Sunday, March 4, 2012

recalibrate yourself.

I was actually able to pull myself out of an impending anxiety attack the other day, and I won't lie - it felt pretty powerful. What triggered it is beside the point; it was coming, and I knew it. I couldn't focus, couldn't breathe. My thoughts flitted among Issues A through Q, only landing on each long enough to glean the sticky worries from it. Out of desperation, I emailed my sister-wife, Kristen, to bitch and moan. Bitching and moaning solves problems, right?

Halfway through writing the email, clarity bloomed and lit up my frontal lobe. Hey: This was "just" anxiety. The issues I was handling - some short-term, some long-term, some typical, some brand-new - were...just issues. The anxiety was telling me to obsess about the issues, that perseverating on them would magically solve them. Or, at the very least, that if I didn't fixate on them, my fears would come true. 

Source: www.bestpanicattackstreatment.com

But for the first time, I managed to pull away from them and view them as separate from myself. Seriously, it was a visual exercise as much as anything else. There I was, sitting in my chair, gazing at the anxieties gathering before me. I took a deep breath and decided - decided - to approach them.

I didn't approach them with the goal of eliminating them. There will always be some things that I'll just get nervous about (flying, presenting, having to perform CPR on a musty-mouthed stranger). In accepting a certain level of worry, though, I'm able to address the anxieties without them consuming me. Having gifted myself a degree of separation from the specific ones that cropped up on Friday, a plan of attack blossomed:

  1. Take a pee. I'd had to for about an hour, but between emails and questions and phone calls, I just hadn't done it. And I really needed to.
  2. While in the bathroom? Breathe. Ten full, deep breaths.
  3. Schedule "worry times" for two of the biggest issues of the morning. One of them could be discussed with my MSW supervisor next week, during our regular meeting. The other, being more personal, could be addressed in therapy next week. Neither was going to be solved by fretting right then.
  4. Address a specific crisis immediately. Get it over with, because it required attention, and avoiding it would only increase my anxiety.
  5. Let gratitude flood me. For real, once I was able to find my breath again, and after I took care of step #4, this step happened naturally. I had exciting plans for that night; I had NO plans for the weekend (freeeedom); I had Easter candy in my drawer, courtesy of MamaTots' husband; it was a mild and sunny morning; etc. I'm really only able to access non-sarcastic gratitude after I'm in a stable place; otherwise, I'll end up with snarky statements like, "I'm thankful for...ice packs to help with chronic pain," or "...waking up this morning...for another day of ANGSTY AGONY." Luckily, on Friday, it only took a few steps to get me to a place of genuine thankfulness.
That was it. Instead of having a day that left me wrecked and ravaged - instead of having a day that took all weekend to recover from - I had a happy, productive day. Word in bond.

There's still one little nagging concern, though. I've gotten to places similar to this a few times in the past year, and each time, I ended up with a physical issue that seemed to be my body sending me a message: You're just burying your anxiety, not addressing it, and it does not belong buried within. 

A few times, it's been major swelling of my temporomandibular joint - i.e., I'd wake up in the morning with cheek pain, feeling like my jaw wasn't hinged properly, and I couldn't make my teeth fit together (so annoying when you're trying to chew! ...Or frickin' FUNCTION!). This is indicative of clenching my teeth all night long, which is often indicative of...wait for it...anxiety. (And no, a mouthguard I had specially designed to alleviate this did NOT work. I just clenched on it instead.) I've also had random bursitis/tendonosis in my left shoulder for the last 16 months. Usually, you get bursitis as a result of an injury. Nope, not here, unless you count an intense foosball game the day before it started (and, FYI, the shoulder specialist did NOT count that). I can barely hook my bra by myself; I haven't slept on my left side in over a year; I can't lean on a doorway on my left side; and, when I forget to compensate, I've been known to cry out when turning right in my car. Ah, the varied things you never knew you use your supraspinatus for...it's the surprise that keeps on surprising.

There were other things, too, in the last year - my first adult norovirus, my first adult bronchitis, and a host of random infections and rashes that were medication-resistant. I used more sick days from work last year than in my entire professional life combined. I had, for the first time, X-rays, an MRI, an inhaler, biopsies, stitches, and physical therapy. The most notable mystery illness was the full-body rash that littered my skin for six unbearably itchy weeks. The dermatologist discovered weird skin cells and told me the rash could be alopecia mucinosa - upsetting in and of itself, considering it can cause total hair loss and major scarring; even more upsetting because they said I didn't fit the typical profile of someone with AM, and, thus, it could potentially be related to lymphoma

Someday I'll delve into the fun reaction someone with an anxiety disorder has when handed a vague potential cancer diagnosis, but in the meantime, my body seemed to be on a mission last year to tell me to address my anxiety, not bury it. The bitch of it was - I thought I was addressing it! Therapy, therapy homework, research, mental and physical self-care - all culminating in a December dermatology order to visit the clinic every six months from here on out to check on "the progress of the lymphoma." AWESOME. They weren't saying I had lymphoma...but they wouldn't say I didn't, either.

So - my long-winded point - I felt powerful on Friday when I was able to turn my day around. It didn't feel like I was just avoiding or burying. And I guess that's the difference between now and last year. During the December holiday break from work, I had a series of revelations and began accessing my essential self. It felt like the spark was coming back - the return of light (yep).

That was the start of my recalibration. I've only been sick two days since early December, which is more like myself. I utilize a variety of creative outlets - so important to me, since I'd ignored my creative side since, like, college. Sometimes I wonder if last year's illnesses weren't anxiety trying to escape so much as creativity. (Yes, I know how hokey that sounds. Fuck it.) Recalibration: I'm altering the neural pathways that have been trained to connect so many things with panic instead of reason. And this week? This week, I proved to myself that sometimes - maybe not all the time, but sometimes - I'm stronger than the anxiety. My fear that the anxiety would always win has provoked even more anxiety (mmm, irony), so it's not really an understatement to say that proving that fear wrong? Was a big deal.

Recalibration. It's what I do, these days.

1 comment:

  1. Dude, thanks for the shout out (well, it was really a shout out to Matt, but we'll go with it). I know I sound like a mom, but I am one, so it's ok, but I'm proud of you! This might seem like a small step to you, but it sounds HUGE from over here. xoxo



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