Post-Anxiety Musings

So I had an anxiety attack on Monday.  Such is the case with me, there was really no trigger that I am aware of.  Sure a few things could have aided in pushing me to the ledge, but no ONE thing I can put my finger on.  

I spent the morning struggling to keep myself from falling off the ledge and in retrospect I seriously wonder if the struggle was worth it.   I reached out to one of my pillars (my eldest daughter who has the unfortunate inherited gene of anxiety disorder but the wherewithal to understand the disorder far better than I do). By midday, I felt I was under control again, although I was exhausted.  I finished my day at work, and went home.

The next morning I continued listening to my lectures on mindfulness and understanding how to have compassion for one’s self and the egocentric effects of perfectionism.   (Both hitting home as I am overflowing with compassion for others and next to none for myself while all the time beating myself up for never being good enough).  I turned it off as I began to feel weepy.  It was shortly after that that I first heard of the senseless terrorist attack at the Ariana Grande concert in the U.K.  That was it…  I was overwhelmed with sadness and darkness.  How can anyone want to live in his hate-filled world.   This was not an anxiety attack anymore, it was the deep dark pit of depression hell.  The post-anxiety reality.

For days, I couldn’t muster enthusiasm.  I wanted to sleep all the time and as a matter of fact, I would become so overwhelmed with exhaustion, my eyes would not stay open.   My brain felt like it was scrambled.  The sensation was something like I have never experienced.  It was like my head was a watermelon and the pulp, my brain, had been scooped out, puréed and poured back in.  If I sneezed or coughed, it literally felt sloshy.  Oh and the inability to form sentences.  Well I could form them in my head, but the words got caught in my teeth.  Simple everyday functions like remembering to turn off the water or how to use my computer mouse were difficult.  Colors were dulled.  Tastes were bland.  I had tightness in my chest and arm.

Why do I feel the need to blog about this…well, now that I know what I have I am forever on a quest to understand it.  I took “mindful” notice of the after-effects of the anxiety.   To quote the lecturer, I allowed the feelings to “arise and fall away” – although that didn’t happen in a matter of seconds, minutes or even hours.  This feelings hung around until Friday.   First my power to speak returned, then my focus and concentration (I regained the power to move my mouse), and then finally the exhaustion faded.  

Recognizing these post-anxiety musings does not make the fear of future anxiety attacks any less, nor does it make me feel like the next one will be any easier.  I still find it hard to find brightness or goodness in this world.  I know it is there and I know I will find it again.
 

Psychosomatic vs Synesthesia 

 

Many doctors throughout my life have treated me as a hypochondriac.   And for the most part that is true, I guess.   The pain I feel is psychosomatic.   Just because the tests come back negative.     The debilitating physical pain is my brain’s reaction to anxiety.

I have never been content to just accept that my brain is doing these strange things to me.  I know I should and if I did I would just be able to live normally.  Medicated, but normal.

Today’s research involved empathy.  I know I feel intense empathy.  I often say I wish I could take pain away from those suffering. It has always been very easy to empathize with everything. I cry at the thought of others crying. Feel intense embarrassment for others (rarely for myself until waaaay too late). I can’t look at accident scenes but yet the sight of blood doesn’t make me sick. I can get shots or give blood, but I can’t watch others have that done.

I thought that the empathy I felt was the cause of my psychosomatic reactions.  My husband’s back hurts, my back hurts.   My daughter gets a cold, I feel run down.  My coworker gets a headache…I do.  My favorite is labor pains when my daughter had her babies.   

I decided to read about empathy and discovered synesthesia. Specifically mirror touch.  I can’t say that I experience the sensation of being touched when I see someone being touched, but I do feel a watered down version of pain people feel.  I know that after someone has been hurt, say by a burn, I feel an aching myself where the person was burned, but not a burning sensation per se.   I presumed it was a memory of having burned myself and empathizing with that person, but the ache/pain lingers.  I also identified with the color for words and numbers (grapheme) and personification synesthesia – sounds and objects occasionally have male/female characteristics.  Ok…at this point you have started the serious eye rolling, but the grapheme and personification synesthesia are not extremely rare.  Mirror touch is a bit more rare, although not uncommon in highly empathetic people.   

