Imagine you’re swimming in a beautiful blue ocean. The water is warm and clear, it’s calm and you’re feeling perfectly relaxed. Then, out of nowhere, on the horizon you see a giant wave forming. It’s coming straight for you, building and building in power and height as it comes towards you. You freeze with fear. You can’t outswim it, there’s nowhere to hide. The wave is coming, it knocks you over and you feel yourself taken under. You can’t reach the surface, can’t catch your breathe, you’re drowning…..That’s a bit like what it can feel like to have a panic attack.
I’ve never been a great swimmer, the sheer vastness of the ocean has always scared me a little (actually a lot). And big waves? Forget it! In the past, when I’ve felt a panic attack coming on, when I’ve felt that wave rising, I would turn around and swim away as fast as I possibly could. That is, I would get up and leave. Or I’d just avoid the ocean (aka- situation) all together. But lately? Well, I’m ever so slowly learning to ‘ride the wave’. I feel it coming, I feel the panic rising and I just let it come, I let the wave wash over me. Because here’s the thing, it will eventually pass, the wave does eventually receeed and go back out into the ocean. I might get momentarily swept up in it, but I will not drown, I will not die (even if it might feel that way sometimes!)
My closest friend once said something to me whilst I was mid panic attack meltdown and it has really stuck with me, she said “just remember, you know what this is. You know it’s a panic attack and you know it’s going to pass.” Sounds simple but mid panic attack you can loose all sight of rational thinking. So the other week when I was home alone with our son (hubby was away for work) and I woke in the middle of the night mid panic attack, heart thumping hard and fast, I just lay there and repeated what my friend had said to me in my head over and over again. I let the wave come and wash over me. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling, to just let yourself succumb. It was scary but I did it and I’ve done it again since and I feel like the more I do it, the better I will get at it. Because pratice makes perfect right?
Have you ever experienced a panic attack? How would you describe the feeling? What techniques do you have for getting through them?
Wednesday is usually my day for getting stuff done; it’s the one day of the week that I don’t have to go into the office and I’m kid free. Wednesdays for me usually involve working from home, doing the housework and washing, paying bills, going to the bank and the post office…you know all that boring grown up stuff that you don’t really want to do but needs to be done. But today? Well today I was totally self indulgent and I spent the whole day in bed reading. Hubby was home from work so he took the little man to and from school. It was cold and miserable outside so I cuddled up in bed with my heat bag and my latest read ‘first, we make the beast beautiful’ by Sarah Wilson. Hour later, I have emerged and I just need to share….
I’ve read many books on the subject of anxiety over the years but this one was different. The title and the cover grabbed me from the start, it promised to be ‘a new story about anxiety’ it really was.
As I was reading, there were parts of the book that I couldn’t relate to; Sarah’s life is (of course) quiet different to my own and she has done things I would never even dream of doing; from bungee jumping to taking off on week long hikes alone and living in a deserted shed in the woods for six months. Just reading about that stuff made me feel anxious. Nope, that’s not for me, because of course the control freak in me would never allow anything like that to happen! But there was so much in this book, and in Sarah, that I could relate to. I found myself nodding along furiously to parts wanting to yell “oh my god yes, this!”
By the time that hubby got home from running some errands I had flagged a whole bunch of pages that I wanted to read to him, which he lovingly let me do over lunch (bless him). There’s a part in the book where Sarah talks about how our loved ones can help us when we are feeling anxious or mid panic attack…
“Just be there when we wobble. Just stay. and be entirely certain and solid about doing so, even in the very convincing face of pushback and the frantic wobbliness from us. Your patience and calmness will exist in such stark contrast to our funk that we’ll start to feel silly and return to Earth. Our anxiety does pass.” Umm yes! I’m lucky that my hubby is actually pretty good at doing this. It’s why he’s the one I always want nearby when I’m feeling anxious. He’s great at staying solid and bring me back down to earth.
And this; “don’t confuse our need to control our environment with our need to control you”. Yep, we anxious folks are control freaks but it’s not that we want to control other people, we’re just doing our best to try and control everything else to prevent (gasp) the worst from ever happening. (Of course deep down we know that’s actually impossible, because if we could control that we’d be God!)
And I giggled out loud at the trueness of this one; “Never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down from someone telling them to calm down”. In fact, it does the exact opposite…thankfully my husband learned this a long time ago!
