Traumatic events tend to make people question life. For me, one of those events was my Churg Strauss diagnosis. It was like I ran full speed into a brick wall. Suddenly one day I stopped and had this overwhelming feeling of despair. Questions ran through my head like, why am I here? Thoughts of every horrible scenario my life could turn into made me question if any amount of suffering was worth it. I became depressed, and it hit me hard and fast. I thought I suffered bouts of depression before, but this was a whole new level. I had an overwhelming feeling that I had no reason to live. I knew I needed to get help, and fast.
I believe that poor mental health can lead to poor physical health, and the same goes for the opposite. This all became too apparent for me after my diagnosis. For unconfirmed reasons I had started having anxiety and panic attacks shortly before my diagnosis. One doctor feels that it is related to prednisone, another thinks it is from unresolved emotional issues that triggered the anxiety after my frustrating experience with an incompetent doctor, and I think there was at least one or two other theories thrown out there too. The panic attacks only got more intense and frequent after my diagnosis, and came to full head about a year after. At first I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was anxiety and panic…I just thought I was dying! I think the anxiety is what brought on the depression, compounded by the diagnosis, and not properly dealing with the emotions. Or maybe this was all just part of the normal emotional cycle one goes through after something like this. Either way, I needed help. I felt like my mental and physical health were rapidly declining.
I realized that these things feed on each other. The anxiety led to panic attacks, which led to deeper depression, which led to more physical symptoms, leading to more anxiety, which led to more panic attacks, and the cycle goes on and on. Anxiety does something in your brain that makes you paranoid and you over analyze everything. So, when I got to the point where I was questioning the meaning of life, I couldn’t find any answers that were making sense to me and it was terrifying!
*** If you or anyone you know is going through something like this, seek the help of a professional.***
I went to multiple doctors and talked to a few counselors, and though it wasn’t until recently that I found the right doctor for me, just talking to someone really helped get me through it. I thought the first couple of counselors were a waste of time at first, but they at least helped me get a different perspective on things and allowed me to see that things weren’t so bad for me. I didn’t want to just take medication to get through this, I wanted answers and I wanted to work through it. Don’t get me wrong, I did take medication for the anxiety and panic, because if I didn’t I don’t know how I would have gotten through the episodes.
For about 8 months now I have been without panic attacks. I went from seeing the possibility of agoraphobia in my future, to having back my “normal” life (whatever that means.) At its worst, I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone unless I was in the comfort of my house. The thought of driving terrified me, and I had been fine driving for the past 16+ years before this started happening. I was fine at home, and for the most part I was fine at work…it was just the getting there that made me insane. Traveling to even familiar places caused panic attacks if my mind started wandering the what-if path. I started thinking of every possible horrible scenario of what bad things could happen to me or my loved ones and it was enough to keep me at home. My rational and logical brain knew this was not right, but it could not communicate with the anxiety driven part that was taking over my every waking thought. I knew these fears and feelings (physical and emotional) were being created by something in my brain, but the more I tried to rationalize myself out of the anxiety and panic, the worse it got.
In the end what worked for me was a combination of things… including time, reading, medication, attention diversion, hobbies, talking, etc. The time part is just that, know that in time it will get better. The reading part involved reading about other people’s experience online and finding helpful books. Peace From Nervous Suffering by Clair Weekes really helped me to see anxiety in a whole new light! Some of the stuff she writes about is outdated and a little convoluted, but as a whole I felt this book was a tremendous help and recommend it for anyone with anxiety and panic. Medication consisted of anti-anxiety drugs to help get me through the worst times. I chose to not take antidepressants, even though a couple of doctors had recommended it. This may not be the right choice for everyone, but I wanted to try to work through it. Attention diversion, hobbies, and talking were all very crucial to my well-being. After reading and hearing about the usual techniques that most doctors recommend, like concentrate on your breathing, counting, etc. All of these typical things only increased my panic! The complete opposite effect that I was looking for. I slowly began to realize that some sort of distraction is what I needed. I think that is the basis for those other techniques, only in my case they made me focus more on the things that were contributing to my panic (my attacks are always accompanied by the feeling that I can’t breathe, so concentrating on my breathing is the worst thing I can do!) For me what helped was having a conversation with someone, or myself. If I couldn’t talk to someone, I would just start to literally think out loud. It would cause me to focus more on my thoughts instead of my panic. I can’t tell you how helpful this was to me, until it wasn’t. Once I began to realize this was