Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Anxiety Disorder

As some of you probably already know, I suffer from panic attacks. I’ve been experiencing these attacks since I was 16 years old. I have a lot of people in my life who make assumptions about why my anxiety disorder developed, but I still have a vague idea “why”, yet I know some things make sense. I’m going to talk about why I “think” I got this disorder, and what I do today to relieve them.

At the age of 16, I witnessed a very traumatic event in my life. I didn’t think it affected me all that much, because I handled it so well during the time it happened. What I didn’t know, is how it would affect me later as an adult. Being at that young age, I was still going to high school and trying to be a kid. I was influenced by my peers and found out that my stress levels were higher than the average teen going through trivial stuff. A lot people assume kids that age don’t have any stress. They do…very much so. And, when something traumatic takes place, it’s amazing what the body can do when it experiences high levels of fear, anxiety, stress and anguish. Depression is the demon that sometimes follows all of these emotions afterwards.

Although I felt stress, I didn’t experience a full-fledged anxiety attack-----yet. I wanted my stress to go down, and I relied on alcohol to take away my stressors. Eventually, alcohol led to pot. It took me to another place – a place where everything was silly and carefree. There were no worries or fears of anything bad happening…just laughter and giggles. It made me happy…until the day it took its toll. I experienced my worst anxiety attack while being high. Sometimes, I would just get paranoid, but this one particular day, it was much different where my heart rate went up so high, that I had to get medical attention right away.

I’m not blaming my anxiety disorder on anyone or anything; however, the circumstances at that time were just overwhelming for a 16 year old to handle. I literally thought I was losing my parents. I feared the traumatic event that took place would happen again.

Years later and tons of therapists seen, I still noticed that I kept getting these anxiety attacks. Why weren’t the professionals helping? I never received medication at that time. I relied on CBT (Cognitive behavior therapy) and relaxation techniques. It seemed to help somewhat. I started fearing everything---from shopping in a mall, to going inside a grocery store to just being home alone. My thoughts were, “What if I got an anxiety attack, passed out and no one was there to help me,” or “what if I passed out in the middle of a busy grocery store?” I feared people witnessing me passing out in a store or looking at me as if I were a freak. I soon developed agoraphobia. This is a disorder that prevents a person from going to busy marketplace or even going out of the house if at all.

I found this brilliant doctor in the area named Dr. Martin Knolls, in upstate New York. He was smart, witty and had this amazing British accent. He practiced CBT on me. Each session, he would make me visualize doing certain things that I normally wouldn’t do. But first---he took baby steps. He made me visualize touching the wall. I know- stupid, but it worked. I visualized it, and then went up to the wall and touched it. Then we took bigger steps. He gave me a project to do for a week. He wanted me to drive one mile down the road in my car by myself. If I felt a panic attack coming on, he advised me to just turn around. Little by little, I found myself going one mile…then two miles…then 5 miles all the way into town just to get gas. By facing my fear, I dealt with my anxiety disorder and agoraphobia in a more controllable way.

With his steady therapy and my determination, I started flipping through the classifieds to just go on interviews----not to take the job----but to go on interviews for my therapy. It was a challenge I wanted to take on. I went to a company that I dreamed about working for ever since I was a little girl. I prayed to God with all my might---I mean prayed on my hands and knees to get me through this. I called up, got the interview right away and drove there by myself. In the company’s lobby, waiting for the secretary to walk me up to the manager’s office, the palms of my hands were sweating and my heart rate was going up.

I started visualizing talking to the manager. I visualized the conversation going well, making the person laugh with small talk and showing them how worthy I am of this position. I visualized the people liking me and welcoming me to their company. I imagined myself as this important person that they needed. “They need me more than I need them.” I said this to myself over and over. I blew up my head with a confidence boost dialog.

What happened?

I made the three managers that all interviewed me at the same time laugh. I made them talk about their personal lives with me—they totally opened up to me and treated me as if I were a long time friend. I got the job and stayed there for a number of years. I visualized myself making a lot of money and succeeding. Mission accomplished. I did it. I was so happy and so grateful.

