In therapy, we’ve started to focus on anxiety. I’m much more concerned about that right now than I am about depression; depression is something I’ve learned to deal with and to a certain degree, can’t be “cured,” but anxiety is relatively new, and I believe that can be trained out of me.
I don’t remember my life without depression, but I remember it without anxiety, and I want that life back.
We talked about activities that I can practice, the ones that are on the lower end of my anxiety. Leaving the apartment to do laundry, going to the store alone, talking to clerks, and driving are all things I can practice pretty easily, and have made a lot of progress in. I went to my psychiatrist yesterday, and when I saw her last month, I wasn’t even able to go downstairs to the laundry room because of the anxiety. Since then, I’ve done laundry four times, gone to the store twice, and driven myself to every counseling appointment. The changes in medication has definitely played a part in that; when I sleep better and stay asleep for longer periods of time, the rest of the day automatically goes better and I’m able to concentrate my energy on achieving my goals.
There are certain activities that I can’t really “practice,” and those are on the highest end of my anxiety spectrum. Job interviews, saying something potentially embarrassing, and going back to school are all petrifying. When I think about school, it’s not school itself that I’m anxious about. I’m afraid of repeating what has happened before and what can only be described as a crash and burn. I’d start out the semester ok and then over time, get more and more anxious about things, miss more classes, and panic about everything. As I went through college, the periods of time where I could push past my fears got shorter and shorter until I collapsed on Chris’ floor just before midterms of my junior year and stopped going to school. I’m afraid that will happen again.
I’m afraid that when I walk through the school buildings, sit in class, and just navigate life as a Macalester student, the memory of my anxiety will be too vivid to ignore. Simply by being in a situation where in the past I’ve felt a lot of anxiety will be enough to send me spiraling. My brain will go into protection mode and a shot of adrenaline will disrupt the normality of finishing 20 credits.
What has basically happened to my brain is that my adrenaline is overly sensitive. While most people only experience that level of intensity when there’s an actual crisis (running from danger, gaining super strength when a car falls on a child, etc), I will begin feeling a sense of danger when I’m just doing everyday things, like asking for help in a store or meeting with an academic adviser. The physical symptoms of adrenaline kick in and I interpret that as meaning something is actually wrong, and my thinking follows. Why can’t I stop shaking? Why is my mouth so dry? If I talk, it sounds like I’m going to cry, and that will make me seem weak and weird. I can’t be around people right now, they’re making it worse. Now I can’t breathe. The fears going through my mind only make the adrenaline rush worse and that can cause anxiety attacks. The physical and mental panic build on each other until I can’t tell the difference between them.
Since my anxiety is so physically based (shaking, difficulty breathing, dizziness, feeling out of control of my body), the solution is also physical. What I basically have to do is calm my physical state before my mind can interpret the situation as one involving actual danger. In my head, I know that sitting in a class is not scary, but when my body is responding to the situation with shakiness and cold sweats, it’s hard to convince my mind that everything is peaches ‘n cream. When an adrenaline rush happens at an inappropriate time, I need to make some physical adjustments to ease the adrenaline back to a normal level. Deep breathing is key. When breathing gets out of control, everything just falls to pieces. Focusing on maintaining deep, even breaths calms down panicky feelings and concentrates the mind on something other than the non-existing peril. My therapist also suggested carrying water wherever I go, since getting a very dry mouth and not being able to swallow are very common symptoms for me. Drinking water helps so many things. The dizziness might even be caused by partial dehydration or low blood sugar, which I also tend to have, so having water and keeping a good blood sugar level are possible solutions. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.
I may not be able to go practice going to school by actually going to school, but thinking about it is all it takes for a lot of my anxiety to kick in. I can use that to practice breathing and other techniques to calm myself down. Simulating anxiety-causing situations and then learning to control the feelings that arise is definitely a new goal on my list.