 I know better than to research on my own.   My brain takes a seed and expolodes it into that giant beanstalk Jack climbed up.   For example, one article stated “Now scientists find these synesthetes possess an unusually strong ability to empathize with others. Further research into this condition might shed light on the roots of empathy, which could help better understand autism, schizophrenia, psychopathy and other disorders linked with empathy.”  That quote made my psychosomatic, hypochondriac mind explode.   Am I autistic?  A psychopath?  Schizophrenic?   Aaaaarrrrggggghhhh.

But in all seriousness, our minds are so fascinating and the power it contains is unbelievable.

 

Post-Anxiety Guilt

Does anyone else go through this?

This vicious circle.

I’m trying too hard.  Trying to stop it before it happens.

It’s never obvious to me that it is “simply” an anxiety attack.

This time it was nausea over the weekend.  Then, yesterday, I had what can only be described as an adrenaline rush.  The trigger…our new puppy peed on the floor.  Did I bend over to clean I too fast and get a headrush?  Regardless, my adrenaline was pumping.  I remember feeling that.  Wanting to call my husband to tell him about it, then negotiating in my head that that would be stupid, it can wait…and I think I managed to push those obsessive thoughts out of my head as I drove to work.   But the “rush” feeling never subsided.  It was a knot in the center of my chest.  Like I couldn’t breathe…but I could.  Like I was walking the edge of a panic attack, but not.  

The evening was better, but I was feeling unusually tired.  I think I slept well and only remember checking the time twice during the night.  Today, the day was going well.  Dog peed on the floor (he apparently has issues when I cook my SOMH breakfast) and no adrenaline rush.  About 1 hour into my day at work, for no reason, the knot returned.  My lips tingled.  My tongue felt too big for my mouth.  My ears were ringing.  

No big deal I think. I started cyclobenziprine two weeks ago and since it isn’t supposed to be taken with lexapro, I’ll just call and get the ok to stop it.  It isn’t helping the restless legs anyway. (Keep in mind I am on very low doses of both.)

Long story short…I’m told to come in.  I’m told to stop the cyclobenziprine-it’s not helping anyway.  Then, I’m told I’m having an anxiety attack.  No, I argue.  My anxiety manifests in aches and pains, not tightness in the chest and tingling lips…I’m slowing down…hearing myself say the symptoms out loud.  Danielle just smiles.  It ok, she says.  She’s awesome.  We talk.  We determine the trigger was probably the routine change now that we have the puppy.  Even though I planned for it.  

Then the guilt sets in.  I wasted her time for something I have dealt with all my life.  I left work early.  I worried my husband.  For…an…anxiety…attack.   Why can’t I have anxiety attacks, or depression, like they show on those television commercials.  Why do I feel “normal” but not?

Whether it is a bout of depression, anxiety, panic attack, whatever – I find it very hard to deal with the guilt.  I’m blessed.  So many others out there are suffering.  I shouldn’t be depressed…or anxious…or stressed.

Yes, I know it is a chemical imbalance that can’t be controlled (well, I mean, I can’t “tell” it to stop).  I know it’s nothing to feel guilty about.   But I do.  Am I alone with that post-anxiety side effect?

“Even Good Stress is Stress”

In my world, stress = pain.  In my world, stress doesn’t seem to exist.  At least in the frustrated ugh kinda way.  This is my cerebrum malfunction.  One of them anyway.

I follow and read quite a few blogs written by fellow sufferers and although I hate that others go through this, I take comfort in knowing I am not alone.

