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Archive for April, 2010

5 Things.

I’ve been having massive anxiety issues lately. I’ve been unable to sleep without panicking that my apartment will collapse on me. I’ve been unable to ride the skytrain without thinking it will suddenly stop and I will be stuck there indefinitely with no way out because I’m either underground or high above it. I’ve had trouble riding crowded busses because I’m worried about traffic and how I might never make it to the next stop, especially if the traffic spans over a bridge.

I have agoraphobia. And it is recent. Like within the last month recent. And even talking about it now is making me a little anxious. I get worried that I’m not getting enough air. My muscles tense up, I feel like I should run away, and my heart feels like it’s being squeezed by a giant hand. If I get really scared I start shaking, and I probably have the expression of some caged animal, and I hyperventilate which probably doesn’t help. I feel like I’m going to go aboslutely crazy and I’ll explode and will have to be carried away to a crazy house.

Some nights I would walk circles around my apartment, get fully dressed at 2am and wake A up to tell him I need to go to the lobby. I would listen to the street and scare myself with the thought that a car might run into our building and it would topple over. I would listen for noise on the floor and wonder if I were to get into the elevator to go down, what if I got stuck? What if I took the stairwell but something happened and no one would find me until the next morning? What if what if what if.

I got on a crowded bus once on the way back from shopping in West Vancouver and it was absolutely packed with people going home and there was traffic on the Lions Gate. And every time the bus jerked forward and stopped again my heart would go crazy. I couldn’t breath properly, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be stuck on the bus for, I felt like I was going to pee my pants. I had to be let off at some random emergency bus stop and wait an hour for the traffic over the bridge to start flowing properly before I felt well enough to get back on a bus to go home.

100 meters away from the dock, I demanded to be taken back to shore in the OC6 because I couldn’t imagine going out into the open water. One time I was out there and it was wavy and I comtemplated jumping out of the boat and swimming to shore, I was so desparate to get to safety. My world was being thrown upside down and I felt like I was drowning in a life that I had always lived. I was upset and sad and fustrated with myself.

Finally I did one of the hardest things ever. I admitted I had a big problem. Not just to me, but to my family. To everyone I knew, not just A and John. But to as many people as I could tell. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I felt like I needed as much support as I possibly could get. And I went to see a psychiatrist. I needed someone to help me with this problem, because I didn’t understand what was happening to me. And while I haven’t found an answer yet, I have found ways to help me cope with my anxiety. I slept well for the first time in almost a month. I felt comfortable in my home. And while I still have trouble riding the train, I continue to force myself onto it even if it means I have to wait for the next one. I’m by no means the same person I used to be – I’m still constantly nervous, and constantly analysing the environment around me looking for key safety triggers – but I’m slowly working my way back to a better person than I was a month ago.

So how do I cope? I focus on my 5 senses. It’s a great technique that my psychiatrist told me about, and it really does work if you focus hard.

Find 5 things you see. Don’t make it something that will make you feel even more stressed out (ie. don’t look at the skytrain doors closing all the time, or how many people are on the train). Focus on smaller things, such as “the girl is wearing a nice pair of shoes. They’re purple with a mid-heel and they have a little bow detail in the front.” or “the man infront of me has a strange hair cut, and he styled it funny so it looks like his hair is all blown to the left” (this one was my thought this morning). Talk to yourself about them and describe them in detail.
Find 4 things you can touch. This is to be done within reason, of course. I tend to focus on my jacket and I tell myself “my jacket is made of wool so it’s a little rough but it’s got a soft smooth lining inside and it’s very flexible”. Other acceptable examples may include the chair you’re sitting on, any bags you’re holding, the wall beside you, pieces of jewelry, etc.
Find 3 things you can hear. This one is sometimes difficult, especially when you’re sitting close to some really mundane conversation as I was on the bus the other day. It makes it a lot harder to focus if the conversation is really all you hear (and when you’re nervous, all your senses are on alert so the conversation seemed a lot louder in my head than it really was). But if you can, focus on a few other things like the sound of the train moving, the rustling of newpapers, the opening and closing of zippers or velcro.
Find 2 things you can smell. I try to do this one first because I find it hard to find different smells when I’m in an enclosed space. My psychiatrist also recommended I carry something like a satchel of lavender or something just to use it as a distraction. But when I do notice a smell, I focus on it for as long as I can smell it. Unless it smells bad. :\
Find 1 thing you can taste. Nowadays I try to carry a bottle of water or a mint or something. Focus on the cold water going down your throat and into your stomach. Focus on the mint as it cools in your mouth and swish it around so you can feel it against your cheek or your gums.

I know this all sounds crazy to someone who doesn’t have this anxiety, but it really does help for those who do. I’ve also taken to playing a muscle relaxation tape to help me sleep, and if I wake up randomly at night all nervous, I just hit the play button again and it’ll put me back out. Also, my headphones act as ear plugs so it muffles out a lot of the random noise.

Still, it’s a little sad when I can’t watch interesting movies anymore because the soundtracks might have super dramatic music in it and it will make me feel scared. And when I have trouble riding the train and need to hop off. It’s difficult for me, and it’s also difficult for those who have to put up with me (namely A), but I’m excited for the day when I can ride a train all the way to Richmond and back and not be scared. And when I can go out in the ocean and enjoy myself. And when (hopefully really soon) I can get on a plane and not freak out.

Hope you all are doing well!

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