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

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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.
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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

Friday, 7 December 2012

Wrap up your anxiety and walk away...

Well, the entire global anxiety community can finally lift their ragged nails from between their teeth and heave a sigh of almost-relief - I'm back! 

Sorry for radio silence - have been desperately catching up on work and life after my convalescence, and mainly recovering from the shock of seeing my own gnarly internal organs in Kodachrome technicolour.  My surgeon insisted on proudly showing me evidence of how he managed to laboriously pick my diseased gallbladder off my liver. 'See the swelling and adhesions here? All terribly sticky and difficult. Here's where I cauterized the liver to stop the bleeding after I pulled the gallbladder off'' (me, inwardly, raging:  'WHAAAT? You seared my f-ing liver you f-ing maniac?! Is one of my internal organs now medium rare?') Outwardly, eyes wide and ingenue-ish: 'Hmmm, fascinating, how intriguing to see the mark it makes!''

And it kept on coming. 'And here's me avoiding the artery there' (inwardly: 'WHAAAAT?! There was an f-ing artery nearby?  You want me to congratulate you for missing it, Sweeney Todd?') Outwardly: 'Marvellous, just thrilling, gosh, thanks, how skilled you must be!' etc etc ad infinitum. Surgeons, note, anxious patients do not relish hearing or seeing such lurid details of their near-deaths and battered remains. Patients, note, no-one should have to see their own liver. You may have to book a 6-week course of counselling to get over seeing INSIDE your own skin, so poke your eyes out before a surgeon ever offers to show you a photo. 

Anyway, onwards and upwards my friends.

Today I went to my lunchtime meditation, and - double-whammy of joy, not only was my old friend Barry White on the desk (sadly not leading the meditation) but I also think I'm vaguely getting the hang of it again. 

There's a long, tree-lined driveway leading up to the meditation centre, and we were instructed to visualise leaving all our worries, fears and plaguing thoughts in little parcels under the trees before we came in, and we could pick them back up when we left.  For some reason this really cracked me up - I imagined parcelling up all these weird little phobias and obsessions in shiny paper, labelling them, and placing them under the trees like presents, saying 'aah, Fear of Death and Disease! This one's a good one, worked quite hard on this on, very proud of the size of this one', and 'ah! My old friend You Have No Friends! I weaved you so big; you're truly magnificent!' and 'Big Box Of Vague Dread About The Future! It hurts to leave you here when we've had so many wonderful nights together!'

We were then told to try to keep our mind with our body, and not let it run off back to the parcels under the trees. And for some reason this really clicked with me. The mind is not tethered to the body, and that's an incredible, miraculous, astonishing thing - our imagination can take us anywhere in the universe. But this is really not bloody helpful if your imagination is morbid and anxious, and takes you to nightmare-ish places you don't want to go, and ends up driving you slightly round the twist.  

So I loved the idea of keeping the two together, for a while, like a couple of old lovers on a bench. For some reason I immediately visualised my mind like a red balloon tied to an old bike  (slightly odd that I visualise my body as a bike...). And it just felt really...restful, and right to finally have the two together - like when Harry and Sally finally got together for good.

And, as cheesy as it sounds, as I walked back down the wooded drive and looked at all my virtual packages of worries and dreads and neuroses and fears and prepared to collect them, I suddenly thought - 'What if I just leave them here? What if I just walk out and leave them right here?' And I strode down the drive toward my life, the sun beating down on me, and I felt light and weirdly free, and (seriously, it was like a film) a tear actually rolled down my cheek.

So, awesome readers, I think you should go for a walk somewhere wooded and hippy-ish, and put all your discrete bundles of worry and fear and anxiety and dread under the trees there. Look at them, think about how much you sat on them and brooded on them and nurtured them. Be proud of the baby horrors you've created! Think of all of them, sitting there, all knobbly and covered in bows - and just walk away.


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

And on the third day, she crashed (with apologies to Jesus and ELO)

No ruby slippers, no wonderful wizard; just terror and bright backlighting...
Well, talk about talking too soon. After the general 'I'm alive!' joy of days one and two, I plummeted like a burning, nervy, post-chop Icarus tangled in charred plumage and mixed metaphors. 

Wednesday morning I woke up, and suddenly all was not well. I felt anxious - really, really anxious -  I didn't want the operation to have happened, and I was almost fainting with squeamishness about the wounds on my body and the notion of what had gone on internally when I was not there to see it. It reminded me of my poor childhood cat when he had an abscess on his back - he kept on twisting and turning and shivering his skin along his backbone to try and slide it off and get out from under it somehow. I wanted it all not to have happened, and I wanted to get out from under it. 

I fell into a massive, familiar pile of panic and anxiety, and took a Lorazepam to try to dull the edges, but somehow it combined with the leftover anaesthetic and took me in a horrible way - all wide-awake crazy thoughts and palpitations and trembles.

I couldn't sleep, I couldn't sit still, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't listen to my post-surgery relaxation CD because it made me want to faint, I couldn't take a Lorazepam because I was frightened of making it worse, I couldn't lie still because I was petrified of clots forming in my legs, and I felt absolute, complete, suffocating despair. I tried all the old tricks, and they didn't work. I got disassociation - my whole familiar world started looming and stretching in sinister ways, and I felt trapped in a waking nightmare. It was like a big, fat, supersized Ecstasy comedown (apologies for mature references!) but without the ecstasy (with a small or a big e). All agony, no ecstasy?

