my demon’s name is Anxiety

Okay, first the good news:  My brain no longer permanently resides in hell.  Sometimes my brain decides to wander there.  But I am grateful that’s not a permanent state.

My new mental health medication has — for the most part — put my severe Depression in the rearview mirror; and my Anxiety levels are considerably down in frequency and intensity than they were just a little over a month ago.  Also, the new medication has taken hold and greatly increased my energy levels — even when tempered by the still twice-a-day, use-only-as-needed (but my doc says that could still be twice-a-day) chill pill.

This means I can spend full days at work.  I can take my pup for walks.  And, I am back to exercising again (more on that in a future post).

However — and this is a big “HOWEVER” — I still have a demon.  Its name is Anxiety.

Anxiety has probably always been a presence in my life.  From the likely OCD teen to in-my-thirties years when I had yet-to-be-diagnosed with these illnesses that like to hang together — Anxiety and Depression — to the varying levels of intensity and frequency depending on how well my meds-of-the-time were working alongside whatever external stimuli made things easier or more difficult.

To now.  Now, it’s looking like I have a different relationship with Anxiety.  That is, It is always ready to pounce.  A demon with a name, a capital letter “A” to signify It is a being unto itself.

I am not happy about this.  In fact, I quite hate it.  But Anxiety and I are in a relationship.  Well, I should say, Anxiety has formed a relationship with me.  It is my bully.

Again, Anxiety has been a frequent demon in my life.  But the relationship now is different.  During different times and with different meds, there were significant periods of time when it would leave me alone.  I still hope this can be the case.  And there is a small chance that will happen as time progresses, my new medication brings my brain to a even better / stronger place, and / or my doc and I decide to do a little augmentation with another med to ease Anxiety’s hold.  But, the likely augmentation med often introduces side effects I am not willing to toy with … primarily weight gain.

And so, I’ve got to learn about my bully, my demon.  And deal with it.

I’ve noted before, I think Anxiety and Depression can be mental, physical, intellectual, and spiritual illnesses, depending on the brain they attack.

For me, Anxiety easily becomes an intense physical and mental illness that bleeds into the intellectual and spiritual realms when on turbo charge.

If external stimuli rear Anxiety’s head, the mental or emotional sensations may team immediately with the physical ones.  I panic, I lash-out at the same time as my body does something weird.  Like a tightness begins in my sternum and then spreads throughout my chest making breathing difficult.  Or, it feels like my throat is being clenched by a clamp making breathing and talking very difficult.  Or, in the worst cases my brain turns into an impenetrable brick or mass of mush covered over by a lead blanket.  In either of those brain sensations, my day is ruined, and it’s best for me to just got to bed.

But now, if there is no external stimuli, the physical aspects of Anxiety are quite present if I don’t take preventative measures.  The demon uses the tightened sternum, the constricted breathing, the inability to talk as Its ascent out of Hell to drag me back in.

Last week, I met with my therapist.  I will again this week.  She’s started teaching me brain-tricks … distractions … to help me when I feel Anxiety approaching quickly.  But there are also methods of thinking that aren’t so much tricks as they are realizing the bad thoughts and associated panic moods as what they are … irrational exclamation points on something blown way out of proportion.  In a later post I will write about these as well as a couple of the brain tricks.

But last week I had a very specific question for my therapist:  “I get trying to think of the negative thoughts differently.  But what do you do when those thoughts are bound up with a physical feeling — the tightened chest, the clenched throat, the brick brain?  How do you deal with the emotion while the physical aspect won’t let go?”

She said something helpful, which will take me sometime to master.  She demonstrated the pose I’ve pictured myself in above.

“Anxiety is a bully.  A tall bully.  It grabs your hat and taunts you as you try to grab your hat back.  You won’t win.  Your bully is taller than you.  Put differently, it’s physics.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

That’s where the hands pressing together came in.  “This is a losing battle.  You try to fight your bully, It will match wits and strength.  Best you can do is acknowledge it.  You may not be able to ignore it.  But just like a bully, It gets tired of taunting someone who won’t engage.”

“Just let it try It’s awful stuff.  Breathe through it.  Experience it.  Let it pass.”

This was both empowering news and angering news at the same time.  I wanted a “here’s how to make it all better” answer.  That was not forthcoming.

And so, for the past week, trying to use this advice, I’ve thought of Anxiety as a being unto itself.  I’ve actually spent time each morning thinking about the day.  “What / when will Anxiety ascend from Hell and try to drag me in?  What should I do about that?  How can I experience it … so it doesn’t last longer because I decide to go to battle with it … while not being an embarrassment to myself and the friends, family, or colleagues who are around me?”

I don’t have those answers yet.

But this imagining Anxiety as a separate being … a demon … a bully … has reduced the embarrassing aspects of the battle.  I haven’t panicked outwardly.  I haven’t lashed out at those around me.  I’ve breathed through the terrible physical sensations.

That said, Anxiety has made for a Michael who is exhausted at the end of the day.  Every potentially stressful interaction requires thought / preparation / and often steely-silence as I let Anxiety try, but then pass.

I don’t like this.  But it is better than the alternative.

And, I am just learning about this approach to life now.  Perhaps it will become easier.  Perhaps my exercise routine will ease the physical battles … in fact, I know that is the case (but that is for a future post).

For now, I am just better.  But sill on a bumpy path.