There were so many other random and weird things that popped up throughout the book that I have always thought to be a ‘Sarah thing’ (me that is, not Sarah Wilson) but now wonder if it’s actually an anxious person thing. Like the fact that I just cannot relax at a day spa but I totally love those cheap and nasty, walk in and walk out, Thai massage places. The best! And why I sometimes like to sleep upside down in bed; putting my head where my feet usually are and vice versa (a trick I introduced to hubby years ago and he now also loves to try when either of us are having trouble sleeping). Or why I’m so bad at making decisions; Sarah explains this so perfectly in her book but I won’t delve into that here, it’s a little complex and I don’t want to give o away.
If you suffer from anxiety I highly recommend you grab yourself a copy of this book. Allow yourself to get swept away into the amazing, raw, yet ever wonderful world of Sarah Wilsons mind. You might just find some comfort in it.
Since writing this post about my recent struggles with anxiety I’ve had many people email and message me suggesting different things to try that might help. I am always open to suggestions and have tried many different things over the years and will continue to do so. I am not anti-medication and I do believe that for some people, this is needed. For me, I knew a couple of months ago that I was in need of something more. I was struggling with everyday life, struggling to leave the house and that just wasn’t ok. So I went to my GP, we discussed it and I am now on some new medication. It is helping but that doesn’t mean I have stopped working on natural ways to manage it. I guess I just want to be really open about the fact that I am taking medication because I’m not ashamed about it and I don’t ever want anyone else to be either. The only thing I will say is that if you do ever decide to take medication (for anything really) is it important that this is done in partnership, and under the close supervision, of a trusted doctor. It is important to understand what you are taking, why you are taking it and the risks associated. Always follow the dosage your doctor prescribes and never start or stop without first seeking medical advice.
Ok, enough about that, what I really wanted to share with you today is some other things that I have tried over the years to help manage my anxiety. Some have worked, some haven’t. But I share them here today in the hope that if you suffer from anxiety, maybe they might just help you! Please remember, I am not a doctor or an expert, I am just somebody who has lived with anxiety for many years and am still figuring it for myself.
Research and understanding: Over the years I have done a lot of research on anxiety. I’ve found the more I understand it, the less afraid of it I become and the more confident I feel in managing it. My favourite book of all time on the subject is Power Over Panic by Bronwyn Fox. It’s an easy, relatable and informative book that I had reread a number of times. There is also a companion book called Working Through Panic. I would highly recommend both. My advice is to stay away from Dr Google; the internet can often be unreliable and overwhelming but you can try asking your doctor their suggestions for helpful websites and online resources. My GP recently gave me a list of websites which provide information and free courses for people experiencing anxiety that you may like to check out:
Counselling: I have been to counselling on and off for several years and I am not ashamed to admit that. Personally, I think everyone can benefit from counselling. When it comes to managing anxiety, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is highly recommended. This type of therapy helps to unlock and challenge the negative thoughts you may have that are causing your anxiety. At the end of the day I really think talking helps and having the guidance of a professional who understands anxiety can be life changing. It’s really important to find a counsellor that you feel comfortable with so don’t be afraid to try a few different ones (I have!) until you find one that you really like.
Meditation and mindfulness: I know this can be so helpful in managaing anxiety. I also know I’m slack and just don’t practice it enough…but I really need to start to make it more of a priority. Learning how to breath properly, slow down your breathing, be present, be aware of your thoughts and learn to stay in the moment is key to combating anxiety and it’s all learnt through meditation and mindfulness. There are some great free apps and podcasts out there that provide guided meditations that you can listen to and do anywhere. My current favourites are Calm, Smiling Mind, and The Meditation Podcast.
Get healthy: You need to look after yourself. It’s as simple (and as hard) as that. This is something I am constantly working on. Healthy body equals healthy mind! You need to eat right, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. I always find my anxiety is worse when I’m tired. Get outside, enjoy some fresh air and sunshine..I find that always helps.
Herbs and Tea: A few months ago I visited a Naturopath and was given some herbal supplements (in tablet form) to take. Apparently turmeric is very good for anxiety. For me, I didn’t find it made a big difference but my anxiety was really quite high by that point so maybe if I had gone earlier it may have helped to prevent me getting to that point. I’ve also been drinking herbal tea before bed each night to help me sleep. I’ve been using Sleepy Soul from Love Tease.
