It's all me, me, me...

My Photo
Vivre Sa Vie
London, United Kingdom
Well hello there. My name is Viv (well, it's not really), and, like a lot of people, I'm ever so slightly neurotic... I have panic attacks and anxiety (ranging from mild to pretty intense), on and off. I also have an amazing and quite high-profile job, so I'm choosing to remain anonymous on here. Not because I'm ashamed of the aforementioned neuroses, but because I don't want to be googled and for my colleagues to read bizarre posts about me breathing into a paper bag and popping lorazepam. I've worked for bookshops, mixed arts festivals and charities, and have met (and still meet!) a lot of famous, fetching and fantabulous people for my job. (See, anxiety doesn't need to stop you being AWESOME and doing what you want to do) Here's hoping you'll find some helpful hints and tips on here which will help you tackle the evil panic heebiejeebs... PS. I'm an Australian, but I live in the UK, and have adopted tea-drinking, pubs, Wodehouse, and a Welsh man.
View my complete profile
Sunday, 17 March 2013

The drugs DO work!

'Throw us another Prozac, Jeeves. there's a good fellow'
Take that Verve, you miserable one (well, two, at a push) hit wonders!

I can scarcely believe this even as I'm typing it, but I'm writing to you from the heady and unfamiliar plains of wellbeing, happiness and contentment! The shiny blue Prozac (blessed be its name) has finally kicked in, and I FEEL BETTER THAN I HAVE DONE FOR YEARS. Honestly. I genuinely think I feel like my old self again after four long, painful years of struggle in the wilderness. It's like I've stumbled across an oasis of peace and normality in the middle of a vast, parched desert. Where the hell am I?! What is this strange place of certainty, equanimity and tranquillity?! Have I been catapulted into someone else's mind?!  

I feel resilient, I feel capable, I feel cheerful. Seriously. I'm able to count my blessings - I feel deeply, humbly grateful for all the wonderful things in my life. I'm looking forward to things to come.  I'm able to laugh at things that would have had me sobbing two months ago. I'm not questioning every single tiny decision I make. I'm cheerful in the face of adversity, and am actually counselling my boyfriend out of a post-holiday slump! I'm happy for him to go away and leave me alone in the house. I don't feel scared. I don't feel afraid. I feel calm, I feel peaceful. I'm not perpetually thinking of death and disease and destruction (the three Ds?) and I FINALLY feel up to the task of living the life I've been given. I of course have still got enough natural pessimism and anxiety to immediately think 'A-ha! This will be exactly the moment Mr. 'I Love Irony' God will choose to strike me down!' BUT I don't fear it. I don't mind it. 

At a very basic level, I feel able to breathe again - both literally and figuratively. It's been weeks since I last felt like I couldn't get enough air, and even when I did last get a twinge of that, I knew that it would pass and I scarcely noticed it.

I feel like the world is a miraculous place. I'm struck by the amazing things all around me. I'm a born-again, Woody Allen-shaped butterfly emerging from a cocoon of horror and darkness! It makes me realise what a struggle my life has been for the last four years - a desperate, daily struggle to even hit the baseline of okay-ness. Each day felt like a fight to stay alive against overwhelming odds. 

But now it's as if a miracle has occurred - honestly, I want to write to the inventor of Prozac and swear my unwavering allegiance and eternal gratitude to him or her. I lay awake in bed last night feeling blissful in my own body - feeling safe, not worrying that it would stop, or break, or that I would stop breathing, or that something terrible would happen. I just smiled to myself, in the darkness, and thanked the universe for finally throwing me a break.  

Okay, so I get you're just never, ever going to read this blog again if I keep on in this saccharine vein (my favourite miserable songwriter starting writing crap songs as soon as he got married and thus happy), but I just wanted to let you all know that THERE IS HOPE! The drugs DO work, no matter what your paranoid-of-the-entire-medical-establishment hippy parents tell you, and they are bloody MIRACULOUS.  

You know how I know I'm not absolutely 100% cured? Because somewhere in the back of my mind, there's a little voice saying 'maybe you're having a weird reaction to the Prozac - maybe it's chemically-induced euphoria! Maybe this is a psychotic, manic swing and you're going to tumble right down into a depressed slump! Maybe you're going mad!' All of which reminds me that I haven't had a personality transplant, and a tiny, freaked-out, hypochondriac inner Woody Allen lives on within me. But there's a confident, blissful, brave, peaceful lady who completely dwarfs him, and I really, really like her a lot more.  

