Understanding, recognising and controlling anxiety
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'An anxious child', is written in my school report. I can recall many situations when my anxiety kicked in, such as a 5 year old asking my mum to hurry up in case we missed the second part of our long haul flight in case we got stuck on a strange island in the middle of nowhere at night with nowhere to stay.
Having butterflies in the stomach was 'normal' for me. Regular migraines, constantly stressed was 'normal', so much so, that I didn't recognise it as stress. I was ambitious, on the pulse, hard work, hard play, tough and the world was at my finger tips. I was constantly on the go and while living in London in my late twenties and early thirties, heavy drinking was part of work and personal life. Most of my work collagues would go down the pub after work, on a very regular basis - it was the norm. Catching the Northern line every day, grim, not talking to anyone, walking rapidly down the street, totally focused, completely unaware of the disastrous effect it was having on my body's ability to cope with all the constant stress.
Over several years, I would have strange nausea attacks, or feeling light headed and unable to function. The symptoms over time got worse. My doctor said 'you drink too much alcohol,' while looking at me in disgust and dismissed me.
It all came to a head when I flew to Germany on business, stayed there overnight, followed by a flight the next day to Paris. I was driven madly round Paris by a French collague, the nausea got worse, the dizziness set in. That night I flew back to Gatwick, collapsing in the airport, taken by ambulance to the local hospital. My pulse was sky high, and all the skin on my face firey to the touch. I was given beta blockers, and it was suggested that it was an anxiety attack. I refused to be believe it. All the skin on my face peeled off during the following week, but I could not accept that I was anxious, - me, the fast successful go getter - no ways. There was no ways, that I would admit to anyone that I got anxious about things.
There were other attacks, collapsing at work and at one point I became agoraphobic, unable to leave my flat. I also found it difficult to be able to go into shops with electric lighting, as I would feel dizzy, unable to deal with the stress and at times, unable to function at all.
The doctors were absolutely useless, telling me i was depressed and drank to much. Yes, that was a sympton, not the cause - looking back they clearly were not trained to deal with this type of problem.
My boyfriend, fed up with my personality change, left me. I was devastated.
I saw a counsellor who only made things worse. He just left me to talk, which was absolutely useless, I drove my friends nuts with talking, I didn't need another person to talk to - I needed someone to advise me on how to sort this out.
I decided to make some life changes. The first thing to do was to find a new job out of London.
A year later, I had moved out of London and started a new less stressful job. I had always wanted a horse, now was the time to get one. I rode every day, and my new responsibilities for the horse meant that I needed to get up in the mornings at the weekends, hence my drinking decreased rapidly. In effect, I made BIG changes to my lifestyle.
To make these changes was very hard, but I recognised that it was essential that I did make them. I had to make new friends, deal with buying and selling property, change of job and often felt very lonely, but I knew then and looking back on it, it was absolutly the right thing to have done.
The anxiety attacks were occuring, but over time, they became less and less. I read up about anxiety and learnt as much as possible, learning to recognise the signs and to accept them when it did happen.
10 years after the attacks started I went on a managing anxiety course, using behaviour change techniques to manage the anxiety (CBT). I so, so wish I had access to that type of therapy 10 years ago. If only that doctor who was so rude to me telling me that alcohol was the cause of all my problems had been trained in this type of thing. In my opinion, any person with anxiety issues should find out about this. Not only did I have an opportunity to chat to people who felt similar things to me but also I learnt tool and techniques on how to manage the problem. It's no quick fix, but over time it works!
I occasonally get anxiety attacks under very stressful situations, but I know when they are coming on and can manage them, which only happens once or twice a year. I occasionally get a migraine, once or twice a year. I am also a teetotaller - having given up alcohol 2 years ago, which was actually a very easy thing to do, given that I had changed my lifestyle so much. I have 2 dogs who need walking everyday, and the stress levels have dropped considerably.
There is no easy fix, however the key pointers I would offer to anyone else are :-
1. Understand anxiety, what it is, what it does and how it works.
2. Accept that you are anxious - it's a normal human response.
3. Find tools and techniques to manage the anxiety.
4. Change your lifestyle to reduce the anxiety.
Changing the lifestyle can be the hardest challenge - its not easy. For me, it was absolutely essential that something was done, as it was destroying my life.
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This recovery story is in categories: Anxiety