I saw my doctor (she’s not really a doctor, she’s a PA) two weeks ago to discuss my medication and such.  I was prepared with some questions. If anyone has read previous blogs, you may recall I desperately resisted medication.  I no longer feel that way.  The lexapro works very well and I am maintaining on a low dose.  But…(isn’t there always a ‘but’), I noticed that there are still times when the pain become unbearable. I can hardly stand or walk.  I cannot hold a pen in my hand.  But I’ve had “all the tests”, this pain is “in my head”.  Real, but not.  Nothing physical causes it.

I had an incidence of this pain in August.  It was the worst it had been since on the medication.  I was beating myself up…what could have me so depressed?  So depressed I couldn’t even go up and down the stairs in my home without tears.  I have literally nothing…not a damn thing…to be depressed about.   I am blessed  with healthy, intelligent, beautiful children; a loving soulmate; beautiful grandsons; good health (realitvely speaking); a good job that I enjoy.  My oldest daughter has an excellent way of putting things into perspective and I got over my WTF pity party and prepared the questions for my doctor.

It all made sense to me.  My body is having a delayed reaction to stress.  In July, I quit my job, went to AZ to help my daughter and SOMH welcome their second child, and move to a two bedroom apartment.  I came home and started a new job.  Two weeks later…excruciating pain.  I believe that I am not depressed but rather the receptors in my brain are depressed.  The cortisol hormone that is released when stressed isn’t being absorbed/processed by the depressed receptors in my brain.  Hence the delayed reaction.  

My daughter, her husband and her two children (age 1 yr. 8 mo. and 3 mo.) visited for a week.  My dad drove in from Illinois. We had a houseful.  I had my children here to cook for.  I had my grandsons here to cuddle with, play with and have water play with.  I had my dad here to meet his great-grandchildren for the first time.  But this was all an upheavals in my routine…stress.  I was bracing myself for the inevitable pain.  Knowing this was on the horizon, I arranged to see the doctor right before they leave.   My intention was to share my delayed dealing with cortisol epiphany with her and get her blessing to increase my meds for two weeks until that excess crap was absorbed.  

Not only did she debunk that theory, she asked me when I wanted to wean off the meds. 😳. She is certainly against me increasing since I have one side effect.  Restless legs.


I can’t be normal and actually feel stress.   No, I have to wait until my conscious brain sleeps and the subconscious takes over.  Then that “stress” decides to tense my entire body up.  I clench my jaw.  (I know this because surgery I had years ago has left me without 80% of my parotid gland, so I often wake with my jaw locked.)

She sent me home with low dose of cyclobenzaprine which I have to take nightly.  It’s supposed to help with tenseness at night, and may ease the restless legs.  (Not so far 😔)

I am to lose weight.  No more carbs.  Effective immediately. (Tiramisu doesn’t have carbs, right?)

I am to accept the fact that I am NOT 25 anymore and that my body can’t do the things I used to do.  This was the knife in my back, because I was doing those things…in February…of THIS year.

Its possibly the beginning of osteoarthritis.  I am to try Osteo-BioFlex for three months.

And stress happens.  It cannot be avoided. Even GOOD STRESS is stress.

The Comedy 🙄 that is my Life

My brain is exploding with the words I want to get out, but I know, no matter how detailed I get, no one can understand.  It is comedic, scary, sad and victorious…all at the same time.  But I have to try or I am sure my head will explode.

Today my sister in law (SIL) and I took my mother in law (mom) to an event put on by her graduating class of 1964.  My SIL has anxiety.   Not the same sort of anxiety as I have, but rather hers shows in her actions.  I internalize mine to the point of physical pain.  My SIL and I have been friends since I was 14 and she was 12.  My SIL is paranoid and questions everything.  I’m trusting to a fault.  If you pass her on the road and don’t honk and wave, you have some serious ‘splainin’ to do.  I don’t even see you when you do honk and flash lights.  But nevertheless we have been good friends and then sisters in law and I love her dearly.