I convinced myself I had post-surgery trauma syndrome, that I had clots in my legs and internal bleeding, that I had an infection, that I was going mad, that I would have to have another surgery to fix this one and this would all happen again, and above all - that I was a colossal, self-indulgent hypochondriac who couldn't handle a routine operation like the rest of humanity. My thoughts were just completely and utterly out of control - the horse was galloping away towards the inferno and the rider was just freaking out on the sidelines with wet jodhpurs and a frayed whip. 

Needless to say, it wasn't a vintage few days. It turns out that it's not such an unusual reaction after all - apparently the body's hormonal and endocrine systems go haywire after surgery - and couple that with the general anaesthetic wearing off and some anxiety about recovery and you have a perfect recipe for panic-a-go-go. I just wish I knew that beforehand! 

It, however, remind me of a couple of panic-related things that are worth repeating:

1. Nothing REALLY works in a panic the way you want it to - because the body is specifically designed to create terror that is virtually impossible to override.  The whole point is that you're not meant to easily cognitively disassemble it - you're meant to fucking RUN. So I was reminded, at a cost, that the best thing to do is to grab on to something and hold on, and wait it out. To weather the storm and try desperately to hear the tiny, squeaky voice a mile off that stutters 'this will pass' in the face of the terrifying succubus screaming 'IT WILL NOT' in front of your face.

2. It does pass. I felt like I was in a horror film last week, and I'm calmly typing this now after a relatively happy couple of days. Yes, I'm still a bit quivery, but that always happens for a while after a storm of panic - I know I just have to wait it out until it completely passes again.

3. Anxiety and panic don't make you weak. This one is thanks to my stepmother, who came downstairs and wrapped me in a tight hug when she found me sobbing uncontrollably on my own, and told me about her experiences with panic and anxiety (she's also hard as fucking nails, and you would never, ever characterise her as weak or even approaching it) and shook me back to reality and self-respect. Everyone is flawed. Everyone has their vulnerable moments. But that's not what people remember of them, and that's not what they should remember of themselves. 

So. That's it. I think I've earned a bit of a relax at long last, so if you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch Ingrid Bergman give weird, face bruising non-kiss kisses to Cary Grant - I've got a week's worth of recovery DVDs to catch up on...

Nope, that's still not it - we can clearly see your lips aren't touching, guys...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Surgical stockings and ruby slippers...

This outfit only needs some bottle green  surgical stockings to be complete...

Praise the lord or Buddha whatever hippy sprite you like (whatever gets you through the night), but it's over! Operation operation has taken place, and I am at home recuperating - languishing on my day bed like a Victorian lady with a bad case of TB (and sloth).

First of all - everything went really well, and I'm okay, so if you just want the headline news and not the garbled in-depth editorial, you have permission to stop reading NOW.

For those who are a glutton for punishment, stay tuned for Casualty - Viv style.

All went pretty well. I got wheeled into the pre-theatre room, and they had Jeremy Kyle up on TV, and his guests were screaming and hollering about aborted babies or something, so the woman kindly changed the channel and sat back down. I wasn't sure whether to say anything, but I was feeling a bit nervous and panicky about the immediate future, so I tentatively said 'uh, I think this one's actually a holocaust documentary?' as indeed the screen was full of sepia images of bunkbeds and corpse piles. She giggled and flipped it over to Frasier. Frasier's MILDLY amusing escapades did not entirely erase the DEATH DEATH DEATH images flashing across my mind for a few minutes.

Then I was wheeled into the Room of Doom; not what it said on the sign, but should be re-named, because it just felt like an ante-chamber of a torture clinic (do they do torture in clinics? Maybe if you go private...) or something - all tubes and breathing machines and metal trays of syringes in a row. Cocky anaesthetist and hard-nosed nurse are flirting over the top of my wobbly attempts at light-hearted conversation, and cocky anaesthetist suddenly says 'I've been having twinges in my gallbladder too, thought I had to have it out, but I don't. 'Oh' I said, 'if you did, would you have it done by surgeon x (my surgeon) and he said 'oh, no, I would never get it done by a colleague - if something went wrong he would never forgive himself, and besides, I know where he lives (cocky laugh)!' WHAAAAT?! IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?! He would never forgive himself - so he WOULD forgive himself if he ballsed it up on a stranger, i.e. me,  but on you, he wouldn't?

And why the hell are you even putting my surgeon's name in the same sentence as 'getting it wrong' when I am literally being wheeled in to have him rifle through my insides with sharp knives? WTF? Just as these thoughts were racing through my mind and I was starting to feel like maybe I could just hop off the trolley and catch a bus home, I completely lost consciousness (he obviously went 'shit, that wasn't very reassuring, was it? Quick, force the anaesthetic in now, go, go...')