* My boyfriend wants me to add a footnote - he thinks it's important to make it clear that it's not all the drugs; he has just reminded me that I've done a hell of a lot of hard work to get to this point, and the drugs have just allowed me an easier context to put some of that into practice. I'll accept that. Now if you'll excuse me, I've just got to add another shiny gold relic to my glorious Prozac shrine... 

I don't understand! What is this sensation of warmth flooding over me?! Is this...could this really be... is this really how non-anxious people feel ALL THE TIME????!!!!'

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Gone fishin'...

'Hey girls, is this what real relaxation feels like? My heart is almost not racing!'

Hey chaps.

So sorry there have been tumbleweeds rolling across this page recently. I've actually been on holiday (yes, you heard that right) for two weeks and now madly trying to catch up with everything. 

So lots of things to come once I've sorted myself out and written some stuff down, but suffice to say, a certain little panicker managed to get a verrrry long flight without panicking, and is feeling very proud of herself right now...

Hope you are all well and laughing in the face of the anxiety beasts.


V xx

Friday, 1 February 2013

Ten things I know about panic attacks...

This is you, trying to navigate the modern world with an ancient monkey brain. You're afraid of lions but there are no lions any more, so you're a bit confused, gawd bless you. 

An attractive young woman ran out of one of my events yesterday, after having what turned out to be a panic attack. She is, as so many panic sufferers are,  a highly intelligent, capable, and likeable person, and we chatted about the panic demons for a bit whilst she calmed down. She's not yet read an awful lot about this stuff, so I got to thinking about what I would like to have read when I first started getting to grips with it. Results below...   

Ten Things I Know About Panic Attacks 

1. Brilliant people have them. Oh yes. Some of the most beautiful, talented, courageous, hilarious, intelligent people who have ever stalked this earth have had panic. You're not weird, I promise. (Well, you may be a bit odd of course, but that's got nowt to do with the panic I'm afraid).

2.  They're not your fault! You've got to stop blaming yourself, and I'll give you three good reasons why...

      a) You're part-man/part-monkey (interestingly, or not, that is also the name of this not very good  Bruce Springsteen song). You're negotiating a modern landscape with an ancient ape-ish brain that is hard-wired to respond to the fight-or-flight mechanism. We are the descendants of some pretty alert and anxious chimps - the ones who heard a rustle in the bushes and thought 'it could be a lion, but then again, what are the chances, maybe it's just a stiff breeze?' all got eaten. We got the neurotic genes - tough break.
       b) Something in your past might have made this more likely. You may have had an unstable childhood, or been the victim of some trauma, or had a hypochondriac Dad. It's no-one else's fault either, but remember that outside forces have moulded you and made you the person you are today.

      c) You may just have a rubbish brain. Some people don't produce enough thyroid hormone (moi, for example), and some people don't retain enough serotonin. That's it. You didn't make it happen did you? Take it up with God when you next bump into him.

You've got to be easy on yourself. It's shit enough going through all this crap without the meta level of self-flagellation on top.

3. They go. And come back. And go again. If there's one thing I've learned I've from my boyfriend, it's how a wiggly line on a graph goes. His wise counsel is that a general upward trend on a graph is rarely straight - there are ups and downs and ups again. Whilst the downs may be lower than yesterday's ups, they're still higher than the downs a year ago - BUT - that's really hard to see from your perspective, seeing as how you're trapped in the graph.  

4. CBT really helps. My free NHS CBT course was hands-down the best thing I ever did for my panic attacks. 

5. You're not going to die. Or go mad. I PROMISE. Your heart races much faster than this when you're running (and that's considered good for you), and your breathing will not stop (your body won't allow that to happen), and will return to normal in a little while. I PROMISE. No-one has ever died of a panic attack, and no-one ever will.

6. Wishing them away makes them worse. Both in the instant they're coming, and just generally. The most suffering I ever experience is when I get furious and rail against them like a trussed up tiger, and my thrashing and rejecting ends up just tightening the knots around me. Some people get wonky noses, some people get IBS, some people get cancer, some people get panic attacks. You might have them for life, or they may go at some point. But you have to accept them for now, or you'll increase your misery exponentially. 