Crystals: Some people might think it’s a load of hippy crap; me? Well I’m willing to try anything and figure it can’t do any harm so why not! I recently purchased some crystals and often carry them with me. I’ve been told the best place to put them is inside your bra. For a list of crystals that are believed to help anxiety see HERE.
Oils: Many people swear by the healing powers of oils…and they sure do smell nice! My favourite calming scent is lavender. I burn it in a diffuser every night before bed and also carry a vile of it to sniff and dab onto my pulse points if I’m feeling anxious. I’m told Doterra is the place to go for essential oils.
So that’s a few of the things I use to manage my anxiety. Have you tried any of these? Do you have any other suggestions?
So much to say that I don’t really even know where to start….If you follow me on facebook or instagram you will probably know that I have been struggling a bit with my anxiety lately. Truth is, I’ve been struggling a lot. Sometimes I really hesitate sharing things like that. I’ve always be very open about my battles with anxiety (and in the past, depression) but sometimes I worry. I worry mainly about what people will think of me; that they will think I’m crazy, unstable, weak, weird or unhappy with my life. But actually, none of these things are true at all. And I guess that’s why I choose to share my experience. Because I want to reduce the stigma, I want people to understand that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your life is like; anxiety can affect anyone. Men, women, mothers, children, professional people, doctors, lawyers, confident people…anyone. Anxiety is real, it is common and it can be really debilitating. So yes, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and I’m ok with admitting that.
Anxiety has been part of my life…always. It has come and gone in different ways and levels of severity over the years. There have been times when I have gone years without a panic attack and other times when I have been so crippled by them that I couldn’t leave the house. Before having my son, I think I had probably gotten to the place where I was able to talk myself through a panic attack. I would focus on my breathing, do a bit of positive self talk and eventually it would pass. If all else failed I could crawl into my bed and sleep it off. But since becoming a mother I’ve found that my anxiety overall has gone to a new level. I guess it’s the fact that I have this entire other little human being that I am completely responsible for. And of course, as mothers, we always put ourselves last, we run ourselves into the ground, spend a lot of time worrying, looking after everyone else…and feeling guilty. And no longer do I have the opportunity to just sleep it off! When you’re a mum you just have to keep going.
So how did I get here? How did my anxiety get so bad? Well I could tell you the long complicated story of my life, who I am and where I’ve come from; all the things that have made me the type of person who is susceptible to anxiety. Or I could tell you about all of the things that have happened over the past year or so; the big things and the small things that we’ve dealt with that have maybe contributed to my anxiety…but I would be here all day! So instead, let me just try to explain to you what’s been going on the past few months and how my anxiety has spiraled.
One day a few months ago when I was driving my son to kinder I had a really big panic attack. My hubby had recently had gastro and I had been feeling a bit off that morning. The drive to kinder from our house is about fifteen minutes. As I drove I started to feel more and more sick, I felt like I wanted to vomit, or run to the toilet or pass out. My son was chatting non stop (as he does) asking a million questions and I was just trying to focus on driving and not being sick. And then I started to panic. There was nowhere to stop, what if I didn’t make it to the toilets at kinder on time? What if I passed out while driving? What if, what if…and so my mind went and before I knew it I was having a full blown panic attack. By the time I pulled up at kinder I was shaking so bad that I had to get a friend to walk my son into kinder for me. And then of course my son started to panic too; he kept asking what was wrong with me, I just told him I was sick. And then he started to cry “Mummy, when you feel sick I feel sick too.” My heart broke. From that day on, every time I drive to kinder I get anxious and usually end up having a panic attack. I have to take that trip six times a week. It’s exhausting. And now of course I’ve become trapped in that vicious cycle…afraid of when the next panic attack will hit. What if I’m at the shops and it happens? What if I’m driving my car and it happens? Of course the more I think about it and worry about it the more likely it is that it will happen. And so it has. The panic attacks have been coming thick and fast. I feel like I’m standing in an ocean and the waves keep coming. I get knocked down, I stand back up, only to get knocked down again.