Anyway, next thing I know, I'm shivering and shaking like I'm in a bucket of ice, I have no idea what's going on, and I have a mask over my face that I keep on trying to rip off. They're soothingly trying to force the mask back on because my temperature is low and I need oxygen, but to my ragingly confused mind I am just being smothered by a bunch of people I can't really see. I'm crying that I'm cold, and they've got loads of hot fans underneath my covers on the trolley, and I'm so upset about what is happening that I ask one of the nurses who I can't really see to hold my hand. She holds my hand under the covers and I think I calm down a bit. God knows how long that went on, but eventually I get wheeled back to my room, and I can see my boyfriend there, but only just, because it feels like I'm just being drowned in unconsciousness - I swim up for a second and then get pinned back down again, against my will. That carried on for the rest of the day, basically. I guess we can safely say now that I'm not a big fan AT ALL of the old general anaesthetic, and will happily leave it a good long while before doing that again.

So apparently it all went well - the evil little stone-choking-fat-pinching bastard is out and languishing in medical waste somewhere, and I can move on with my life.

I've got some VERY fetching anti-embolism stockings on as we speak, and some actual ruby slippers on the ends of my tootsies for some Technicolour Garland glamour too. You can just imagine, what with the stockings, the infrequent bathing, the needing to be helped up to sitting position and the special surgical dressings for my wounds - my boyfriend is just out of his mind with frenzied desire and a urge to pledge his life to me for ever.

'Cocky Anaesthetist  just said WHAT ???!'

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The interwebs can cheer us up!

' Gee whiz, now I've got these inspiring blogs to read I can cut down on the barbiturates  and unsavoury menfolk!' 

We interrupt this most fascinating of all fascinating blog streams about gallstones to bring you news of inspirational, anxiety-busting blogs and websites elsewhere in the world.

Firstly: XO Jane. Have I mentioned this one before? Sorry gents, it's definitely a ladies only one, this. Ladies - listen up. I've just discovered it - full of hilarious, sassy (I really hate that word, so why would I use it?), feisty (if anything I hate this even more than sassy, grrrr) and strident (ah, forget it) articles written by clever, funny women.  

Okay, so I've just somehow managed to make it sound really terrible (remind me not to write a review of your book if you ever publish one), so just go there and see. It's not remotely all about mental health, but there are some bits and pieces that are really pertinent to us worry-warts: Anxiety hero Sara Benincasa has written a great article on there about panic attacks, there's this one  and this one about depression, and even one about GALLSTONES, who'd-a-thunk-it?! 

Use the search bar - it's your friend. If you're in the UK it will probably try to steer you to the new UK version, but I personally prefer the US one (which still features a lot of the UK articles).

Nextly: The Big Scary C Word. It's actually a breast cancer blog that popped up on Huffington Post UK, but is such an inspiring and brave account of a young woman coping (well, hell, she more than copes) that it deserves inclusion in the push-up bra (uplifting, see what I did there) section.

 I initially internally shrieked with self-hatred after seeing how phenomenally well she was dealing with something infinitely more terrifying than anything I worry about, but then I realised - she doesn't have an anxiety condition! Or depression! Her boatload of shit is very different to our boatload of shit, but you can certainly draw a hell of a lot of inspiration from this woman's sunny outlook - I certainly have.

Nextly nextly: Panic about Anxiety. Summer Beretsky blogs at Psych Central about her agoraphobia and panic attacks. Loads of great, clear, honest (she doesn't hide behind anonymity, hmmm) articles there about anxiety in all its gnarly forms.

Question: Is an anxiety blogger blogging about other great anxiety blogs a little like a woman telling her boyfriend how gorgeous other women are and then giving him their numbers? Guys, guys - where are you all going...hang on, can I just.....guyyyyyys...? 

V x

Blogs: for when life feels like a metaphorical budgie is crapping on your metaphorical head

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Operation Fawkes (aka Operation Operation)

''Ooooo-eee! Honey, you've got yourself a bad case of the SURGEON-GONNA-CUT-ME-UP-WILLIES - your anxiety temperature is th-rough the roof!'

Okay, I know my gallbladder has completely hijacked this blog, and I promise I will only write around two more organ-related posts. I'm sick to the back teeth of hearing about the bastard thing - so you guys must be begging for the scalpels too.

Long story short: I'm going nuclear - going private, because I can't live like this any more, and all my relatives are going to all pitch in with a bit of cash to make this happen. Should I put up a JustGiving page at work? I get them ALL the time (lots of athletic, overachieving, worthy colleagues, puke) so why not put together my own...? 'Hi All. Yep, you got it, it's another request for a needy cause, sort of. Just give me your card details and I'll post pics of my 'marathon' later...'

So will be having operation on the 5th of November. I am now, predictably, terrified, and my anxiety bugaboos (isn't that a type of pram? I've definitely got the wrong word there) have flown in to roost beside me.

'Remember, remember, the 5th of November' just sounds bloody terrifying now - is it an omen?! Am going to go the way of  Mr Fawkes, but minus the plucky heroism and fireworks? Am I going to wake up from the operation and not know where I am and have the worst panic attack ever and vomit into my hospital gowned lap? 