7. They're not all bad. All of this hardship has actually brought me a lot closer to both of my parents, and I've learned (well, am still learning) to be okay with being vulnerable. Which I've been told makes me even more likeable! Keep in mind that you're picking up some pretty good life skills here in the crucible, so you are in no way wasting your time or effort.  

8. They're funny. Learn to see the funny side of anxiety and panic (and there IS a funny side). Learn to laugh at fear rather than cowering from it, and by doing so - puncture its menace and remove its power.

9. You can cope. A large part of anxiety is fear of not being able to cope, to deal, to handle. But you have coped your whole life - all the way up until this very minute. Why would you stop now? You have the strength to cope with this, and anything else life throws your way. 

10. All of the above are really difficult to put into practise. And that's okay. As my exceptionally wise and beautiful friend told me - this is a process, it's not a solution. You may forget half this stuff, and not be able to put the other half into practise, but you're trying, and you're learning stuff all the time. Just accept that you're taking baby steps - this is not a race. 

Hey, new girl - you're doing just fine! Everything's going to be okay. It really is. 

You gotta roll with the punches of outrageous fortune (as I believe Shakespeare once said...)

Saturday, 26 January 2013


Yep, he may have been a big old lily-livered-lefty-hater, but I'm afraid (see what I did there) John knows his onions when it comes to cojones...if that's not a mixed metaphor too far

I was having tea (peppermint, natch) with an old work colleague of mine who also has serious GAD issues (which, incidentally, I only found out about because I 'outed' myself to him on a whim, and he shocked me to the core by revealing he TOO suffered horribly with it), and is going through a bit of a bad patch at the moment. As we swapped war stories in the meditation centre cafe (ha, natch again), he shook his head and said my advice was all well and good, but that I was much braver than him, so he wasn't sure he could take it.

And this was enough to pierce through my panicked haze and make me forget my trembling hands on my teacup (still staggering up the Prozac ramp) momentarily, and I proceeded to give him a very stern lecture about bravery - the gist of which I will outline now, but in a much more lucid and Cicero-ish manner than I managed at the time.

No. NO! Listen up, Woody! You think you're a coward because you can't do things other people do without batting an eyelid? Think about it. The very concept or definition of bravery entails fear - it doesn't make any sense at all without it. As some bright spark once said, 'bravery is not the absence of fear, it is the mastery of fear' (or somesuch) or as John Wayne had it - 'bravery is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway'. Let's be clear: there's nothing remotely brave in not being frightened at all.  Courage is peering into the jaws of the beast - whether imaginary or real - and walking forward anyway.

Consider the person who travels in to work on the tube of a Monday morning, blissfully chomping through a pain au chocolat and listening to a comedy podcast. Would you call them brave? Or courageous? Of course not; it doesn't make sense to, because they are not afraid. They may be easygoing, or relaxed, or happy, or peaceful, or any number of things. What they are not, is brave.

Contrast that with the person with panic disorder, who arrives at work at the same time as person A, and says 'hi' to them at the coffee machine. This person set out for work maybe half an hour before person A, and was pacing the house a full three hours before that. This person woke up terrified after a few hours sleep, and was so full of fear and dread they were sick before breakfast. This person cried before leaving the house, because they were so petrified of getting on the tube and of what the day would bring. This person walked to the tube anyway. This person got on the tube, had a panic attack, believed they were going to run out of air and die, and got off again a few stops along. This person took a pill, phoned a friend, cried in the corner, waited for half an hour, and got back on the tube again. And off again, and on again, until they finally made it into work to start their day.

And this person thinks they are a coward. This person berates themselves for being weak, and this person worships person A for being brave. 

This person is not a coward. What this person is, is an eedjit! This person is conquering terror and fear EVERY SINGLE DAY on top of living the life everyone else finds so hard! This person does ten rounds with a slavering hell-beast before breakfast! This person has fought more truly, genuinely courageous and brave battles than person A has had happy, hot dinners! This person needs to wake up, smell the bloody coffee, and realise they are SUPERHUMANLY, OBSCENELY BRAVE, and could by all rights wear a cape and undies on the outside by now! 

This person is you. So suck it up, SuperYou, and stop calling yourself a coward. Or I'll come round there and knock some sense into you. And you don't want that, because I've fought the kind of demons that would make Buffy drop her stake, wet herself, and run home crying to Giles.

