My lived experience of anxiety

To overcome anxiety and panic, come to understand it. Anxiety is there for a reason – to protect us from danger. The aim is not to completely get rid of anxiety, but turn the volume down on it when it gets out of hand. Anxious feelings themselves are not dangerous, and cannot lead to any serious harm.

And do not worry – you will not have panic attacks forever! They are going to go. Mine have gone from bad to bearable in four or five months.

Here is a description of my lived experience of anxiety and agoraphobia.

Sometimes when I go out, it feels like something is pulling the hair right at the back of my skull. I can describe it as a constant tugging. I know it is a false warning, but it is nonetheless powerfully there. Describing it seems to rob it of its power. Imitating this feeling at home, literally tugging the back of my hair, makes me realize that sensations are just that – sensations. What they mean depends on the importance we give them. Nonetheless, they are frightening at first. Gradually, you kind-of just get used to them.

When I fear that I am exerting myself too much or someone walking down the street could be a threat, my heart feels like it is not there! I can only describe it like that. It is like my heart moves up and right across my chest, vanishing into a portal. This is certainly the most bizarre feeling. A tenseness in the diaphragm often comes up when I go out walking alone. The chest area has a strong significance for me. At the moment I am experiencing shortness of breath, especially in closed spaces outside. I know it is not dangerous (perhaps light hyperventilation) and it is kept at a low level. But it is uncomfortable, and makes me more prone to stress.

Another lived experience is like feeling a nebula softly exploding and dissipating in my frontal lobes. It could also be described as someone pressing down again my forehead. I don’t know why this one comes up – it hasn’t for a while.

My least favourite experience at the moment is the lightness in the knees, as if the ground is pulling away from me. My head simultaneously feels a dizziness, like a spiralling. I get thoughts like ‘I’m going to fall’ or ‘Have I gone too far’? Often this experience Is caused by anticipating it, leading to a self-fulfilling spiral. But it never gets too bad. I am on top of the dizziness, because I know that when we are in fight or flight mode, the last thing we are going to do is be clumsy and fall. Also, by imitating this feeling at home by deliberately spinning round (not too much!) I am robbing dizziness of its fear-association.

One thing I do at the moment is to have safety behaviours and items. For instance, I am conscious when I leave the house that I should have my keys, meds or phone in my pockets. When walking along the street alone I tend to hold on to these things in my pockets. When I let go of them and walk more ‘normally’, it decreases my sense of anxiety. In short, I am aware that these safety items and behaviours reinforce anxiety – I only need to remember all the times I used to go out without them! I am experimenting with going out without having my phone, or meds. So far, nothing catastrophic has happened as a result. Gradual exposure to anxiety is the way to gradually reduce it, and for me it is working.

Generally my sense of dread is felt in the knees and chest. It feels like something really bad is going to happen, and that I have strayed too far from home. I only real feel a major fear in my head on a particularly bad day. After a particularly bad mood, or conflict, or any gushing of volatile emotion, I can feel quite a lot of dread and anxiety on my first venture outside.

My anxiety is also linked to the weather – dark and cold and dreary makes it worse, sunlight and softness and warmth can almost completely nullify it at times. This is why it is important to warm up before going, and not to push yourself too far at first! I am slowly getting used to colder and harsher weather, although going out at night alone I have not much experimented with. I have had strong anxieties about going out at night for at least a decade. Now is the time to deal with that fear.

These are all uncomfortable experiences. There are also positive and encouraging experiences on my journeys. Sudden bursts of strength, energy and confidence usually follow my realization that ‘I am actually at peak speed and strength! Anxiety is only uncomfortable now because it is not the right time for fight or flight.’ These confidences are sometimes linked to specific areas (crossing at a certain traffic light for instance, or going up a certain part of a hill). I try to remember that even positive associations are based the subconscious. When I really delve into the causes of anxiety, and sometimes get angry inside myself for injustices I have suffered, I feel stronger and less anxious. Expression of something hitherto unexpressed seems to lower my anxiety. But the rules of society and masculinity are still strong even in my ‘rebellious’ mind. They force me into the ‘psyche’ of citizen, and so I have not yet learnt to transcend these expectations and thus greatly lower my anxiety levels.

These are some of my lived experiences of anxiety and how I strive to overcome them. What is your lived experience of anxiety?

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Time and Trauma

Does trauma heal with time, or does time just make you feel cheated for longer?

The natural healing systems of the body can clearly get it wrong with anxiety, which is an over-active sense of alarm leading to the degrading of normal function. Waiting for these negative learned behaviours to change themselves is not going to work.

The mind can race ahead of the body, or think itself separate – a folly. But it can also correct its course, for the mind too is of nature, and we are possessed of some wisdom. Altering the mind’s course to reduce anxiety will help trauma heal.

But how long will  this take? I cannot know. And what will healing look like? I do not know. All I can know is whether or not I am on the path to healing and whether I wish to get better, or remain forever broken.

 

 

Finitude

You are a limited being. The pain inside you can only accumulate so much.

You must be patient. You must be prepared to go into yourself and let the healing process happen.

Pride is the product of harmful attitudes, which lead to emotions amplifying your pain.

Learn to be humble and reach out your hand for help.

Say you need help, be vulnerable among those you trust.

You will be strong again someday, but that day is not today.

If you need medication to have the courage to go out, you cannot work.

If the slightest stress makes your knees buckle, you cannot stand alone.

You must be humble, you must live with acceptance.

You must know no shame, you must live with acceptance.

Until you accept, you will but delay the inevitable.

No love will you find, for none are your saviour.

No peace will you find, for you will be haunted.

No sanctuary exists, for these feelings are carried with you.

So let it wash over you, let it pass through.

Even the darkest pain, do not resist it.

Be with it, let it work its dark work.

Trust that your natural being can eventually heal you.

Trust that you are made of light.

 

Know your limits as a finite entity

Of a finite race, upon a finite world

 

Never again let yourself come to this.

Love yourself, forgive yourself

Swallow pride, seek help – it is there.

Humanity has a large heart.

And so do you.

Be patient, live step by step and day by day

When you are ready to stand again

You will just know it.

 

Don’t worry

Everything by nature wishes to live

It is encoded into you

Trust the very essence of your being.

A dialogue with anxiety

I WILL PROTECT YOU

No you fool, you will not. What you are doing is debilitating. There is nothing to protect me from. I am strong enough to face the world, I have enough support. The past feelings were wrong.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

The feelings of worthlessness which led us here. They were implanted there without good reason. They are the inheritance of tyrants. We are worthy, and this is proven by our deeds.

I DO ONLY WHAT I KNOW

What you know is wrong. It is false. When you were young, the feelings of pain were stronger, but this does not make them true. Truth is determined by what actually is now, not in words and feelings of folly from the path.

I UNDERSTAND

For now you may. But return not tomorrow to hold me back! I know what I am capable of anxiety, and I know the risks.