But it can't come soon enough really. Today I had an attack in the middle of preparing a VIP for an event - I went all 'show must go on' and gritted my teeth, smiled, chatted and managed to get them out on the stage before hobbling upstairs and collapsing underneath my desk. I stripped down to my singlet, popped some codeine, writhed there with my headphones on for a while (had to keep tabs on the event, what a control freak), covered in sweat from head to toe, and after 3/4 of an hour it completely passed and I went back down, said I'd been watching from the booth and no-one was the wiser.  But enough! Lady Macbeth of the Gallbladder says 'out, damn sac'!!

On the anxiety front, I've been finding it difficult to breathe, randomly, here and there. I REALLY hate that one. Just sitting there quietly and then suddenly, wheeze, wheeze, 'is my chest tight? Why can't I breathe? Shit'. I know it's just anxiety, and if I ignore it, it goes, but it's so bloody unsettling.

Onwards and upwards, though, hey?! No more gallbladder talk soon - promise! Only one more update about the operation (and maybe one afterwards, what the hell) and then back on track!

Hope all of you guys are fit and well and anxiety-free (ha - are we ever?!). And if you're not - screw it - grit your teeth, get through it, wait for time to pass, and better things will transpire for all of us soon. I'm a faithless, hippie-raised heathen but I'm trying on a bit of hope and faith for size! And weirdly, it kind of works! 

V x 

Don't pretend to be cute. You're going down, bitch.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Crying in hospital corridors (good potential band name?) ...

Nothing has changed in British hospitals since this picture was taken, except that the buildings have decayed and the instruments have grown rusty. And I don't think you get nuns now, more's the pity.

I had my appointment with the surgeon today. 

Managed to hyperventilate as soon as I started wandering through the hot, claustrophobic corridors  - American and Australian (hell, anything but British) readers, I know you're picturing a clean, bright, modern hospital right now, but please know that British hospitals are still using equipment from the 1930's, in buildings from the 1800's, and that that is truly terrifying. 

Burst into tears as soon as I got into the waiting room as it was full of hundreds of geriatric people coughing their wet lungs out. Was sweating so profusely I had to rip off all my layers, so was sitting there crying, practically naked in front of 100 staring old person eyes. I googled ' cute kittens' and flicked through those whilst I cried and waited and chastised myself for being a ridiculous wuss.

Half an hour later I see the surgeon, who is twelve. I just knew I would get a bloody junior doctor. No joke, he then launches into his special nightmarish bedtime story about EVERY SINGLE complication that has EVER occurred to people who don't get their gallbladder out. Terrifying things. Things even Google didn't tell me. He then told me EVERY SINGLE horrific complication that could occur with the surgery. At one point, when he was mentioning perforated somethings, drainage tubes, pus explosions, deranged sphincters (really) and mistakenly cut livers - tears just started pouring from my eyes (as in, I was silently crying). He got me some tissues, said nothing and proceeded with his list - nothing was going to deter him from the list.

I then get sent to the other side of the hospital for blood tests. Get to the desk and there's no-one there. Finally someone comes and points to a handmade sign that says 'No more blood tests'. No more blood tests? When I explain that a surgeon has sent me to get urgent tests, another harassed nurse comes up and starts shouting at nobody in particular 'Look at all these people! We just can't do it! There's too many people! Enough! We're closed! It's impossible!' and the guy nods and says 'nope, we're too busy'.  No sorries, and that's it.

So I go back to the 'digestive diseases' ugh, department, and tell them that apparently the blood test department is shut down for the day. So a very camp nurse takes me into a storage closet (I'm not joking), tells me he hasn't had a day off in three weeks, and does it there and then. The 'room' was so small we had to put together a military strategy for both of us to get out.

Okay, I don't want to be the standard NHS moaner, and apologies to all those of you who've had good experiences (and who will be affronted by bad language), but WHAT. THE. FUCK?! Is this country trying to kill its inhabitants so as to save money on welfare? Is there a grand genocidal, money-saving scheme going on that I don't know anything about?  

I have to wait FOUR MONTHS for the surgery. 

And I feel so ashamed  and furious with myself for having an anxiety attack (didn't quite reach the level that it needs to be to be classified a bowel-shuddering panic attack in my book) simply from walking through a hospital. How am I going to stay in it long enough to have surgery?! I feel like I've let myself down. I feel like I'm not a properly functioning adult - like I'm too sensitive and soft to cope with the harsh realities of the world. I feel different, and not in a good way.  

But I also know that empathy and sensitivity are what make me ME. I think deeply about people's experiences (too much maybe) and care about them - even if I don't know them - and most people don't. Maybe that makes me cry when I see sick people, and freak out when I'm in hospitals, but I'd rather be that than oblivious to suffering. 

And crying doesn't make you weak - everyone over the age of 13 knows that. Now, if you'll excuse me, I might go off and do it some more.*

*NB. Since writing this, some beautiful, charitable genius commented below and snapped me back to reality - so no more anxious self-pity and self-blame going on any more! I'll let this post stand as a perfect example of how easy it is for us GAD sufferers (and really anyone who sets far too high standards for themselves) to blame ourselves unnecessarily. Apparently, sometimes freaking out is normal and justifiable - particularly when surrounded by dying people! That does actually make sense, come to think of it. Thank god for you guys - you are all absolutely AWESOME and amazing and fantastic and I love that we almost have a bit of a community going here. Bring your nervous friends!  V x

This is me, hugging all of you (a little bit too tightly and needily). Awww.  <3

Friday, 5 October 2012

Guys - are we the only sane ones?!