'Just got to quickly wrestle these before work, won't be a sec....'

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Prozac nation (is not my favourite nation)...

'YES! Yes I am!'
Greetings from a small, Viv-shaped Prozac nation!

My six months without antidepressants have been fairly hellish, so I finally surrendered and went to see my almost-hot psychiatrist who recommended a trial of Prozac. Cue much grinding of teeth and general nervousness. 'Me? On Prozac? Sounds so 'Girl Interrupted'! Why can't my brain do it itself goddamnit?! Why can't I just RELAXXX??!!' etc etc. Although pills aren't for everyone, there's no doubt that medication has provided a lifeline for millions of people around the world (myself included), and sometimes you've got to come to terms with needing a little help. See this article for a really clear-headed and inspiring take on an often maligned and misjudged thing.

I've been taking them for a week now, and...guess what?! They've made everything much, much worse! You've got to laugh - it is quite funny. Apparently they can do that (i.e. make you feel like you want to jump out of your skin for the first couple of weeks) before they make you better. If they make you better. 

I'm so bloody anxious, I could gnaw off my arm. I've been teetering on panic a number of times a day, and just feel jittery and speedy. I had two days of really bad nausea, which has now improved to simply not fancying eating anything apart from beige food. With cheese on top.

I'm persevering, because apparently I could exit the tunnel into bright daylight any day now. Please hurry up that day!

I have to remember that:

1. This will pass.
2. Sometimes the darkest night is just before the dawn.
3. Whatever happens, I can and will cope.
4. This will pass (again).

It's been a long old time in the tunnel, and I really just want to feel a bit better soon.

Whilst I'm waiting, I am consuming approximate 1kg of Rich Tea biscuits daily, laughing at the brilliant Twenty-Twelve spoof documentary, having loads of hugs, trudging into work in the snow, and crying into my decaf tea.

See? There are always bits of sunshine, even when things are shitty. 

'It'll wash your blues away! Or make you feel so anxious you feel like you can't breathe! Yay!'

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Let's hope it's a good one, without any fear...

"'We all want some figgy pudding' my arse..."

Guys! It's 2013! I've been lounging around, stuffing my face with Quality Street and sweaty cheeses (thank you Mr Gallbladder-Surgeon-Who-Gave-Me-Cake-And-Thus-My-Life-Back) and I have utterly failed in my blogging duties. So my last maudlin post has been languishing there, completely unrevised and depressing - not a good way to see in the new year! Sorry chaps!

How are you, beloved anxious peeps? Did you have banging festive frolics or big fat, figgy funks? Did you fend off Uncle Bill's crushing chest-to-breast hugs and Nana's racist outbursts? Did you panic over the possibility of undercooked-turkey poisonings and salmonella eggnog manslaughters? Did you fear you and your loved ones would die in the inevitable gnarly Christmas motorway deaths, because I know I certainly did!

Here are some things I learned over Christmas:

1. Kids are a good distraction from anxious self-obsession. I always thought having children would tip me over the edge into full-throttle nervous breakdown, but my niece-wrangling efforts this Christmas actually cheered me up (admittedly I disappeared swiftly every time one of them vomited/had explosive diarrhoea, so it wasn't an authentic parenting experience. But still...)

2. Stila's new liquid lipstick in 'Beso' (thanks, Santa) is a stunningly good matte 40's red. And it lasts (i.e. stood up to my rigorous, virtually lab-condition Christmas lunch testing).  If you're starring in an upcoming WWII biopic as a beautiful, ball-breaking SOE agent, this is the one I heartily recommend.

3. Shalom Auslander's memoir Foreskin's Lament  is a superb, brilliant, amazing, fanspectaculastic must-read for all anxious folk everywhere. The man is hugely traumatised as a result of his deeply misguided (and at times, abusive) Orthodox Jewish upbringing - and yet I related to every single, fucked-up, neurotic thought he puts to paper. BUY IT NOW. Makes Woody Allen look positively stable. And read his novel Hope - both books are the funniest things I've read all year. 

