It's all me, me, me...

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Vivre Sa Vie
London, United Kingdom
Well hello there. My name is Viv (well, it's not really), and, like a lot of people, I'm ever so slightly neurotic... I have panic attacks and anxiety (ranging from mild to pretty intense), on and off. I also have an amazing and quite high-profile job, so I'm choosing to remain anonymous on here. Not because I'm ashamed of the aforementioned neuroses, but because I don't want to be googled and for my colleagues to read bizarre posts about me breathing into a paper bag and popping lorazepam. I've worked for bookshops, mixed arts festivals and charities, and have met (and still meet!) a lot of famous, fetching and fantabulous people for my job. (See, anxiety doesn't need to stop you being AWESOME and doing what you want to do) Here's hoping you'll find some helpful hints and tips on here which will help you tackle the evil panic heebiejeebs... PS. I'm an Australian, but I live in the UK, and have adopted tea-drinking, pubs, Wodehouse, and a Welsh man.
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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Brain - serotonin = WET CHAOS...

Just like this poor woman, my brain has fallen victim to moving and sentimental images, like fully-clothed sunbathing on LiLos, and Italian wedding dresses. 

My brain and I have had a falling out. There's been a slapped wrist (brains have wrists) and an official warning over negligence of basic duties. It's not being fed serotonin every morning with its cornflakes and has gone all mushy and sentimental and weird.

In the last two days I have cried in the following ways:
  • When I flicked over to the X-Factor (eating dinner, urgently needed moving images) and listened to a mildly talented boy whose parents had split up (they couldn't even scrape together any real tragedy for the pre-singing story) sing a probably mediocre song, but in my addled state I just heard music, so was moved. I mean, multiple tears, not just A single, individual tear.
  • Watching some terrible documentary about athletes and how-hard-they-trained-for-the-Olympics-and-how-happy-they-were-that-all-their-hard-work-had-paid-off-and-how-it-was-all-worth-it-and-how-they-were-really-pleased-to-represent-the-country-and-how-grateful-they-were-to-their-coaches-who-had-been-through-it-with-them-from-the-very-beginning-and-most-of-all-to-their-families-who-always-believed-in-them cue Coldplay.
  • Watching the last 3 minutes (literally) of Masterchef Australia where the winner was crowned. I want to clarify that I had not watched ANY of the series, so this was a record tear release from a standing start.
  • When someone's pastry tore on the Great British Bake-off.
  • At several slow-motion sporting montages calculatedly created to cause maximum heartstring damage by the BBC

But here's the clincher:
  • I CRIED WATCHING AN 80s RE-RUN OF THE CRYSTAL MAZE. When a girl managed to get a crystal. That's all. When she took it back to the team they all cheered and I felt my eyes moisten.

And I said -  'ENOUGH!!!! The Crystal Maze??? Really, has it come to this? You are genuinely moved by a 20 year old re-run on Challenger? What is happening up there in the control room Mr Brain? Are you pulling the wrong levers or something? Are you drunk? Are you asleep at the wheel? Do you need a defibrillator? What do you want from me?!'

How long does it take brains to get back to normal after a number of years being chemically enhanced, I wonder...

Oh no, don't, I can feel them forming. Look at her eager face. Oh God, it's too late. What a moving display of ingenuity and problem-solving. Pass the tissues please.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

It's my self-pity party and I'll cry if I want to...

This is actually a photograph of me, taken only yesterday

Hi guys. I'm throwing a self-pity party today and you're all invited (apart from my boyfriend, who has been attending the pre-party for the last few weeks and needs to go have his own one now)

Here are the facts:

1. My vertigo/labyrinthitis symptoms have come back. Having labyrinthitis was the thing that triggered all my panics in the first place, so I'm really freaking out. It's been three weeks now, and it's not going away.

2. I've now completely tapered down off all my anti-depressant (still on Lyrica, but needed to rekindle my libido which was brutally exterminated by the Citalopram soldiers). Forum on the web suggests the vertigo is a symptom of coming off the SSRIs, so maybe it's that. Lots of frantic Googling later, and I still have no idea if it is or not.

3. I'm meant to be going on holiday with my boyfriend to NY, LA then Mexico in two days time (the wedding of one of my best friends in the world), and it looks like I'm too dizzy and sick to go. It took 6 months of 'will I, won't I' , some weird hypnosis, and a handbag full of benzodiazepines to be comfortable enough with even TRYING a long-distance flight again, but when I finally did, I felt brave and was looking forward to it. Now I can't go and I feel utterly bereft.