'If I leave the house I could be struck by an out-of-control motorcar, or be attacked by a grubby urchin. Far better to sit here and wait for the TB to take hold'

I have a (half-baked, biased, not thoroughly researched) theory. Admittedly it sounds like the textbook ravings of a madwoman, but stick with me.

 It is my contention that anxious and depressed people are actually the sane, in-touch-with-reality ones, and those odd, glowing balls of Pollyanna-ish, panic-free light you see around are actually completely deluded and inured to the realities of the world.

Ever wonder if maybe crippling anxiety is a normal and justifiable response to a world in which we we are painfully squidgy and breakable in the face of disease and tragedy and accident and heartbreak? Tali Sharot, author of 'The Optimism Bias' argues that most people grossly underestimate risk, and wildly overestimate their capacity to survive life's gauntlet unscathed. 

Her research shows that clinically depressed people have a much firmer grasp of statistical probability and the likelihood of negative outcomes, whereas non-depressed people consistently under-predict those outcomes, or assume they will happen to other people . These results were so convincing and predictable, that she argues that what is often called pessimism is actually far closer to realism, and what is called 'normal' is actually dangerously deluded.

I also read in the paper the other day that mildly depressed people are viewed as being far more practical and grounded and useful in the workplace, because of the aforementioned ability to assess risk and potential threats. (As long as they're not crying into their sushi, presumably).

 Perhaps if we'd had more depressives and neurotics in the banking industry, the global economic temperature would be far healthier - if there were more of us on the trading floors, we would have been ominously whispering 'God, let's not sell these sub-prime mortgage-backed securities - imagine if there were a global crash and loads of people ended up penniless and destitute and lost their houses and killed themselves!!'

Essentially, anxious folk are having a normal and natural response to a world in which cancer and divorce statistics are terrifyingly loaded, random, life-altering accidents are sadly commonplace, and where our mortality is under threat in a thousand different ways, a thousand times a day. We KNOW what can happen to us. We appreciate the risks. We have accurately taken the measure of our squidgy selves and our spiky habitat. We have seen the nature of the world, as it is, and so we don't want to leave our bloody houses, thanks very much!

It's cold comfort, but the next time your doctor sighs, and says 'ah, yes, looks like you're suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder' you can flash right back like a latter-day Dorothy Parker and say 'Actually doc, research shows that I have a far greater grasp of risk and the limits of my own mortality than you do, so you could hardly call it a 'disorder', but sadly I live in a society where we have medicalised normality and put mass-scale madness and denial on a pedestal. Now just give me my repeat prescription for a lifetime's supply of Valium and we'll say nothing more of it...'*

*NB. This is meant to be a reasssuring, empowering post for the already-worried, but now I'm worried it's going to make you more worried... 

Oh, bugger off, Pollyanna, you crazy, deluded loon. Don't you know that your chances of DVT go up with having to lie around in that bathchair all day?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Boils and burps and blues, oh my!

'No, I can't come out from behind the couch. No, I can't tell you why, because nice girls don't tell tales about their  hypothetical boils that aren't covered by their hypothetical stockings on their hypothetical legs'

Things I gleaned from the universe this week:

  • I should stick to my day job. I get BBC job alerts (I love my job, but just in case), and one of them was 'Researcher on Silent Witness'. This actually made me laugh out loud. Can you think of a job that comes less recommended for an anxious person? 'Hmmm, let me just see how I can make this grisly murder look more convincing and true to life - *Googles real life murder details. Faints and never leaves the house again*.
  • I should never again swallow peppermint oil capsules that are not covered in enteric coating. Basically they just explode halfway down your unsuspecting oesophagus, and create a burning lining of peppermint everywhere in your digestive system. Painful peppermint burps and blistering heartburn ensue - I feel like I've rinsed my intestines with industrial-strength mouthwash. And apparently now (I Googled my symptoms even though my family has tried to ban me from consulting Dr Google) I get to look forward to 'anal itching and burning' when said peppermint finally vacates my system. Fabulous.
  • It's hard to feel glamorous when you have managed to harbour a BOIL on your leg (in the middle ages I believe they were referred to as carbuncles, arg) - in all likelihood exacerbated by a shamefully lax shaving regime. As I applied my Chanel lipstick and pouted in the mirror, I realised I was painting a very thin and insufficient veneer of artificial glamour over an angry body full of weird, stifled gallstone sludge and carbuncle pus (sorry chaps). Sexy!
  • Having a doctor as your upstairs neighbour is a mixed blessing. On the plus-side, I find it ridiculously comforting hearing him padding around upstairs - essentially I know I can bang on his door and get an emergency tracheostomy STAT should I ever need one. On the downside, his ghoulish medical mailings are in the communal post area. 'Nasal-gastric tube errors: avoiding the risks' screams out from the latest issue's cover, with grainy black and white pictures of perforated lungs underneath. Shudder.
  • Tomorrow is another day. The hardest thing to cope with at the moment (ironically) is my endless fretting about how I will cope with this for a possible five months until the operation (worst-case scenario of course - this is me we're talking about). But the fact is, I AM coping. I AM getting to the end of each wretched, crappy day, so all I need to do is carry on with what I'm doing, and inevitably the days will snowball and roll into weeks, which will turn into months, and I'll arrive at my promised surgical land of manna and scalpels in the end. *  

Check me out, being all Buddhist and accepting. This is a blatant lie, of course - I hope you spotted it. Inside (and outside, to be honest) I am screaming 'HOW THE BLOODY BEJESUS AM I GOING TO COPE WITH THIS FOR MONTHS ON END???!!!!' but I'm trying on my beatific monk's robe for size. Fake it 'til you make it, kids!!!        

