeology. Searching Google and seeing that little autocomplete drop-down menu can be as revealing as trash, albeit in a more anonymized way. You can use it to take the pulse of the English-speaking world on virtually any topic, from religion to famous tech leaders to anything else, like this:
I stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago because of the impact it had on my anxiety level. I think most people -- based on the entirely non-scientific Survey of Summer's Friends and Relatives -- find that alcohol helps them to relax. To loosen up. To calm down. But for me, it's entirely the opposite. Alcohol affects me -- negatively -- in two main ways. First, while drinking it, I become anxious. Second, after drinking it (specifically, the next morning), I become anxious. ANXIETY WHILE DRINKING Let's talk about the physiological effects first. While alcohol may be a depressant, it stimulates me. It makes my heart race and palpitate, which is incredibly uncomfortable. (It also seems to make my sinuses unhappy and my nose stuffy, which makes my breathing all funny, which in turn makes me anxious as well.)
I went camping this past weekend -- a feat in itself, essentially. Thanks to our awesomely large tent and my penchant for over-packing, I felt safe. I had my anxiety meds. I had enough clothing. I had food and I had water and I had plenty of blankets. And, thankfully, I also had my "nausea bag". Because nausea is one of my most difficult-to-handle anxiety symptoms, I lug around a big black bag of Every Nausea Remedy Known To Man whenever I travel. I don't get carsick, exactly -- I've never actually puked on the side of the road or anything. But no matter: my stomach does flips, I start to sweat, I feel the impulse to dry heave, my mouth gets all spitty, and I sit whining in the passenger seat with my head between my knees. THE CHICKEN, THE EGG, OR BOTH? Does the nausea cause the anxiety, or does the anxiety (of traveling) cause the nausea? Framing such a question in an either/or fashion answers nothing. I'm certain it's a little bit of both. I'm emetophobic, so I'm afraid to puke (and afraid of feeling nausiated in general). And, I'm agoraphobic -- so I'm afraid to go out and travel by car. When nausea and anxiety combine, they form a powerful boss. And, as we were leaving the campsite on Sunday, my anxiety began to kick in. We collapsed the tent and, immediately, my symbolic safe space had been rolled up into a bag.
Working in a call center can be hellish. I know this from experience. But calling into a call center can be a damn frustrating experience, too. In case you missed yesterday's post, I spent hours on the phone with Comcast trying to fix an issue with my internet connection. My nerves were tightly wound to begin with, but everything got worse when the first representative transferred me to a dead line that suddenly ended our call after about 45 minutes. Insert rageface here. So, when I called back, of course I had to re-input all of my account information and wait through the standard IVR message about pressing 6 if I want to order some kind of live wrestling event on cable. No, I do not want to watch wrestling for a fee. No, I do not want to watch wrestling at all. I just want my internet back, people. So I can work and make money to pay my bills and stuff. FOLLOW THE SCRIPT I tried hard to avoid letting my frustration get the best of me when the new CSR (let’s call him Alex) came on the line. Most first-level CSRs aren’t paid enough, in my opinion, to deal with jaw-clenching, white-knuckle customers with huge knots in their chests. So, I tried to be kind.