4. I booked non-refundable flights

5. I had an ultrasound today to see what was causing my chronic indigestion, and it turns out I have gallstones. And I need to get my gallbladder cut out of my body. With a scalpel. And rummaging in my insides. And general anaesthetic. 

There are no words to describe how much this freaks me out. Having lived in Britain for almost ten years now, I said 'oh, really? Well, thanks, thanks so much, yes, wonderful, great, okay then - thanks again' to be polite, and than ran outside and cried and had to sit down outside the hospital so I didn't faint. And then I started worrying poor expectant mothers would freak out at the sight of me thinking I had lost my baby or something, so I had to move myself along. 

6. I have cried every single day for the last 3 weeks. This may be down to coming off my pills, which may mean I need to be on them FOREVER and will become a female eunuch and lose my boyfriend and have to live somewhere as a panicked, atheist nun.

7. I'm scared my stones are going to explode.

8. I'm scared my boyfriend is going to run away with a beautiful, healthy Mexican lady who never panics and doesn't have gall-related-belching.

9. I'm scared and sad about being scared and sad and I'm driving myself and my poor boyfriend CRAZY. I'm trying to find it funny, but sometimes it's just not. Now I'm crying again. I'm like a strange, leaky, worried, burping, dizzy, bilious beast. 

Okay, some of those last ones weren't facts.*


* This is what CBT teaches you, to be able to distinguish between facts and thoughts. Pah. Go away sanctimonious CBT - I'm having a pity-party, and you're not invited.

'I really loved my gallbladder. It was my favourite innard'

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Better breathing for panicked panters...

'Doctor, Doctor, I just have this, sort of, suffocating feeling, like someone's got their hands around my neck and I can't get any air...'

I've just realised that I haven't yet shared one of the all-time best panic-busting tips I've ever been given.

After being diagnosed with panic disorder, I languished for six months on a CBT treatment course waiting list (thank you NHS), but I did finally wend my trembling way into a treatment room. And when I did, BOY was the wait worth it (thank you NHS, no sarcasm). 

Having the CBT was the first time I really got to grips with this gnarly panic crap, and began to lose my fear of panic a bit. I'd tried some CBT in self-help books prior to that (I ordered approximately 851,000 different books and CDs on Amazon), but it never really stuck, and being an impatient, type A sort of person, I would just race through the chapters, do the exercises quickly, shout 'FINISHED!' triumphantly, and then complain that it wasn't working. 

Before then, I think I still thought I would die with each panic attack. I thought I was completely insane, and needed to be locked up. I thought my life as I knew it was over. Of course now I still have a moment during panic when I think all of those things, but my more logical brain can fight back much quicker and win the day in the end. 

It's too much to cram into a single post (maybe I should do a series?), but the overriding rule that changed my panic-stricken life was: DON'T TRY TO CONTROL YOUR BREATHING.  It was completely at odds with all the other stuff I'd been reading and trying (breathing in for 5, hold for 4, out for 8 - that sort of thing), and with loads of other panic advice I'd been given.  

The guy asked me to hyperventilate with him so he could prove it to me. I cried and refused (why the hell would I do that?! I literally spent every second trying NOT to hyperventilate!) so we tried it in another session once I trusted him a bit more. He did it with me, and promised nothing bad would happen to either of us. We deliberately hyperventilated together (one of the stranger experiences I've shared with a complete stranger) and watched what happened afterwards. Essentially, your body regulates itself. It does not need you to sit and watch your breath. It does not need you to count each one in and out. It does not need you to DO anything. It just does it on its own! Miraculous, hey?! If you hyperventilate and go out of whack, in a short space of time it will come back into whack - without your help or control or vigilant inspection. 

I cannot tell you what a huge, unbelievably liberating relief it was just to LET GO of the goddamn breathing thing and just let it do its thing. It was like taking off a 100kg backpack and leaving it at the door. It sounds obvious to non-panickers, but it certainly wasn't to me then. I don't think I've ever fully hyperventilated (in an out-of-control way) since then. I may have got strained, and struggled, and started to breathe quickly, and worried I was going to run out of air, but the less I tried to control it, the quicker it came back round to normal in the end.

That's it. Don't control your breathing. Just let your body do its thing.

Sorry for a tortuously long, and possibly slightly dull post, chaps, but the fundamentals are important too, right?! 

A successful, non-panicked breather will look relaxed and beatific, like so.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Wrap me up, Scottie!