I tell you what, they'll keep you 'aglow' all right...

Friday, 21 September 2012

Half-full?! There IS no bloody glass!

'And THIS ONE'S CLEAN TOO?! Is there no end to the gifts and blessings God will bestow upon me?!'


I realise this statement is ironic in itself. I can sustain the bright, sunshine-y thing for about half an hour, or during the day, but by the time I get home from work, I'm back in the land where everything is awful, where nothing will ever be right again, and where I am a dysfunctional, horrible poison wafting around the house and emptying vitriol over my boyfriend. 

If something is wrong, I just find it really hard to believe that everything isn't 100% terrible and an utter catastrophe. I re-tread this miserable little neural path over and over and over again, and I despair of anything ever changing it (which itself is completely catastrophic and further grist to my specially patented self-pity mill). I get myself tangled into a net of woe and anger and fury about the situation, and about my inability to change it, and about how horrendous the whole mess is, and end up so beyond exhausted I can't even comprehend what exhausted means.

I have spent at least half an hour sobbing every day since about two months ago. I can never believe it when I read those twenty question interviews in the Guardian and they ask the person 'when was the last time you cried?' And they say 'oh, ten years ago when I watched Free Willy' or something. I would be like 'oh, five minutes ago in the taxi on the way to the interview, and before that, ten hours ago in the shower, and before that five hours ago when eating my dinner' etc etc etc ad nauseam. Will I ever get to the point where I can't remember the last time I cried? Can you get repetitive tear duct syndrome (RTDS) or early-onset blindness from too much YSL mascara in the retinas?

I've been googling positive thinking, and all I can find are these blogs with people who've got fibromyalgia and cancer and two amputated limbs and lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and a heart condition and a drug addiction and an abusive childhood - and they're all UNBELIEVABLY F*&KING POSITIVE! Which makes me think I'm a horrible, ungrateful, twisted little self-pitier with a black steam of smoke for a heart and Eeyore for a God.

(You can tell I'm desperate by the following sentence, which actually hurts me to type out) Do any of you have any mantras or sayings or prayers or anything that keep you upbeat and out of the asylum? I'm running through depressive treacle here and could do with your advice.

So far, the only one that has come naturally to me, was when I was curled up in the foetal position in the corner of my open-plan office, being watched by my colleagues, and crying with gallstone pain this Tuesday. It was 'This will soon be over and I'll be watching the Great British Bake-off with my boyfriend this evening, this will soon be over and I'll be watching the Great British Bake-off with my boyfriend this evening'

Which, I think you'll agree, needs some work.

'THE TOAST IS BURNED! My life as I know it is over. I might as well throw myself into the bin with it now and wait for the dustmen of doom to take me to the scrapheap of suffering'

Friday, 14 September 2012

How (not) to be alone...

'Thank goodness I've got a million and one things to do - now I don't have to endure the horrible darkness of my own mind. Hurrah!'

I discovered something confusing this week. I hope this is not too much of a solipsistic post, but I'm really describing my own brittle mind to see if any of you struggle in similar ways.

So. Apparently, the more work I have on, the less anxious I am, and the more things I HAVE to do, the less depressed I get. And that extends to 12 hour days and huge professional pressure that would make even His Holiness the D. Lama himself get a bit hot under the collar.

Why is that? How ridiculous! Is it because my flood of adrenaline finally actually has a legitimate output? Does my body suddenly recognise the 'dangerous' scenarios it has been planning so steadily for?  Is it a perfect context match between stressful situation and stressed person, so my body can finally relax into a sort of natural symmetry?

It explains why holidays are always tricky for me, and why a week working from home sends me into a tailspin.

I'm a bit fearful of this discovery (quelle surprise). Because what it means, ultimately (I think), is that I'm not very good on my own. If left alone with my mind for too long, I end up panting and sweating and writhing in agony with a frenzied worry monkey on my back and a tranquilliser hissing in my stomach.

But this is terrible news! Because we HAVE to be able to sit with ourselves, alone, without going mad! Surely that's a fundamental life skill!

 Imagine me, on a desert island - I'd have only been gone for three days, and they'd find me looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway - incontinent, bearded, and talking to a coconut. Jesus, God forbid I go to Mauritius or something on my honeymoon - my new husband will have just popped out for a Daiquiri and I would suddenly descend into a hairy, sweaty mass tangled in a cheap sarong.

