Here we go again…

I’m so bored of this happening.

I’ve been having sponetaneous, out-of-the-blue, no-identifiable-psychological-trigger-style panic attacks for the last week or so. None of them had gotten out of hand before yesterday, it was just a case of feeling the initial shock of adrenaline, having trouble breathing, telling myself that I’m not about to die, I’m just a bit stressed out at the moment, and distracting myself until they pass. It happened once, twice, three days in a row, four times in one day, before I went to sleep last night and when I woke up this morning, along with crying for no apparent reason. Last night’s panic was accompanied by a familiar sudden terror of death too. All symptoms I have gotten to know very well as being signs of trouble.

I used to get panic attacks a lot. Several times a week at school. I always knew on the day if I was going to have the crap kicked out of me by my nervous system. I would try and hold off until lunch (when I could hide in the library) or at least until a class I knew I was doing well in, so I wouldn’t miss too much work. I would invariably end up bolting to the toilets and collapsing in a hyperventilating heap on the floor, which was very hygienic of me, I must say. A sort of protocol developed after a few months: I would go white and run from the room, one of my friends would follow me out and retrieve the teacher who dealt with my weirdness from whatever class she was in, they would both make an educated guess to which bathroom I was currently trying not to pass out in and calm me down. When my usual teacher wasn’t around things always seemed to go wrong. Once my cookery teacher gave me a paper bag to breathe into – standard practise in dealing with hyperventilation. Problem was, it was a flour bag, with flour still in it. Clever lady. Another just stared at me and insisted that he couldn’t help if I didn’t tell him what was wrong, which was no help at all when I couldn’t talk. When I was put on antidepressants for the first time at sixteen the panic attacks stopped – or at least the outward signs of them did. Instead, when I became overwhelmed I would become completely unable to function, and sit in a corner in a catatonic state for hours on end. Not quite the desired effect of SSRIs.

My panic attacks largely stopped in my early 20s, probably because my anxiety was dealt with by my eating disorder. They never really returned in recovery either. It was the first time in over a decade that I had been fully healthy and not using self destructive coping mechanisms which might have a negative effect on my nervous system (I’d include self harming in there as well as restricting and bingeing), and I was very glad that my hard work seemed to be paying off and keeping me mentally as well as physically healthy. Since I reached weight restoration there have been (…counting…) three periods of a few weeks when I have had problems with panic attacks. In March 2010 I was doing my first counselling qualification, rape crisis training and witnessed a nasty car crash, and suddenly became incapacitated by anxiety. In September 2010 I had been in Newcastle for two months and was still learning to deal with living away from home, my housemates were turning out to be proper bitches, my eating had gone haywire after I’d suffered from five stomach bugs in as many weeks, I was very worried about Jonathan’s health for reasons I can’t really go into, I had an allergic reaction to the electrode glue used on a heart monitor I had to wear for a week, and again I started having multiple panic attacks every day and crying all the time. In December I got all bent out of shape by my remaining PTSD symptoms after moving into my own house and back came the panic attacks, along with a brief relapse into self harming. I was quite depressed throughout January too, but I’ve been so much calmer and more stable from February onwards.

There’s an obvious pattern. I can only deal with so much stress – whether that stress is from overstretching myself, from trauma, or from perfectly normal stressful situations that everyone has to deal with at some point in their lives – before my nervous system gets maxed out and starts firing at will (or at Katie, even). This time it’s obviously linked to starting work. It’s physically and mentally tiring, and I have a number of other things on my mind too – my talk at the ED charity’s AGM in a fortnight and my choir’s first ever performance at Northern Pride the day after (I’ve not sung in public for ten years!) to name a couple.

The thing is, there’s not really anything in my life which I can or want to step back from. The choir is great fun. I love volunteering. I have no intention of going back to being unemployed, or looking for a job with fewer hours/responsibilities. I accepted this job and I want to do my absolute best at it, not run away in anticipation of failure (the “You can’t fire me, I quit!” approach, which I have used many times in the past…). But I can’t go around having panic attacks and/or bursting into tears every five minutes. It’s just not on.