Did my anxiety go away? ...No. It lingered and I had to deal with it accordingly. I was taught that whenever I felt anxiety coming on, to experience the feeling—not fight it. I was warned that if I fought the feelings and tried to repress them---they would work in the same manner a riptide would. Whatever you resist persists. So, I went with it. I felt it. I let myself go through it. Eventually, it brought me back to calmness, just as a riptide would bring you back out to shore. It eventually leaves. An anxiety attack will not stay forever—always remember that.

Also keep in mind, that an anxiety attack will never, ever kill you. What’s the worst thing that can ever happen to you if you experience an anxiety attack? Feelings of panic, pins and needles, excessive heart rate or dizziness probably. Sit down, take a break, and let yourself feel the anxiety passing through you “temporarily”. When I did this, my anxiety lessened.

I eventually went anxiety-free for a year or so and stopped all relaxation techniques and cognitive behavior therapies. I thought I was “good”. Before I knew it, it crept up on me. I had to see another doctor, because my other psychologist relocated. She prescribed me Ativan (Lorazepam), to calm my nerves whenever I got an attack. She put me on a very low dosage and reminded me that this was only a band-aid until I got better and started handling it on my own. Well, ten years later I’m still on this damn stuff. It doesn’t do anything for me anymore, because I have reached my tolerance. I won’t “up” the dosage, because I don’t want to be dependant anymore. So, at the age of 33, I am weaning off of it little by little. I’ve tried antidepressants. They all chemically altered my way of thinking and basically gave me the most awful side effects ever. In my own personal opinion, antidepressants are like poison for your body. (I speak from my experience only.) I feel that it’s a way for doctors and major medical companies to make a buck. Too many children are all on medication these days. Too many “disorders” are coming up to the surface----why? Because they need a medicine to cure it. Pseudo disorders for pseudo meds. That’s how “I” think of it… I know that there are some people out there with major disorders other than anxiety, that need the necessary medications, however, when you start fiddling with antidepressants to relieve generalized anxiety disorder, you can really mess up your body—emotionally and physically.

This is not going to be a “happy ending successful story post”---so bear with me if you’re still reading this. I still suffer from anxiety, however in a less extreme way. If an anxiety attack comes on, I put on the new age station on my XM, or I play my guitar to take away my focus of the panic attack. It seems to help. Visualization is so important. I picture myself somewhere I’d rather be, like the ocean or sitting next to a beautiful waterfall. I even went to one of those stores that sells those weird stuff, like lava lamps and massaging machines, and found a sound maker that has the sounds of the ocean, a babbling brook, crickets and wind. I usually listen to crickets to remind me of beautiful summer nights. It seems to relieve my symptoms.

I still have trouble walking into a big grocery store, but when I have to, I keep in mind that I cannot die from this. It’s only an anxiety attack. It will only last for a few minutes. For ‘me’, I also visualize God with me. Prayer has been a major help with my anxiety. The most important thing to do, if you suffer from anxiety, is to keep up with your relaxation and meditation techniques and never stray from it, like I did. Relaxation and meditation techniques are good for everyone—not just people who go through anxiety disorders.

If you do need extreme help and opt for something like Ativan-----keep a grip on it and don’t let yourself get dependant on it. Use it as a therapy and make sure your doctor is aware of your progress. I admit, for myself, I tend to grab a glass of wine if I’m feeling tension—but that’s not a healthy way of drinking moderately. It ends up as a dependant too—even if it is one or two glasses.

Another technique that was suggested to me was exercising. Now, let me just say that exercising for “me” gave me more anxiety, because it normally raises your heart rate significantly. I will say that it helped me through my depression though. It releases endorphins to make you feel great. It does not relieve anxiety attacks though, in my experience. It helps with anxiety and tension if you make sure you are aware that your heart rate is up because of the exercise---and not just because you’re feeling anxious. If you can determine between the two, then that’s great.

I’m still learning as I go, but it helps a great deal to know that “you” have control over your own body. You can choose to feel it, go through it, but most importantly, release it. Medication can help, but I feel it should be last resort.


PLEASE READ: This post should not be taken as professional medical advice. This is a post regarding the experiences that I have had with anxiety disorder and what worked for “me”. My methods may not be the same methods that others go by. See what works for you and most of all, talk to a professional. This is only something that I’m sharing with you as someone who can relate to anxiety disorder.