In the weeks leading up to this event…no, I mean in the months leading up to this event, my SIL contacted mom’s classmate organizers multiple times to confirm times, schedule of events, so on.  She had every detail down.  She made a poster of her family (both mom and dad graduated in 1964-high school sweethearts, just like me and my husband).  She asked me repeatedly what I was wearing (pants or a skirt), did I think it would be hot or cold (hell, it’s PA in late September…your guess is as good as mine), and would I please ask my husband to dig up some old pictures of the time they went to Graceland when he was 5.  

I desperately did not want to go to this event.  In February, when my SIL asked me if we could take mom, it seemed so far off and I was sure I could get my head around it in plenty of time.  See, my anxiety builds internally. It was terrible trying to get moving this morning, and I vocalized my dread to my still-sleeping husband. So don’t go, my husband said.  He doesn’t get it.  It was my duty to go.  And that is what moved my dragging feet.   I got to the home early, but sat in my car for 10 minutes, trying to force myself to move.   I put on “that” face and off I went.  Not because I didn’t want to be with mom and my SIL, but because today I had to be places I don’t know, around people I never met, listening to chaotic noises.

Mom is confined to a nursing home, wheelchair bound and has to be manually transferred. She will stand if told to and as I call it, dance, to move from chair to car and back again, but my SIL can’t do it alone.  I am physically stronger than I look so I transfer mom.  Mom has had several strokes and has little controlled use of her hands.  She has progressive dementia and despite a shunt in her brain, she has little balance and often agitates easily.  But, my SIL insists she enjoys the events.  I suspect she has little, if any, memory of it within hours of attending.   It is still good to get her out and I love my talks with her.  She has known me since I was 14 and her son (my husband) and I are responsible for those silver hairs on her head.

Today’s event started with a memorial service at a small chapel on the local military base.  In addition to honoring the 87 classmates who have passed away – my father in law being one of them – they honored the military veterans both deceased and living from the class of 1964.  Again, my father in law being one for them.  The service was very nice and concluded with the singing of God Bless America.  Mom’s voice was the loudest and most beautiful.  So many people remember mom and Dad R.  Mom struggled to remember them.  

Next stop was the picnic at the fire hall.  I’ve attended many a wedding reception at that fire hall.  Lots of old memories for me.  Mom recently has had difficulty eating solid food so she is on a smushed food diet.  We brought some ham salad for her and started her eating right away so she would take her meds.  (Fought like a toddler when med time came.). Mom wanted to know why I wasn’t feeding the man across from us some ham salad and I told her he was waiting for the chicken.  Stupid, stupid me.  Needless to say, mom wouldn’t eat the ham salad anymore…well, not for about 15 minutes.  Then she forgot about the chicken.  Whew.  I am trying to make myself small at this point sitting by a pole trying to be invisible and just tending to mom.  Food took longer than expected and then it was a mad dash to the buffet line.   Of course we were right by the line so the noise became unbearable.  For me and mom.   Mom started getting agitated.   She yelled at my SIL’s chair.  She was not there.  I talked to her about the VW she had in high school and she calmed down.   SIL came back with the food.   I got in at the end of the line.  People talk to me.  Why?  I thought I was invisible.  Who am I?   Mom only had one daughter.   I’m married to her son.  Her son?  I don’t think we have met him.   No, likely not, he is…quiet.   (All the while my head is screaming he’s an introvert like me…but I’m here because duty called…please leave me alone.).  But that “face” is still on.   I get my styrofoam plate of fried chicken, coleslaw and potato salad…grab a cookie and a piece of pineapple upside down cake and crawl back to my corner in the center of the activity.  My SIL, who stays in touch with mom’s friends and knows many of them (she has worked at the same place for 25 years), is now “over” her anxiety.  She’s chatting and taking pictures.  Mom is tired.  She’s agitated.   It’s getting late.  Past nap time.  Mom has a hold of my hand.   Jerks it across her chest and the yells for my SIL to let her go.  I whisper “that’s my hand mom”.  She doesn’t want to hear it.  I give my SIL a pleading look.  They start calling off the raffle winners.  Mom wants a prize.  Did I win?  No, not yet.   I never win anything. Ugh.  Finally, she wins the mums centerpiece.  Whew.  We can leave.  