I can't believe I'm saying this out loud, but I think I may hate my own company. If you do, too (hate your own company, not mine - that's just cruel) - tell me, so I can feel less unhinged.

And if you don't, please, for the love of God and all that is sacred, give me some sort of insight into how you've managed it.

'But darling, I was only gone for...!' 'You should never have left me alone , Marmaduke. I told you this when we were courting. I CANNOT be left alone'

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A mean case of the 'shoulds'...

I WANT YOU to do everything differently and to not do that and to do that a bit more and feel grateful that you didn't fight in WWII and that you're not dying of cancer and to pull yourself together and stop being so much like that.

I'm in my twenties, but they're almost over.

I should be having fun.
I shouldn't be sick.
I shouldn't be depressed.
I shouldn't have to take medication.
I should be carefree.
I should be crazy and thoughtless.
 I should be spontaneous and capricious.
 I shouldn't be anxious. 
I should be able to do that easily.
I should be having sex twenty times a week.
I should look like that.
I should be a better girlfriend.
I should be successful by now.
I should make the most of this.
I should think about myself less.
 I should have more friends.
I should be more like her.
I should be almost ready to have kids by now.
I should go to that thing.
I should buy that thing.
 I should change this.
 I should read that.
 I should do that more. 
I should eat more of that.
I should take more of those.
I should stop staying should so much.

I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should.I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should.I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should.I should I should I should I should.I should I should I should I should.I should I should I should I should.I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should.I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should I should.


Am I the only one being pursued by a rabid Shouldasaurus?

'Hi, is that NHS Direct? I keep having recurrent and distressing thoughts that all begin with the words "I SHOULD" and now I've got a touch of self-hating hysteria. Can you send someone with a medical license over to the house straightaway?'

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

I worry, therefore I am...

Phew. See, she was worrying unnecessarily. Don't let yourself fall into that silly lady-trap, tsk tsk, there's a pretty thing.

'Cognitive fusion' sounds like an exciting thing that happens in clever brains, but is actually a stupid bitch of a neuro-thing, and here's why.

Apparently when you start worrying about something (i.e. 'argh, my wife is going to divorce me because we had a big argument') your brain and body cannot distinguish between your imagining of the horrors of the event, and the actual event itself. To the brain and the adrenal system, when you imagine all the terrifying things that could happen during a divorce (brain screaming 'I'll be alone!' 'I'll lose my kids!' I'll never have sex again!'), you are literally experiencing all the same emotions and affective hormones etc you would experience during an actual divorce.

You've essentially created a nightmare-ish fantasy world that your body cannot divorce (ha) from reality.

So a day spent worrying about the possibility of a divorce, is a day where you've voluntarily propelled yourself into an unpleasant almost-genuine experience that either;

a) is never going to happen, in which case you've given yourself a traumatic fake divorce completely unnecessarily. (The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that this is the most likely option, particularly if your worries involve obscure, disastrous outcomes with infinitesimally small chances of ever occurring like mine do)

b) IS going to happen, in which case you've not only got to go through it once in your horrible pretend-land, but AGAIN in the real world.

The reason this is a bitch is that

a) it's destructive and horrible and nasty
b) knowing all about it doesn't stop me worrying in the slightest.

Well, maybe a little bit. I'm working on it.

The upside (it genuinely took me more than a day to hit on this, I'm such an Eeyore!) is that it works in reverse - i.e. imagining lovely things produces all the warm fuzzy good vibes you'd get if you were really doing those lovely things. Hence the popularity of visualisation ('you're lying on a warm beach in the Caribbean feeling the sand between your toes etc').

So all we need to do, is stop imagining horrible things, and start imagining wonderful things! Our anxiety will not only dissipate, we'll actually go from almost-genuinely experiencing divorces and gnarly deaths to almost-genuinely experiencing beach holidays and winning the lottery!

I told you there would be an easy solution to this anxiety lark! Stick with me, kids, and we'll soon have it licked.

V x

'I can finally see my happy-ever-afters clearly with these special rose-tinted spectacles on. Hurrah!'

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Brain - serotonin = WET CHAOS...

Just like this poor woman, my brain has fallen victim to moving and sentimental images, like fully-clothed sunbathing on LiLos, and Italian wedding dresses. 

My brain and I have had a falling out. There's been a slapped wrist (brains have wrists) and an official warning over negligence of basic duties. It's not being fed serotonin every morning with its cornflakes and has gone all mushy and sentimental and weird.

In the last two days I have cried in the following ways:
  • When I flicked over to the X-Factor (eating dinner, urgently needed moving images) and listened to a mildly talented boy whose parents had split up (they couldn't even scrape together any real tragedy for the pre-singing story) sing a probably mediocre song, but in my addled state I just heard music, so was moved. I mean, multiple tears, not just A single, individual tear.
  • Watching some terrible documentary about athletes and how-hard-they-trained-for-the-Olympics-and-how-happy-they-were-that-all-their-hard-work-had-paid-off-and-how-it-was-all-worth-it-and-how-they-were-really-pleased-to-represent-the-country-and-how-grateful-they-were-to-their-coaches-who-had-been-through-it-with-them-from-the-very-beginning-and-most-of-all-to-their-families-who-always-believed-in-them cue Coldplay.
  • Watching the last 3 minutes (literally) of Masterchef Australia where the winner was crowned. I want to clarify that I had not watched ANY of the series, so this was a record tear release from a standing start.
  • When someone's pastry tore on the Great British Bake-off.
  • At several slow-motion sporting montages calculatedly created to cause maximum heartstring damage by the BBC

But here's the clincher:
  • I CRIED WATCHING AN 80s RE-RUN OF THE CRYSTAL MAZE. When a girl managed to get a crystal. That's all. When she took it back to the team they all cheered and I felt my eyes moisten.

