Good evening, friends. I hope the week has been treating you well. I know with school starting up, a lot of people are feeling anxiety and stress from having to face a new semester, whether you’re a fresh new student, a returning student (like me), a continuing student, or just embarking on the next chapter of your educational pursuits. Remember to take some deep breaths and know that you can conquer this and kick-ass!
I apologise that it has been about two weeks since my last Self-Care Sunday post. With school starting for me as well, a sick kitty, and a plethora of other life’s spontaneous scares, I just haven’t had a lot of self-care things to discuss. While I initially mentioned in my introduction that these posts may serve as spaces for me to bitch about life, I don’t like to do so when I have nothing positive to contribute at all. However, since these events have caused me a significant amount of anxiety, I felt it would be an excellent time to sit down and really evaluate the root causes of my personal anxiety. Is it solely tied to event triggers, or is there much more to it that I haven’t bothered to consider?
These are questions that I want to explore a bit in today’s post. This will be a two-parter and I will explain why as I delve more into the details. Aside from trying to find answers to these questions for myself, I thought it would be a good topic for Self-Care Sundays as I know I’m probably not alone in my thoughts and feelings pertaining to this subject.
** Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I am simply one person who is reaching out and sharing their experiences and techniques that has helped them be able to move forward in life. Do not take anything that I say as medical advice as I am not a medical professional, and information provided here on BiblioNyan should not be construed as such. Thank you. **
How many times have you had an anxiety or panic attack, felt it was due to Reason A or Reason B, and have been left feeling frustrated and helpless? I know that it’s kicked my ass continuously for years. Anxiety can be super inhibiting, more so if it’s a daily struggle, and then it’s further exasperated by full-blown attacks. This year has been an all-time high for me regarding attacks that have immobilised me for large periods of time. It began when I almost died from pneumonia in March, then became a constant unwanted companion when I made the decision to return to school (around May-June) with an influx of random attacks at the mere thought of setting foot on campus, and finally just always in my face ever since my cat had major abdominal surgery in early to mid-August.
When we took Azizi to the veterinarian ER at 11:30 at night, the fear of losing him was excruciatingly profound. I felt it in my gut during the car ride all the way to the only ER that was open 24-hours, which was about forty minutes away from my house, and then it intensified when the doctors came to tell us that he would need some serious surgery. After learning about the costs associated with the procedure, including medicine and after-care, I was wholeheartedly destroyed. When we left him at the hospital around 1:30 am, I sat in my car and broke. First I had a full-blown panic attack thinking that if we didn’t find a way to pay for everything, my cat—my son—was going to die. My financial inadequacies were going to get him killed. After half-an-hour of that, I just sobbed. I held on to Sir Betrothed and sobbed my heart and soul out until my entire face was aching and sore; my stomach and chest too. With my heart condition, Sir Betrothed feared that I was on the verge of another heart attack, and to be blunt, I truly was.
That event became the biggest fucking wake-up call for me in my life.
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it on my blog specifically or not, but due to a stress-induced miscarriage three years ago, there’s a humongous possibility that I can’t have children. The likelihood of it happening is so unbelievably low. Even if I were to get pregnant, due to my severe health illnesses, either I or the baby could survive, not both of us; saving us both would be just as unlikely as my chances at having one. This is why I love my cats the way that I do, to the extent and intensity that I do because they are the only kids I will ever have in my lifetime.
When I think about being so utterly incapacitated by anxiety, fear, and panic to the point where I can’t take care of my kids and my family, a part of me wants to fight it and kick its ass out of my body, but at the same time it creates a whole new realm of fear… and anxiety and panic. It is the worst kind of vicious circle, ever.
Leaving Azizi in the hospital overnight was one of the most painful decisions I ever made. But I needed him to live. When we said good-bye to him before leaving, he was so fucking frightened and unhappy. We visited him the next day after his surgery and he was so lonely. When he recognised it was us, the shift in his demeanour from fear to excitement at being released (which he wasn’t yet) was astonishing. But we had to let him recuperate. In the meantime, we were fortunate enough to have family that helped us pay for everything so that we could get him healthy and happy again. If not for them, we probably would have to had put Azizi to sleep, a notion that still gives me nightmares.
During the time that he was gone, my anxiety never left. I felt like my mind and body were in a constant state of attack-mode. I could barely breathe. I felt dizzy and nauseous and super shaky. Every little noise or comment would trigger heightened symptoms. When we finally brought him home, while his post-op care kept my mind occupied, the attacks and paranoia were never far. While he slept, I was a full-on hot mess.
After his check-up when we got the green light that everything was fine and he was normal again, I sat down and evaluated myself during this time. I hated that I was so weak and that I could barely care for him. Being an emotionally and mentally incapable potato did not rest well with me. Changes had to be made so that I could get control of my life again. Being imprisoned to my mental illness was not an option for me any longer because it was interfering with my ability to be there for the people I loved. I knew that in order to do that, I would have to dive deep into the darkest corners of myself to find answers for questions that I either didn’t know existed or was in denial about and didn’t want to find, which my brain was screaming at me to avoid. I mean, the idea of discovering the causes of anxiety is almost as stressful as having it—almost.