This is going to turn into one of the trial by fire situations, in which it is uncertain whether Katie or Katie’s mental health problems will triumph until the last minute. I wish I could just NOT be so fucking sensitive and easily overwhelmed. Can I have a brain transplant for my next birthday, please?

I know it’s common for people with a history of anxiety/depression to have to be very aware of their limits, physically and emotionally, and to respect them if they don’t want to relapse. But at the same time I know from experience that I never move forward if I just sit around waiting for things to magically get easier. I need to challenge myself even if there is a risk that it could backfire. That applied to my recoveries from anorexia and agoraphobia – I had to be brave and cope with the almost intolerable anxiety, not try to baby myself and take it easy, because that was the only way I was going to make any real progress. Respecting my limits when it came to anorexia would have gone like this: I can’t eat X calories today because I’m too scared and I’ll go crazy, so I’ll just not eat today, I’m sure everything will work out in the end. The problem was that I had no concept of what I was capable of, because the illness was making me think I couldn’t cope with any deviation from my normal food routines. It rendered me incapable of understanding why I would even WANT to change. Trying to push my boundaries where depression and anxiety are concerned is a little different because I certainly do want to be able to function like any other 26 year old, but in other ways it’s a very similar process. I have to try things before I know if I can/can’t do them, and I have to give them a REAL chance rather than chickening out and running away when things get a bit scary, à la Brave Brave Sir Robin.

So my question is, have any of you had trouble adapting to returning to work, and how long did it last before things calmed down? I know I had a lot of trouble coping with living on my own at first, but that sorted itself out. Then again, panic attacks, crying jags and suicidal ideation are much less trouble at home than they would be if they happened at work. I don’t really know what to do 😦 I don’t think I’m making too big a fuss because I know myself and I know how quickly this sort of situation can escalate.

I have the weekend off anyway, and I phoned the mental health team who put me on a waiting list for therapy seven months ago to tell them that my situation has changed too, but the earliest they could see me is in three weeks. Sigh.

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3 responses to “Here we go again…

  1. Hi, I’ve posted before on anxiety and I used to have panic attacks when I was young. I had post-traumatic stress for 3 years until this year and my anxiety was bad because of it. It has greatly improved over 6 months since reading Dr. Claire Weeke’s books ‘Self-help for your nerves’ and ‘Essential help for your nerves’ – especially the second half of that last book. Your nervous system has been sensitized and it takes time for it re-learn to not react as it does.

    That first fear hitting you leads to you adding the second fear of ‘Oh my god, here it goes again’, which keeps that fear going. It takes practice NOT to add that second fear, and to just accept the physical symptoms as they are, just physical symptoms, and just to let them run down, but it does work once you get the hang of it. Because you are in a stressful position of a new job, as well as other stuff you may be dealing with, you are sensitized (the parasympathetic nervous system is just reacting as it has been ‘trained’ to), and more likely to get panic attacks. It’s not surprising you are getting them. It will take time to learn to deal with them in a different way, so that you learn to react differently and ‘float through’ and just accept the physical symptoms as just that and not add to them by worrying about how you are feeling and so escalating the situation. It is not easy, especially at first, but it does work for me.

    • If you had written that comment to me ten years ago it would all have been true. Since then I’ve been through several years of therapy and learnt dozens of CBT/DBT techniques to cope with my anxiety. I am very good at dealing with my panic attacks. Sometimes they are too intense for me to diffuse instantly, but I don’t add to them with anxious thinking – I don’t get that second fear any more. It’s not quite that simple – I have neurological problems (a tic disorder for a start) which makes my anxiety a bit harder to deal with.

      Thanks for taking the time to reply 🙂 I do appreciate it and I wish you were right…

  2. Pingback: Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes | Giant Fossilized Armadillo

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