4. Don't play bingo if you're feeling a bit panicky. I lost my bingo virginity this Christmas (I know, I know, I'm prematurely aged) and almost had a heart-attack as a result. How the pensioners manage to not fall down dead in high-blood-pressured droves I have no idea. 21, 6, 14, 90...WAAAIT, ARGGGHHHHH! I went in a sort of smugly ironic, post-modern way, and ended up knee deep in screwed up tables of numbers and panting with genuine excitement. BINGO!  A v. good use for excess adrenaline.

5. We all now have an extra year's worth of intel about living with this malicious anxiety beast, so theoretically should be another 365 days cleverer at dealing with it. Go team! I've been thinking of my anxiety as a Boggart recently (HP again - please don't watch the films, they're bloody awful) - it changes shape and morphs so frequently (health anxiety to status anxiety to random phobia to depression anxiety and back again), but is the same old beast cowering underneath. It's the old Wizard of Oz behind the curtain trick - watch it and call it out!

I hope you all are feeling well and not too stressed about what 2013 holds. How about we make it the year we level a well-aimed kick at Mr Anxiety's cojones and get a bit of the upper hand back? And if we miss, let's just have some cake and gin and chat about it together. 

Happy new year!

V x

PS. You can't make me take the tree down.  How will I survive without its Prozac-y twinkly lights? Superstition is only magical thinking after all, and didn't my therapist say that was a no-no...?

Take Valium. I swear to God it's the only way you'll survive the night.

Friday, 14 December 2012

In which Viv goes a bit emo...

Can't even think of a funny caption :(

WARNING: Rambling, depressing post ahead which includes absolutely no handy tips on how to deal with anxiety! Thank the sweet lord this is anonymous...

So, at the moment, something slightly odd is happening to me, and I can't really figure it out - or, I can, but I don't really want to face the conclusions. I'm quite embarrassed about what I'm about to say, and feel like I'm letting the side down revealing this, but at the same time I'm hoping being honest may help you - and me - in the long run! Here goes.

I feel like my anxiety is shifting and changing shape - I 'fix' one thing (obsessive thoughts about panic and travel and health and dying etc) and it simply morphs into another mind-consuming obsession, which at the moment seems to be pure, unadulterated self-hatred and self-bullying (god knows what the right name for this is). I've never had this one to such an extent before, so I don't know if I'm just getting horribly depressed and need to go back on medication (this is the scary conclusion I don't want to accept), or if this is just bog-standard anxiety posing in a different costume. Maybe you can help me figure it out!

Apart from a general, base-level fear that I'm completely messing up my life and failing on every single scale and by every single measure, I'm starting to angrily analyse all of my actions - even on an infinitesimal scale. I'm comparing myself to everyone - people I know, people on TV, people I see on the train - and feeling like I am disgracefully inferior. I feel I'm horribly ugly and shouldn't be seen (and that I'm wasting my only moments of potential 'beauty' thinking that as I'll only get less and less attractive from here), that I'm not as intelligent as I thought I was, that I am awkward and pathetic, that I'm unadventurous and dull, that I'm friendless and like poison to be around, that I'm terrible at my job, and on top of all of that - that I'm wasting every single precious second of my one-and-only life with these thoughts.

I'm gazing at women I know, hungrily, wishing I was more like them. I feel bad for people who have to talk to me, even for a short while.  I'm beginning to follow myself around, mocking myself, saying 'oh, great, that was brilliant. Look at you walking like that, look at you, so pathetic and useless. Yeah, just slink over there and hide, that's so like you' etc etc. (For a brilliant take on this evil, bullying self-commentary see this amazing, wondrous cartoon about depression). 

And I'm FURIOUS with myself about all of it! I'm turning into someone I really don't like, and I'm working myself up into a frenzy of hatred and anger and disappointment and venom and I just don't know how to fix any of it.

I thought we were meant to get more confident as we grew up! I'm almost thirty, and I'm now comparing myself with a confident 11 year-old I know and am wishing I could be more like her in every single way. I feel like I'm gradually losing my certainty and sense of self with every day. I used to be a screamingly, proudly self-confident A-type personality (debating and public speaking champion, A + student, sports-mad, head girl, popular etc - just generally precociously over-the-top and certain), and now I'm slipping into EMO self-loathing just when I'm meant to be feeling my maximum levels of self-assuredness!

What's happening?! Is this anxiety, or depression, or am I just losing my marbles?! Please help me get my mojo back...

V x

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Blog Template by