A creature of habit

IMG_6520-0I suffer from chronic anxiety. I’m not sure when it started, if I have always had it, or if it is only recently that I have become affected, like in the last 15 years. I do know that it plays an influential role in my day-to-day life and that it occurs with enough regularity to have become frustrating and annoying.

When I was at university I had a boyfriend who experienced panic attacks. They were a mystery to both of us, neither one of us understanding the shortness of breath, the hot flushes, the dizziness, the nausea, the blacking out, the vomiting and the lack of consciousness. He lived in fear of a repeat attack and this fear dominated our evenings. With the understanding I have now, I look back and feel guilty: I could have been a lot more compassionate and helpful if I had known what it was he was going through, if I had understood it. As it was, a part of me thought he was doing it to sabotage our evenings (it only ever happened when we were out with my friends). If we had kept in touch, I would have phoned him long ago to apologise. I would have also explained to him what they were, if he hadn’t already arrived at his own discovery, and recommended possible avenues of treatment. A rough analysis attributes them to the state of flux he was experiencing as a result of his recent uncertainty about the future and the pressures from his family. Several months later, he dropped out of a law placement and switched to teacher training. A dramatic shift in direction (provoking disappointment and anger from his parents) which helped him profoundly.

Anyway, regardless of when my attacks started (at a guess, I would place them at 8 years), the reasons were similar and the results pretty much the same. And ever since, each time there is a significant shift in circumstance: a sudden change, an enforced situation, a necessary transition from A (where I am comfortable) to B (where I have no idea), an extended journey resulting in a separation from everything known, etc., I start to unravel, my inner peace disappearing. If I fail to act, attempting to ignore the emotions and run from the reasons, the anxiety escalates until it reaches a level that incapacitates me. And even then – housebound, bedridden – there is no relief. The only solution is to turn around and face and to attempt to address.

Over the years, I have learnt that there are things that I can do. And they are things that, on the whole, are fairly successful. The challenge is becoming aware of the spike before it is too late and getting my mind to agree to accompany me on the necessary journey to solution and recovery.

Things that work are:

• self-hypnosis for anxiety, worry and stress
• meditation, ideally with a mantra
• gentle exercise (yoga or a walk with music)
• verbal expression (either by talking to someone I trust or writing in my diary)
• a solid daily routine
• safe places where I can go to relax or work
• an emergency plan (i.e. someone who can talk me down or come and collect me should the need arise)

Practiced regularly, I can keep the anxiety to a minimum and the attacks at bay. There are periods of time when I forget about them completely. It is only when the circumstances are such that I have no power to affect them that I struggle to arrive upon a cure. In these times the above list is key to my survival and, while it might not remove or solve, it does deliver a situation that is manageable.

These days I am a creature of habit. I have a routine, essentially a timetable, which I follow without complaint. At a certain time I will always be in a set type of place going about a specific activity. And, while it could be viewed as small and limiting and perhaps a little sad, sequestering my life and its experiences to the confines of a box: for me, it has actually been the opposite, allowing me to travel the world, live in different places, experiment with different things.

more information on panic and anxiety
Broken Light: photography for mental health
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