In an effort to better comprehend my own personal anxiety, I did some online research to better gauge the causes and symptoms of anxiety, some of the mental health associations of it, and what’s being done presently to help people who have it. While I read everything, I did so with a grain of salt because it is different for every individual. Nonetheless, it allowed me to focus on my symptoms and my other mental health illnesses so that I knew what steps I could take next to figure shit out. After a lot of contemplation and a brief chat with my health and wellness coach as well as my psychiatrist, I decided on a plan.
Step one of my master plan (I feel like a Star Trek villain) was to ask questions. I wrote down all of the questions that I could come up with in regard to my anxiety and what specifically I wanted to accomplish in my understanding of it. Here are the ones that popped up strongly in my mind the most:
- What causes individual anxiety attacks?
- Is there a pattern to my attacks?
- Are they specifically event or stress related?
- Are they caused by my PTSD triggers?
- How long do my attacks last?
- When do the attacks happen the most?
- What happens when I get attacks?
- Do I have panic attacks every time I have anxiety attacks?
- How can I cope with my anxiety attacks so I’m not debilitated by them?
I’m going to be honest, y’all, thinking about these questions actually gave me more fucking anxiety. Surprise! (Sarcasm intended).
After reading and re-reading my list here, I came to recognise that the best way to even begin fathoming the potential answers were to visualise any possible patterns, which luckily enough is one of the questions. This made tons of sense to my brain. There is power in patterns. As humans, a lot of us like the stability and comfort of routines and habits, such as waking up at so-and-so, eating this food or that food for breakfast, doing these step-by-step activities to prep for bed, etc. There is no reason to believe that this wouldn’t also apply to our mental health, whether it’s conscious or not. So, I did what any lover of writing would do: I was going to chronicle my attacks in a journal.
I have a small journal that I received as welcome present from my health and wellness coach when I began my sessions with her. I didn’t know what to do with it initially. I have so many flipping journals in my room. Yet, when I made this decision to write everything about my anxiety down, I felt using the journal she gave me is poetic since this activity and experiment was being done in an effort to better my health and wellness anyway. So, found my lucky journal.
I honestly didn’t know what to put in the damn thing at first. So I took it one day at a time. My first entry includes the time (as specific as possible), the date, and a brief description of what caused my attack. You will notice that the first entry is actually dated for the evening that I had my attack after dropping Azizi off. Since that event was what encouraged me to start this wholly uncomfortable adventure, it felt right to begin there. You may also notice that some of the entries have red dots next to them. The ones with dots are the days that my anxiety turned into panic attacks and were significantly more severe.
Now, I have only been chronicling the misadventures of anxiety for a few weeks, so I won’t be able to discuss my results in great detail yet. When I mentioned earlier that this gig was going to be a two-parter, this is essentially what I was referring to. I want to give myself a full month to month-and-a-half before I begin to really analyse the inner-workings of my mental health. Even so, the thing is already starting to give me ideas to a few of the questions I have up above.
For example, I have noticed that approximately 87% of the time (7 out of 8 entries), my anxiety attacks occur in the evening, either late night or super early morning. I have also noticed that they tend to be related to strong triggers of stress of whatever current event is partying it up in my life, at my expense of course. These are two patterns that have bloomed out of the roots, and they are already helping me understand myself more intimately.
Firstly, night-time makes a lot of sense for me as my brain is the most active at night, it also tends to be when I have the most amounts of energy. Naturally, that causes my brain to ruminate on the stresses going on with renewed vigour. Secondly, stress-related triggers are actually a sign of hope because if I can learn to manage or cope with my stress as they come up in a healthier fashion, then (theoretically) the attacks should decrease significantly! Seeee progress! WOOOOT!
Some of the changes that I will be making to my entries moving forward is that I’m going to try and get far more detailed with them by describing physical symptoms, thoughts and feelings, and whatever else I feel is pertinent at the time. Maybe more information about the situation/scenario in which they arise. The more information I have written down, the better I can gauge the situations and attacks, as well as what needs to be done to treat them.
In approximately one month’s time—on October 7th—I will be doing a check-in with y’all about this adventure to let you know how it worked out. Does it work for extended periods of time? Is it doable for long-term practise? Will the patterns increase? Will more questions be answered? What the bleeding hell will my brain’s theatrics revel to me next? Stay tuned for all the down and gritty dirt! As always, I will be totally open and honest. If it doesn’t work, or makes me feel worse, I will tell you. Hell, I’ve screen-shot my journal entries and left my soul bare for all! Which reminds me, I apologise for my sloppy scrap-writing. I write terribly with pencils, I have no idea why.
In the meantime, I challenge you! Try writing a journal of your own and see what you can discover. If you are like me and wanting to fight your anxiety, and you are ready to take that next step, then bust out with some paper, pens/pencils, or a document/excel sheet on your computer/phone/tablet and try your best to track the anxiety and panic attacks that come up. See what you find. I will say this: if you discover that doing this activity is causing you an increase anxiety and stress, then stop immediately. There is no need to increase your discomfort. I will also add this: if you want to tackle your anxiety, but just aren’t quite ready to do it, then that is 100% okay! Please, take your time and don’t feel rushed. Your mental health is not on a timer and your comfort and readiness is priority above all else.
With that, I shall bring today’s Self-Care Sunday post to a close. What do you think? Do you think this is a good/bad idea? Do you have a better way of expanding on it? Have you tried this before? Please, chat with me in the comments and I wish you all a good and positive week ahead!