'Go on, tighter, TIGHTER woman! I want to feel PEEEACE!'

Stick with me, kids, because I've discovered another anxiety cure. It may not yet be approved for use on homo sapiens, but our time will surely come.

Behold, the mighty THUNDERSHIRT! A tight, restrictive, natty little vest for your firework-frazzled Fido, that soothes his separation anxiety, thunderstorm wobbles, and all manner of canine worries.  Apparently it also allays 'crating and travel anxiety' which would be perfect for my plane journeys. As soon as I saw it I was jealous.

Apparently autistic children chill out when you give them special high-pressure hugs, heavy blankets and weighted clothing, so there's obviously something in this pressure/tightness lark.

Do you think it will work if I just put on a four year-old child's wetsuit? Or a vintage girdle? Or a full-body bandage?

And I've just stumbled upon an inconvenient truth that rounds off my anxiety/tightness thesis. It's not global warming (sorry Al), but just as catastrophic. Kind of. My mother has just confessed to the fact that she *gasp* DIDN'T SWADDLE me as child. Being a patchouli-wafting weaver of soy-yoghurt, she thought it was terribly restrictive for child me, and that I should have been able to move my chubby arms freely.

BUT NOW I HAVE AN ANXIETY CONDITION! It all makes sense - the pieces of the jigsaw are falling into place! Child + no swaddling = late-twenties onset panic disorder . I'm obviously going to have to make up for lost time, starting from now. And I know which beautiful, Australia-based hippy is going to be footing the bill for my jumbo pack of size zero unitards...

My boyfriend is going to be SO pleased when I happily wave goodbye to him in my shrunken toddler's wetsuit...
Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Do I have anxiety because I'm bad at maths?

'And if I just put this here, like so, it is now 10,000 billion trillion to one. Which means it's pretty likely, right?'

I've got a theory.

I think it may well be possible that my entire anxiety disorder stems from a basic misunderstanding of statistics. I'm talking about the generalised anxiety here; the day-to-day neuroses, fears and worry-wartishness.  I wander around the world, clucking like a traumatised, paranoid hen, living in perpetual fear of terrible things happening to me, or the people I love, or the people they love (ad infinitum). But is it all because I can't get my head around the numbers?


My boyfriend tells me he's been feeling run-down a lot lately - I immediately start planning my tragic life post-boyfriend-dying-of-cancer. I have a splitting headache and two red dots on my hand - I wail that I'm too young to die and start mentally dividing my (non-existent) assets. I read an article about pavements exploding - I walk along the sunny streets imagining what death by explosion might be like. I see that someone drowned on the news - I get in the ocean but don't go in past my shins. My boyfriend travels abroad - I say goodbye and cry because he's going to die in a horrific, fiery plane crash.

Benign things take on a sinister alternate aspect according to random news stories I've absorbed along the way. A tube of hair dye is a terrible allergic reaction; a patch of sunburn is terminal skin cancer; a mung bean salad is a potentially fatal dose of food poisoning; a motorway car trip is ten car pile up; a tube ride is a terrorist explosion; a knife poking out of the dishwasher is a fatal impaling; a day stuck at the desk is a deep vein thrombosis in the leg. The world becomes one huge Final Destination obstacle course, with a trillion different ways and means of  jumping up and killing me/loved ones/anyone etc etc.

But is all of this simply a combination of a globalised, hysterical bad-news media, and my terrible grasp of statistics and chance? Why does my brain read the headline "Woman dies of no-symptom-cat-virus in Peru'' and then automatically assume that is something that is likely to happen to me? Because I never paid attention in Grade 9 maths?

A logical mind acknowledges that these tragedies are RARE, and that they're extracted from the entire global news pool - so the likelihood of a fatal badger biting/pole-dance neck breaking is probably 1 in 7 billion or something. But to my chaotic, artsy mind, all of these horrible incidences seep into my consciousness (as much as I try not to read about them), and add to the general sense of the world being a terrible, dangerous, hazardous sort of place.

My boyfriend is a scientist, and so is pretty hot on the old numbers. He's also, without a shadow of a doubt, the sanest, happiest, and most mentally healthy person I have ever met in my life. Is this no mere coincidence? Does he forge ahead, anxiety-free, fearing nothing - all because he has an accurate sense of likelihood and chance?

Do I need ditch the drugs and hypnosis, and simply pick up my  high-school maths textbooks instead? How about you guys - can any of you add up? Am I onto something here?

You thought playing outside was safe?! Ha! Even an innocent kite is a death-trap waiting to happen...

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