I’m pretty good at seeing the warning signs, I know when my anxiety is getting out of control…I spoke about it here not to long ago when I made the decision to give up all the work I was doing from home, thinking this would make a difference and relieve any stress I had…it didn’t. I’ve tried a number of other things too; things that have worked in the past and also new things; from meditation to herbs to crystals and essentials oils and everything in between…. I’ve tried it all. Last week, it eventually got to the point when I knew I needed professional help and so I made myself a doctors appointment. My doctor agreed that at this stage I probably need medication. The thing is, I will need to slowly wean myself off my current medication to then start a new one. Unfortunately this means things are probably going to get worse before they get better. But that’s ok, because if there is one thing that I have definitely have learnt through all my years of suffering from anxiety it’s that I will be ok. This too shall pass. It may get worse, I may have to take some medication short term, I may have some hard work to do but I will get through it. And I will be ok. In the meantime I have a fantastic support crew; my husband, my mum, my sister, my bestie, my boss and all my other friends who have rallied around me these past few months and of course, my lovely blog readers. I know I have lots of people I can call upon, talk to and ask for help if I need it and for that I am forever grateful. Yep, I will be ok.
I work really hard not to let my anxiety affect our son. It’s not so much that I actively hide it from him, I don’t really believe in doing that (mental illness is not something to be ashamed of or something to be hidden) but he is only five, there are things he just doesn’t need to know yet, things that are too complex for him to understand. I don’t want to expose him to adult problems and I definitely don’t want to put my anxieties on him. I don’t ever want to be the type of mum that stops him from doing things he wants to do because of my own fears. And so, I might tell him I’m scared of doing something, like going on a fast ride or an aeroplane or going to the dentist but then I do it anyway. I hope by doing that I’m showing him it’s ok to be afraid and that sometimes we just need to face our fears and find out that it’s not so scary after all. But sometimes, I’m ashamed to say that my fears get the better of me, my mind takes over my body and I can’t…I just can’t face them those fears.
When he was a baby our son suffered from severe reflux. I’m not talking about a few baby spews after a feed, I’m talking non stop, clothes change inducing, full on vomiting. We were referred to the Royal Children’s Hospital when he was a few months old for some testing. One particular test involved him fasting for what ended up being nearly eight hours…this for a baby who was at that time feeding every three to four hours…well, you can probably imagine what that was like. By the time we got into the x-ray room our poor little man was over tired, starving and screaming. The doctors explained that we would need to hold him down and keep him as still as possible whilst the gave him a small amount of milk with a special dye mixed into it. It was important that he not drink too much, they would take it away, “he won’t be happy” they warned, then they would watch the milk flow through his body and take regular pictures on the x-ray machine as it made its way down. Because of the radiation from the machine hubby and I were required to heavy full lead vests. So, put an already anxious mum together with a hot room, lack of food and a lead vest that weighed a ton and bam, you’ve got yourself a full-blown panic attack. I could feel myself fading, I reached for a nearby chair because I felt like I was going to pass out. The doctors suggested that maybe I wait outside. I looked towards my husband and he nodded; assured me he’d be ok. A nurse escorted me out to a hospital bed where I laid down and she fed me sweet biscuits and cordial. I sat there and cried. I was so embarrassed. I felt like an absolute failure. I had crumbled in the moment when my child needed me the most.
For me, any type of medical environment; being in a hospital, dentist or doctors waiting room causes huge anxiety. Even if I’m only there for something as simple as a prescription refill, just being there or even thinking about being there is enough to make me anxious. I know now that this is due to PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) something which I am only now really coming to understand. So when our son needed to go into hospital for an operation at the age of two it was my husband who held him whilst him was put under. And just this week when our son had a bad fall which resulted in him losing half his front tooth it was my husband who took him to the dentist. And I hate that. Not that I hate my husband being there, my god I’m so grateful he was, that he is, but I hate myself for not being strong enough to be there for my son when he needs me the most. Because there is nowhere else that a mothers wants to be when her child is in trouble than by their side.
Last night I thanked my husband, as I often do, for being there when I couldn’t, for being the strong one when I can’t be. And I promised him and myself, as I often do, that I will continue to fight my anxiety and face my fears not only for myself but also for our son because the thing I am most afraid of all is letting him down.
Are you an anxious mother? Ever felt like you at letting your child down?
