Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mailbag: An Anxious Cry For Help

Shades in Abstract Triptych

Despite what others may think of me in my local community and family, I am not the mess I used to be. I have come a long way. I have still a long way to go, but I am happier and better and more productive today—more so now than in any time in my life. I take no medications, and in truth shun them. They made my life worse. I live in fear of side-effects and worry about my readers who write about the cocktails they take to deal with all the side-effects yet they still are no better off for them. Mental illness is a difficult malady to overcome, yet there is hope if we can find focus and motivation to tackle it.

The other day I received this email and felt my reply to it might help other people who suffer from Panic Anxiety Disorder. I give this advice hoping that somebody can climb out of the hole they are in the way as I was able to do. As usual, I recommend seeing a Cognitive Behavior Therapist, but, as is the case with the author of this letter, not everyone can afford the services:

I loved your article Some Days are Easier than Others.......I rarely have an easy day from my depression and panic and anxiety and fear!!!! I seem to have a never ending list of things wrong with me. i am alone as husband has left me. I was ok before he left now having to cope with his leaving and all this appeared......ok i was always nervous but never to this extreme. I dont know what to do with myself. Thinking of some type of therapy But i cannot really afford it as i dont work...cannot work because of all these things i have got. I cry all the time and feel i am going to make myself ill. I try to read but cannot really. i am in such a mess.....such a mess. Help me on with your words. I wish i had a family and did not have to live through this alone. Help me please. what do i start to cure first? My panic? My anxiety? My fear? My depression? I dont know what to do and where to turn and feel that i am just wasting my life away.

-Donna Carr (name changed for protection)

Donna, a lot of my readers struggle with issues such as yours. They cannot turn to psychiatrists for help. Some have trust issues, others are cynical & doubtful of the process, and others, such as yourself, cannot afford their services.

Without access to psychiatry or the magic pills doctors prescribe, one can feel very alone when dealing with these pressing issues in today's hyper-medicated society. However, your instincts are absolutely correct.

Start with one issue at a time.

I feel your panic and so I recommend you start with that. It's what I did. Over 17 years ago I suffered from a serious panic anxiety disorder. It ruled my world. I also suffered from Depression, ADHD, Insomnia, etc. But, as you have realized, one must start somewhere.

I'm sorry to hear you have difficulty reading books. The public library is an excellent source of reading materials on this subject. You should make up your mind to force yourself to research this problem. Motivation is a strong medicine towards helping us overcome adversity.

The first thing I needed to do years ago was identify the triggers for my panic. For me, it was meeting the end of the day and facing my unproductivity—usually around 11pm like clockwork. As the new day encroached I would realize my day had been wasted (thanks to either Depression or AD/HD) so I would start hurrying around working on what needed to be done. The panic jump started me with adrenaline and it would keep me going for hours. In fact, this is what ingrained my insomniac sleep schedule even all these years later. I don't panic now, but then I did. I would also panic when facing things that upset me. Hyperventilation, racing thoughts, fear in the eyes. So pitiful. I can still feel that scared little mammal deep inside me. I knew I couldn't go on living that way. Meds didn't help. Therapy didn't help. (I mean, honestly, how is blaming my Mother going to make me panic less? And yet that was what was recommended to me. Poppycock.)

What I did was the following:

  1. I learned to create a todo list at night. Part of the panic was the worry that I would forget to get something important done as I had already done throughout the day.
  2. I would then forcibly command myself to relax after writing the list. It was hard at first. Very hard. But the items were written down now. I would not forget them.
  3. I made myself realize that the panic actually hurt my efforts, not helped. I had a preponderance of evidence to show that fact was sadly true. The fear would rob me of the time I needed to actually work. I'd run in circles worrying instead of being productive.
  4. I told myself that the panic was a trick of the mind. It wasn't real.

After many weeks I began to succeed. After several months, I succeeded beyond my wild imaginings.

Obviously, the panic is very real. There is a physiological reaction in our bodies to it. When I told myself it was a trick, what I meant was that there was no real cause for panic. The doom, gloom, and terror were not based in reality. I was highly motivated to eradicate this mess in my life and so I worked on it night and day until it was gone. It was a process that took years to refine. In fact, mastering my panic allowed me to finally focus on the serious problems in my life that were instigating the panic in the first place.

I am not you, and my triggers will not be your triggers. However, the process is still applicable. You are very much like I was. There was no one except myself who could help me. I either continued living the nightmare, or I did something about it. Continuing just wasn't an option anymore. I wanted more from my life and I was ready to make the hard realizations necessary to affect change.

I asked you before to jot down notes on what triggered your panic attacks. I hope that you did that. I found taking notes very helpful when I undertook this challenge. Something sets the panic attack off. Your job is figuring that out. A professional shrink will ask you to do the same thing. There may even be several triggers. Analyzing yourself and your thoughts before the attacks will help you discern those triggers.

The most important thing to do is to start telling yourself that the panic is all within your mind. It's a trick. You don't have to succumb to it. Things are never as bad as they seem, and I know how bad they can seem during an attack. I still remember the terror. But as soon as I identified my triggers and trained myself to realize the panic was just a trick of my mind, I started to make progress. You can, too.

Keep in touch, Donna. Let me know how you progress. I am not a profession psychiatrist, so please take that into consideration. Only you can figure out what you need to do, but I am here to tell you one thing: You can do it. The power is within you.

Good luck!

Douglas sig