A classmate, whose son graduated with me, comes up to me.  I am such a good daughter in law for tending to mom.  She sees how I care for her.  What do I say to that?  Should I be insulted?  Mom is deserving of all of my respect and kindness as are all of our parents.  I am not doing any more or less than I would expect my kids to do.   But I say she makes being her daughter easy and smile.   Please let me be invisible. 

I get mom transferred to the car.  Its hot.  We get mom to the home.  I transfer her to her wheelchair.  I have her hug me, then 1-2-3 stand…ok, let’s dance.  Not the tango.  Mom you’re on my foot.  She laughs. How about the twist.  I cringe.  There goes my back for the next week.  She’s in her chair.  Get to her ward.  I say my goodbyes.   I go home.   Is it with my husband and SOMH, and then retreat to the silence of my bedroom.

I am blessed with an awesome family and I thank God for my time with them.  I made it.  I lived.  The stress of this day will manifest itself in aches and pains in a week or so, but I know it’s coming.   I’ll be ready.  

                                           

Seeking understanding

I’m struggling.

Before therapy, when they “tested” antidepressants on me because I cried a lot and had no friends, I didn’t fully appreciate this “disease”.  It was another one of those labels you slap on a condition you can’t identify and send them away with happy pills. Needless to say, with that attitude and lack of moral support, the pills were useless.  Doses were increased at record speed and their effect was minimal at best.

Then, I sought counseling. All I really gained in therapy was (a) reassurance that I was not the only one who deals with the anxiety/depression; (b) I’m never good enough for myself; (c) the counselor was never going to tell me what to do but rather make me figure it out; and (d) I probably really need meds.  These are not necessarily negative.   Especially the “I’m not alone” reassurance because I am really out there sometimes.

Anyway, I’ve previously blogged that blah, blah, I didn’t want meds, I could handle it, blah, blah, overwhelmed, doctor insisted and BAM!! I’m “human” again.

Here is my struggle:  pre-med and therapy, I would feel the apple cart starting to go and I would fight it something fierce. The bouts seemed so very long…months even.  The fall into that pit of hell was so long.  And yes, I was there longer with no visual on the light at the other end.

But now that I have acknowledged the issue, accepted I need help and support, there really isn’t any time to fight it.  I have maybe one day of “uh oh there goes the apple cart” and the next day I’m in the closet under my dresses trying to quiet the world.  The air still hurts my skin, the noises are still overwhelming.  There really isn’t any time, I feel, to right my apple cart, so to speak – not that I have EVER been able to right it before falling.  I hate it here (who doesn’t) and I know it will pass, but I thought these episode were supposed to stop.  Was that wrong?

And I do know the triggers now.  Only they seem to be simultaneous with the overturned apple cart.  

To be honest, I seem to handle being down here better and that’s a super improvement, but I guess I wanted to reach out to the blogisphere so that I don’t have to ask my doctor.  While I have accepted the need for help, I’m still not fond of pills and I’d like to avoid the “increase the dose” conversation.

How can I get a grip on the slip into this dark place?  How do I get out?  Do I just need to accept that even with meds and support, I’m going to constantly go through these cycles of ups and downs?   Ugh.  I feel stupid…being here…I’m bigger than this “disease”.

Suddenly there is Silence….

Today is going to be marked down in the history books as the most memorable 4th of July ever.

