Friday, March 08, 2013

Cure Your Own Anxiety Without 'Shrinking' Your Bank Account

Suffering with anxiety disorder isn't easy. There are so many lovely accessories to go with it, like depression, self-medicating and doctors who are too lazy to treat their patients with effective therapy, writing a prescriptions all day and hoping for the best. Like me, not everyone can take antidepressants due to their many side effects. I have to opt for 'talk therapy' and what's perceived as "cognitive behavioral therapy", when it's only some guy who's heard probably 20 people before you whine about similar things just staring at you nodding or asking you, "So how do you feel about that?" I started reading books and articles online. I have learned so much from reading that by now, I should have a fricken degree. I have the type of anxiety whereas if I feel a tinge of pain in my jaw or left arm, I'm off to the hospital getting the works done: EKGs, blood tests, stress tests, you name it. If I experience swelling anywhere (like puffiness around the eyes or even the ankles from most likely too much salt), I think I'm going through anaphylactic shock. Chest pain? Yep - ER bound. All 2,358,387 visits to the ER for chest pain related symptoms were due to something that's called, "costochondritis" or some nerve-related symptom that stems from my carpel tunnel syndrome in my left hand from playing the guitar for a billion years. My point is, my obsessive thoughts make my symptoms worse. If I have a chest pain, I actually look for pain in my arm, and if I look hard enough, it will eventually come. I actually manifest these symptoms to make sure that it's real. And it's usually not. I was reading an article that was explaining how powerful the mind is, to where we can actually conjure up psychosomatic symptoms. They feel real - but they're not the actual real deal. I didn't mean for that to rhyme.

I had a reader of mine email me not too long ago about her fear of eating her favorite food due to "thought-to-be" allergies. Some foods would scare her so much that she wouldn't know if her symptoms were anxiety-related or a real allergic reaction. I wrote an article a while back that she found called, "False Allergic Reactions: Getting My Life Back". I have gone to great lengths to stay away from my favorite foods, such as oysters, sushi, bananas, mangos, nuts, peanut butter, and even limiting my outdoor activities in fear of bees. I finally went to the allergist and got a skin graph and blood test. The results were that I was only allergic to dogs and strawberries. A huge welt blew up on my arm from the skin graph due to the dog dander test. The doctor said, "Yep, looks like you won't be getting a dog anytime soon." Everything else, like shellfish, nuts and certain fruit were okay to eat. I was free and clear. Even though the tests aren't 100% accurate, I felt this sense of freedom. But, I started reading more about allergists and their inaccuracies - for instance - I got a dog and I even sleep with her at night. The first couple of months, yes I suffered with allergies and even had several asthma attacks, but I held in there because I read an article from a kinesiologist that stated your body needs to build up an immunity to these "allergens". So they're not so much "allergens" as they are foreign stimulants to which the body needs to get accustomed to, if need be. Many kinesiologists keep bringing their clients back into their office to get more exposure to the "allergen" by making them eat whatever it is they are "allergic" to little by little. In time, they're no longer allergic to what they once feared to be. For instance, let's say a kid grows up in a household without animals. Most likely, they'll have allergies to pets. But I'm not downplaying severe allergic reactions --- that's very real and it can happen at the least expected moment, which is very scary.
But what about psychosomatic allergic reactions? Are they real or are they just conjured up from our little noggins? Can the mind actually stimulate swelling or pain from anxiety-related obsessive  thoughts? With the knowledge that most of my left arm and jaw pain was due to a neurological  problem, one night I sat up in bed with the same pain. I thought to myself, "I am NOT going to the ER and sit there for 8+ hours to get told 'nothing's wrong with you'. again!" I was so fed up. I told myself it was my nerve damage, carpel tunnel, anxiety, and soon enough, the pain was gone. I did this a few other times and I am still here to talk about it. What scares me the most is, "what if" (hate saying that) - what if, one day I ignore these chest pains? It frustrates the hell out of me that these symptoms mimic those of a heart attack. So how do you know? One doctor told me, "When in doubt, check it out." And I just stared him like, you're going to be seeing a whole lotta' me my friend..." Another night I had similar pain in my chest area. I just looked at Madelene and said, "Listen, here's the deal. If I pass out, call 911. If I'm here still bitching about pain, just let it go." But is that the wise thing to do? I don't know.  I did however, do something differently: I wrote down where the pain was and how it felt. I jotted down the length of time, from what part of the body to where? I wrote down all the details of the anxiety-related symptoms, so when I feel something dramatically different, then I know to check it out. Sometimes, just chewing 3 or 4 aspirins at the time of my attack makes me feel better. But I wish I didn't have to go through all those steps.