During my recent month long bloggy break I would often jot down my thoughts and other post ideas. Some days, the urge to just ‘write it out’ would become so strong that I would reach for my phone and type out a whole post in my notes. This is one of those posts. I deliberated about sharing it, because I’m in a different mind frame today than what I was that day. But then I decided it was important to share it, because it was how I was feeling on that particular day and I really need to acknowledge that. So here goes…
If you know me or have read this blog before you will probably know that I have suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for many, many years. It’s a part of my life that unfortunately I have come to accept. Most of the time I deal with it fine, I have lots of strategies and supportive people around me to help out. But sometimes, I just get a little sick of it all and right now is one of those times. You see, living with anxiety can be really exhausting. Constantly over thinking things, questioning myself, trying to predict and control everything; its exhausting. And so today, if it’s ok with you, I’m just going to have a little ranty rant about anxiety.
I’m very self aware. I know why I suffer from anxiety, I understand the triggers behind my panic attacks. I’ve researched and read books and joined forums and taken medication and sought counselling and delved into my childhood and all the major life events that have helped shape who I am today. Sure, I understand why it happens but it still doesn’t stop it from happening. I understand that I am not going to die from a panic attack but that doesn’t stop me feeling like I am. I understand that when I have a panic attack it is just my body going instinctively going into flight or fight mode; a thing us humans have been using since the dawn of time to protect ourselves. It helps to prepare our bodies physically to either stay and fight or run for our lives. But seriously, I’m not a bloody cave woman out hunting and being confronted by a lion; I’m just trying to do the shopping at my local supermarket!
I know many people think that having a mental illness is a sign of weakness, I feel that way sometimes too, but in reality the reverse is true; you have to be a super strong person to face anxiety everyday. Sometimes I get sick of having to be brave. Have I not already proven how brave I am? Have I not already proven that I’m stronger than you? That I will go out, go shopping, meet new people, jump on a plane, travel and go to new places in spite of you. Have I not faced you and stood up to you and beaten you a million times? So why oh why do you keep coming back…yes I know, it’s totally a rhetorical question. But how nice it would be to go to a new place or event without spending the whole day feeling sick and planning my exit strategy and then maybe cancelling last minute because it all gets too much.
And here’s the thing; I’m one of the lucky ones, I know I am. Because I still manage to function. I manage to hold down a job, look after our son, have a happy marriage, socialise with friends; I do all that in spite of my anxieties. I know others who can’t, I know others who are too scared to even leave their own house (I know because I’ve been there myself) and for that I say screw you anxiety. Just screw you.
If you suffer from anxiety can you relate? Do you sometimes just feel like saying a big ‘screw you’ to anxiety? Get it all out in the comments below…trust me, it’ll make you feel much better!
Being someone who has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for many years, I am all to aware of the myths surrounding these conditions that exist out there. If you are a sufferer I’m sure you will be able to relate and if you’re not, then I hope this helps you understand a little better.
5 Myths about Anxiety:
If you suffer from anxiety you are weak: On the contrary I think that people who suffer from anxiety are really strong. If you are someone who experiences anxiety or panic attacks and are still able to face each day…well that takes a lot of strength. Being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid of anything, the true definition of bravery is being scared of something and doing it anyway. Having anxiety can often mean facing your biggest fears each and every day. Now that’s strength.
Only women suffer from anxiety: Completely untrue. Just like every other mental illness it affects both women and men. One of my closest friends who suffers from anxiety is a male. Anxiety does not discriminate, it affects people of ages, sexes, backgrounds and races.
You’re exaggerating about the physical symptoms of a panic attack: Nope. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are very, very real. I actually know quite a few people who have called an ambulance the first time they experienced a panic attack because they legimately thought they were dying. The physical symptoms of a panic attack vary from person to person; from pain in the chest and breathlessness to faintness, heart palpitations, sweating…the list is endless.
Medication is the only way to control anxiety: Medication is one form of managing anxiety but it certainly isn’t the only way. Counselling, talking, learning to manage thoughts and symptoms through techniques such as meditation and deep breathing are all other options that can be explored and in fact need to be if you want to manage anxiety long term.
If you take medication for anxiety you are weak: As my Doctor once said to me “If you had diabetes would you take insulin? Yes. So why is this any different? Anxiety is an illness and sometimes it needs to be treated with medication.” I am not saying everybody who suffers from anxiety should take medication; it is a case by case basis which needs to discussed and decided with your doctor. But for some people yes, it can get to the point where medication is required and that’s ok.
It is my hope that the more we talk about these things, the better people will understand and myths and stigma that currently surround anxiety will no longer exist.
Are you a sufferer of anxiety? What other myths do you want to clear up?