I flew to Arizona this week to help my daughter with her new baby.  Only the baby didn’t come as predicted.  I arrived and tried the “ok I am here – you may have the baby” speech that worked on me 26 years ago when my father arrived in anticipation of the birth of my first child.  Nope.  As my daughter was not having contractions – at least not hard and consistent – I resigned myself to spending the week with my daughter, my SOMH, and my oh so very precious 20 month old grandson.

Last night, the 3rd of July, my daughter was called in for an elective induction procedure involving a gel at can be inserted three times over 2-3 hour periods.   She had been on this waiting list and we were sure, as this was a long weekend, it would not happen.  We were wrong.  At 11:30 p.m., they called and my daughter came shrieking out of the bedroom…”they called, they called!!!”  In my sleepy, disoriented stare, I jumped up, ran in circles, told her to calm down, and in my calmest voice, told her to “breathe”.  Then I stopped and said “wait, what is happening?”  By then she was on the phone with her husband who had been at the mosque, and in the most amazing multi-tasking fashion, managed to get dressed, brush her hair, talk to her husband and bark instructions to me about the toddler peacefully sleeping in his bed.

Needless to say, there was NO sleeping that night.  I received periodic texts from my daughter who informed me that a cockroach crawled on her hand in the car (we have determined it was a leaf) and that she only needed one gel application to begin laboring.   Apparently, my daughter doesn’t have a high tolerance for pain.  She was, to hear her tell it, SCREAMING in pain.  She begged for drugs and they gave her something to calm her.  It only made her sleepy so she loudly complained that she needed more time between contractions.  There is no drug for that.  Apparently, when she reached 5 cm, they prepared to give the epidural.  She had it, but it didn’t take.   Not at all.   I cannot write what it is I am sure she must have been saying…err…screaming.  She pushed her precious son out in three pushes.   I received the news at 7:55 a.m. from my SOMH…proud baba!   The first text from my daughter was obscene exclamations…and “you chose to do it without medication?!?!?  What the hell is wrong with you?”

Shortly before 10 a.m., my SOMH picked me and his older (so cool to say that) son up and off we went to visit.  He asked me to drive as he could not stay awake.  Trust me…when he needs to sleep, he cannot be awakened.  He went right to sleep in the hospital room when we got back and I snuggled my new grandson, while tired momma got her snuggles from her other son.

But this happy and joyous story has a slight selfish downside…as it is still Ramadan, I have been fasting.  Technically, I would be excused as I am traveling, but I am with my Muslim family so fasting is not difficult.  Only its Arizona … in July … with nonstop unpredictability and routine changes.  The migraine that has decided to join me started the day I left (and had to deal with flight delays, new itinerary, etc.) and despite medication, will not leave.  As momma, baba and new baby are staying at the hospital, I could not let the pain overtake me when I had my grandson in my care.  This child is stealthy.   Very well behaved, mind you, but moves from point A to Z in a split second and finds the one object he really should not have (my iPad, eyeglasses, pointy screwdriver, blade to the food processor).  I felt I had no choice but to break my fast so I could down a double dose of headache meds.  I haven’t eaten anything except a piece of bread, but my stomach is rebelling from the pain.  It’s not gone, but subdued.  

At home, my grandson and I decided to pack a bit as tomorrow is moving day to a bigger apartment.  I packed, he unpacked.   I decided we should play instead.   Well my grandson had A LOT to say.  He chattered on in his special toddler language for at least 1/2 hour nonstop.  He has serious conversations with his water bottle and the pie tin.  He spins himself around in circles and kicked the soccer ball, all the while discussing somethings very serious.   It was adorable but exhausting.  You know the conversation where they are definitely trying to convey something and you playfully agree and then they pause, waiting for you to do whatever it is you just agreed to.  I love those moments.  The intent conversation.   But now, I am relishing the silence.   Habibi is in bed…sound asleep…I managed to make sense out of the kitchen packing and cannot hold my eyes open, but I want to regroup.  I need to sleep…my headache demands it.  But it is too quiet now…