This is how I "view" Walmart every day.
I'm sure you've heard that phrase, "Whatever you resist, persists."  The thought of having heart attack symptoms such as, palpitations, chest pains, and rapid heart beat will only increase if you focus on it going away. The same with an anxiety attack: if you try to 'make it go away', it will stay. (Again, I didn't mean to rhyme.) A therapist once gave me this analogy. She said, "Think of an anxiety attack as the riptide in the ocean. If you go against it, it'll take you under. But if you go with it, it'll let up." Pretty interesting if you think about it. Acknowledge it. Accept it. Go with it. And it only lasts for a short time (at least in my experience). And hey, if I have to have a glass of wine or two to make it go away a bit faster, I see no harm in that if the person doesn't have an addictive personality. Sometimes deep breathing exercises make me feel the anxiety even more for some strange reason, even if the technique is effective for most people. My problem is my mind. I have to get my mind off it. So, I play guitar, which involves a lotta' noggin' activity and distracts me a great deal. But what about when I'm out? I sometimes experience panic attacks while in a big supermarket, like a huge Walmart (that's enough to freak anyone out --- ahhh, the people of Walmart!!!) or like a big shopping mall. I get fuzzy in the head and feel like passing out. I also think, "What if I pass out in front of people and need to be carted out of here in an gurney?" Those thoughts rip me apart. But, the less I walk into these monster stores, the more my anxiety increases, leaving me with agoraphobic fears of even stepping into a small grocery store. So, I've been facing my fears and walking in there, getting little things at first, knowing, yes...I can do it. More and more, I find myself going for more things and spending more time in these stores without the 'fuzzy I'm gonna pass out' feeling. My avoidance even trickles into going to sit down in a restaurant. No one actually knows this, but usually, when I first sit down at a table in a restaurant, I'm having an 'inner' panic attack, until the waiter/waitress comes over and asks us what we want to drink. Sometimes I can't even hear what the other person is saying until my drink arrives. Last month, I went to a reunion with Madelene and sat at the bar to wait for our table. As we're sitting there waiting for our drink, Madelene had told me a story about something or other, and then of course, asked me a question.

"What?"
"Did you even hear what I said?" she asked.
"Yeah, you had to trade your day off for another one...right?"
"No, that was the story before this one."
"Oh."

Totally clueless. There were a ton of people behind us waiting to get a drink as well. I couldn't focus and finally I just said, "Mad, I'm having a huge anxiety attack and I can't even 'hear' anything you're saying. Let me just finish this drink."  As soon as that martini was sipped, she had my undivided (intoxicated) attention. But why does it have to be that way? While I can surely manage my anxiety temporarily with alcohol, there has to be another way to manage it overall. There hasn't been one psychologist (maybe one but he had to move out of the area) that knows how to treat their patients effectively. My current therapist said to me, "You don't look like you experience bad panic attacks or seem even nervous." I then explained to him that I sometimes shuffle around different therapists for fun to experience different methods used. I didn't mean that in the literal sense of "having a good ol' time" --- I meant, in point of interest. He got offended and said, "We're human beings and we're not here for your amusement!" I started crying and said, "You know, you only see what's on the outside instead of using your degree and your head and realizing that there's so much more than what's being said sometimes. I'm not here for fun! Do you think I really want to be sitting here in this small office across from you getting little to zero response for my money's worth?" I have even stated in the past that I was suicidal. He just stared at me as though he's heard this all before...and he probably has. All these years of going to therapy has proven only one thing: it. doesn't. work. We have all we need right at our fingertips. All the free information, books and CDs available that we can utilize, and yet we're still paying an arm and a leg to sit across from someone who has absolutely no interest in what you're saying whatsoever. I'm finding the best ways of coping with anxiety and panic attacks is to read more, educate yourself about your own mind and do things in fear. Practice it every single day. I'm not 100% anxiety-free, but I'm coping with it much more effectively. Please keep in mind that this is only my experience and that I am not a doctor -- my advice is a random, unprofessional view on how I view anxiety and the help that comes along with it...if you even want to call it "help". Good luck and stay anxiety-free, if you can.


For more of Deb's articles, please visit: www.debrapasquella.com or join her on Facebook and Twitter. Check out her cooking blog for some of her famous recipes!