helping me, I sabotaged myself. I thought, what if this doesn’t always work, etc, etc until it started to not work. I tried tapping and that helped too. Again, another distraction. However, these were only things that I used when I was having a panic attack…I wanted to prevent them. I started to feel like my life was inevitably going to become one big constant panic attack and nothing was ever going to change. Again, reading the book Peace From Nervous Suffering, was a big help here. I also turned to crystals. Some people may think it’s a bunch of new age crap, and I don’t even know if it truly does anything, or if it’s just a placebo effect, but it helped me. I bought some lepidolite stones and carried them everywhere with me. I would hold them and rub them when I started to feel the attacks coming on and I would think positive calming thoughts and it really helped. Maybe it was just a placebo effect, maybe it was the lithium in the stone, whatever you need to tell yourself, I know it helped me. So much so that I wanted to always have the stone on me and in contact with my skin, so I bought a bracelet made of lepidolite stones and I wore it 24-7. I also started listening to a CD, Deepak Chopra’s Soul of Healing Affirmations while in my car. I would repeat what he said out loud and really think about what he was saying. Some of it I thought was mumbo jumbo, but overall the message was a positive one about how I should and wanted to look at life. This was a HUGE help for my driving induced panic. All of these helpful things are just a way to distract your mind. If you read the book I previously mentioned, it’s about getting yourself out of the nervous state. Once you’ve done that and you are in a less sensitive state, then you easily focus on other things. I also tried meditation and Reiki. I have had Reiki before and I know that it works, so I decided to do Reiki training so that I could do it on myself, because I just don’t have the money to keep going to Reiki as often as I thought I needed it. Unfortunately it didn’t help me, and maybe set me back a bit. Having a Reiki session from someone else was helpful, but I wasn’t relaxed enough to do it on myself and I wasn’t relaxed enough to meditate. So, that didn’t work for me! You need to find multiple things that work for you.
It’s ironic that after I had worked though the worst of the anxiety and panic, I finally found a psychiatrist that I clicked with. When I first went to see her, it had been a couple of months since my last attack (and I went from multiple per day), but I still didn’t feel like I had control of it, so I felt I needed some professional help to prevent future attacks or to properly deal with them when they came back. Her advice was to find multiple coping mechanisms that worked for me in a variety of situations. The goal was to have these at the ready for various situations. She said that everyone is different and she couldn’t tell me what would work for me, but she could give me things to try. She approached things from a logical and scientifically standpoint, and maybe she was aware enough to know that is what I needed, or maybe not. She suggested one technique was to wear something tight on my wrist, like a hair elastic, and to snap it at random intervals while keeping my legs and arms uncrossed. She said the randomness of the snapping interrupted the brain waves and that it was important to keep the arms and legs uncrossed so that the brain would get the proper signal. Also, and I don’t know how else it could be done, but that you snap the elastic with the opposite hand. It creates signals across both sides of the brain and interrupts the patterns, thus distracting your mind from the panic. She used a device on me that had a similar effect. I would hold these things in each hand as we talked, again legs and arms uncrossed, and she would hold a control box that made them independently vibrate at random intervals and intensities…distracting my mind. I have not had a panic attack since then, but I have had anxiety and I have used the elastic technique to calm myself down…no panic attack, so I think it might work. If you can find multiple things that work for you and have them at the ready, you can try one or all. Mine include: having a conversation with someone else, talking to myself, listening to Soul of Healing Affirmations CD, rubbing a lepidolite stone, tapping, snapping an elastic on my wrist, a few others I can’t think of right now, and lastly…medication. Not all of these are right for every situation…like I can’t have a conversation with myself in the middle of my marketing class! But snapping an elastic on my wrist is very good for these situations. The key I found is to figure out how to recognize when the anxiety is building and to use your techniques to help stop it before it becomes a full blown panic attack. This is part of the work in the book I mentioned, to keep yourself out of the highly sensitized state that the anxiety causes. When you are in that state, you are more sensitive to everything and it’s easier to go into panic. I can easily have thoughts now, that used to induce panic, without so much as a flutter.
I can say that since the panic attacks have stopped, my physical health has improved. I don’t know if one is the result of another, but I do know that I have been able to get through the worst of it, so if the panic comes back again I know I will be able to get through it! The moral of this story is that a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body, and I believe that the two go hand in hand. If you or a loved one are suffering from anxiety and panic and would like more info from me, feel free to comment below. The first thing I will recommend is to see a doctor, but I am more than happy to share my personal experiences and to help you feel that you are not alone!
Image credit: Mari Z.