I'm going to dive straight in, partly because it is always the easiest way to do these things, secondly because I am hoping Beth is reading this and knows instantly that she is not alone:
My name is Helen and I suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, and I haven't had a good nights sleep in about 3 months. I take anti-depressants and am in therapy.
This is really not something I have talked to anyone in great detail about. My boss Nicola (@chipletmum on Twitter) and my immediate family are basically the only people I have confided in. This isn't because of the stigma around mental health - trust me, I work for two mental health organisations - but not talking to people about it has so far been about protecting myself. I haven't wanted to talk about it because every time I tried I would simply get ridiculously anxious or have a panic attack... not something I was keen to encourage until after I had been in therapy a little while.
So let me tell you about my therapy. I self-referred myself to Suffolk IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) a few months ago and have been doing some self-guided cognitive behavioural therapy with my case manager Alma. Some of the things we have done include keeping a thought-record to start challenging my negative thinking, learning ways to relax through practices such as mindfulness (which I am crap at but I still try) and simply understanding what is happening in my brain! I find it very hard but I know it is the best thing for me. (Side note - one of things I didn't try was an offer to join an anxiety support group... how do these people ever feel relaxed enough to actually go to that?)
In terms of understanding my anxiety I realise it is the safety behaviours that I need to challenge most (disclaimer - I am talking about what helps me personally, I am not an expert). The diagram will help me explain. For example:
- Supermarkets with lots of people and to much money thinking is one of my triggers...
- This causes me anxiety and often ends in a panic attack...
- I leave the shop to sit in the car so I feel better, this is a safety behaviour...
- This gives me short-term relief because I have escaped the situation I didn't like. Because I feel better I repeat this behaviour and the anxiety becomes a ally, warning me when I can't cope.
- However this exacerbates the long-term problem because rather than stick around to overcome my problems, I m simply finding ways to allow anxiety to become part of my everyday life and it gets worse and worse.
As I mentioned I am also on anti-depressants (Fluoxetine, you may know this as Prozac) for anxiety. I actually started taking these back in January this year because I was having extreme shoulder problems. As you will know I have terrible joints and when I have a particularly bad flare up or injury I start getting anxious about how I will be when I am a mother, or old, or when it is tomorrow. A few months ago I moved into a new flat and started a new job. These things coupled with events such as my car being written-off all added to my existing anxiety. It got out of control and that is when I started therapy, and that is also when I had my medication doubled.
I am not typing this blog for sympathy. I am typing it to help both myself, and my friend Beth (and anyone else going through similar problems). I have come a long way in the past few weeks and while I still find things hard - I have to sit in the car still when James is shopping as I get very panicked in-store - but I feel happier knowing that I am doing something to take a hold on my own life. It is still an uphill struggle most days but I feel like I have some walking boots to at least help me get there a little faster, a little bit safer.
My starting point was reading the 'Anxiety' booklet at this website: http://www.ntw.nhs.uk/pic/selfhelp It is very helpful in understanding, but don't do the exercises unless you're ready. Trust me, it causes meltdown.