Monday, August 27, 2007

Anxiety: Notes from the Couch

Fulltime parents wake up and hit the ground running. Just like regular working adults. Ever become overwhelmed with all that has to be done the night before? Here are some tips to help you get that mandatory shuteye.

(cc) ftharslnToday is going to be a very busy day. I have children to drive all over kingdom come, homeschooling to finish for the day, and then a practice session with my oldest girl before we lay down some tracks for her demo CD. I spent a great bit of yesterday tweaking a new Blues Harp. That was fun. It finally bends and wails as it should, more or less. Now if only I knew how to play it.

No, I'm kidding. I'm not worried about that at all.

Worry and his big sister, Anxiety, used to be constant companions for me over 15 years ago. I know I'm not very popular for conquering various mental health issues with nothing more than pluck and cheek, but Anxiety was the first condition I banished from my day to day existence without medication. I simply determined I was tired of the hold Anxiety had on me. I was tired of the panic attacks. I was tired of the stress. I was tired of the racing heart, fear, and sense of impending doom. And I was tired of the side-effects the medications had on me. So very tired of them that I turned my charming irritability and crankiness onto the problem.

The problem was a matter of awareness. I closed the gap slowly and steadfastly between the moment of a panic attack and the moment I realized I was having one. Those who don't suffer from mental health may not be able to completely relate, but it is very possible to have an anxiety attack and not be aware that the emotions and feelings are not reality based. This is frankly true for all intense feelings that rage within our heads. The truly troubled never seem to find this awareness in their minds and drift into constant paranoia or worry. I thank my God that I was not so completely neurotic, but I was not a mild case by any means. Just ask my wife.

Closing the gap took great effort. I was not always successful, but I persevered. Then when the gap was nearly instantaneous I had to learn how to dampen the panic and not let it happen while it was occurring. Lastly, I had to learn how to recognize the panic symptoms before they happened. The process took a few years but I was successful.

Still, there were little remnants left in me that I hadn't rooted out. Mostly my nightly panic. Not a full blown "Omihecki'mgonnadie" experience, but enough of a jolt to keep me awake and working or worrying when I should have been resting. Ultimately, I conquered that as well, but still need tune ups from time to time. In fact, today I came across some notes from my Cognitive Behavior Therapist that were very helpful in eliminating this nightly panic and I thought I should share them. They would have come in handy last night. More on that later.

The first note is a motto of sorts - a method of thinking:

Mind Over Mood

Problems come in three varieties:

  1. Some I can fix
  2. Some I endure
  3. Some I learn from

Breaking problems down into these three categories helps the panicking mind affect some much needed order. This is "Mind Over Mood" in action. However, stating what we should do with problems that panic us is one thing. Actually preventing ourselves from panic is another thing. Since my panic was caused by a worry about unfinished projects (years of AD/HD forgetfulness had given me quite a complex), my therapist had very simple advice in that regard. He said "Jot down your problems on paper to let them go for the night. Look at the list in the morning to see if the problems still need fixing. Move from nightly to monthly."

What this means is that if I think of something that needs to be done, I jot it down instead of leaping out of the bed to rush and finish it before I forget about it again. I had already been using my PDA for years to create lists of projects awaiting my attention, but the lists had a depressing affect on me. All that unfinished work. Surely I should procrastinate sleep for another hour to get one of them done? Changing that habit was difficult, but it was well worth the effort.

That brings me to last night. I was up worrying and panicking again instead of sleeping. Why? I couldn't find my PDA. I had to have that PDA or I couldn't go to sleep! Foolish boy. Only after finding those old notes did it occur to me that I should have just jotted down my thoughts on a piece of paper. I was so focused on finding the PDA I was tunnel visioned. In my defense I needed my PDA to set my morning alarms, but perhaps I should invest for the future in an alarm clock that doesn't wander off and have an old school notepad by the bedside for jotting last minute thoughts.

Panic can take us by surprise at times, but by using these methods we can beat it down and take back our lives. That is, if we don't panic whenever we lose our notepads and PDAs.

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