And I said -  'ENOUGH!!!! The Crystal Maze??? Really, has it come to this? You are genuinely moved by a 20 year old re-run on Challenger? What is happening up there in the control room Mr Brain? Are you pulling the wrong levers or something? Are you drunk? Are you asleep at the wheel? Do you need a defibrillator? What do you want from me?!'

How long does it take brains to get back to normal after a number of years being chemically enhanced, I wonder...

Oh no, don't, I can feel them forming. Look at her eager face. Oh God, it's too late. What a moving display of ingenuity and problem-solving. Pass the tissues please.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

It's my self-pity party and I'll cry if I want to...

This is actually a photograph of me, taken only yesterday

Hi guys. I'm throwing a self-pity party today and you're all invited (apart from my boyfriend, who has been attending the pre-party for the last few weeks and needs to go have his own one now)

Here are the facts:

1. My vertigo/labyrinthitis symptoms have come back. Having labyrinthitis was the thing that triggered all my panics in the first place, so I'm really freaking out. It's been three weeks now, and it's not going away.

2. I've now completely tapered down off all my anti-depressant (still on Lyrica, but needed to rekindle my libido which was brutally exterminated by the Citalopram soldiers). Forum on the web suggests the vertigo is a symptom of coming off the SSRIs, so maybe it's that. Lots of frantic Googling later, and I still have no idea if it is or not.

3. I'm meant to be going on holiday with my boyfriend to NY, LA then Mexico in two days time (the wedding of one of my best friends in the world), and it looks like I'm too dizzy and sick to go. It took 6 months of 'will I, won't I' , some weird hypnosis, and a handbag full of benzodiazepines to be comfortable enough with even TRYING a long-distance flight again, but when I finally did, I felt brave and was looking forward to it. Now I can't go and I feel utterly bereft.

4. I booked non-refundable flights

5. I had an ultrasound today to see what was causing my chronic indigestion, and it turns out I have gallstones. And I need to get my gallbladder cut out of my body. With a scalpel. And rummaging in my insides. And general anaesthetic. 

There are no words to describe how much this freaks me out. Having lived in Britain for almost ten years now, I said 'oh, really? Well, thanks, thanks so much, yes, wonderful, great, okay then - thanks again' to be polite, and than ran outside and cried and had to sit down outside the hospital so I didn't faint. And then I started worrying poor expectant mothers would freak out at the sight of me thinking I had lost my baby or something, so I had to move myself along. 

6. I have cried every single day for the last 3 weeks. This may be down to coming off my pills, which may mean I need to be on them FOREVER and will become a female eunuch and lose my boyfriend and have to live somewhere as a panicked, atheist nun.

7. I'm scared my stones are going to explode.

8. I'm scared my boyfriend is going to run away with a beautiful, healthy Mexican lady who never panics and doesn't have gall-related-belching.

9. I'm scared and sad about being scared and sad and I'm driving myself and my poor boyfriend CRAZY. I'm trying to find it funny, but sometimes it's just not. Now I'm crying again. I'm like a strange, leaky, worried, burping, dizzy, bilious beast. 

Okay, some of those last ones weren't facts.*


* This is what CBT teaches you, to be able to distinguish between facts and thoughts. Pah. Go away sanctimonious CBT - I'm having a pity-party, and you're not invited.

'I really loved my gallbladder. It was my favourite innard'

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Better breathing for panicked panters...

'Doctor, Doctor, I just have this, sort of, suffocating feeling, like someone's got their hands around my neck and I can't get any air...'

I've just realised that I haven't yet shared one of the all-time best panic-busting tips I've ever been given.

After being diagnosed with panic disorder, I languished for six months on a CBT treatment course waiting list (thank you NHS), but I did finally wend my trembling way into a treatment room. And when I did, BOY was the wait worth it (thank you NHS, no sarcasm). 

Having the CBT was the first time I really got to grips with this gnarly panic crap, and began to lose my fear of panic a bit. I'd tried some CBT in self-help books prior to that (I ordered approximately 851,000 different books and CDs on Amazon), but it never really stuck, and being an impatient, type A sort of person, I would just race through the chapters, do the exercises quickly, shout 'FINISHED!' triumphantly, and then complain that it wasn't working. 

Before then, I think I still thought I would die with each panic attack. I thought I was completely insane, and needed to be locked up. I thought my life as I knew it was over. Of course now I still have a moment during panic when I think all of those things, but my more logical brain can fight back much quicker and win the day in the end. 

It's too much to cram into a single post (maybe I should do a series?), but the overriding rule that changed my panic-stricken life was: DON'T TRY TO CONTROL YOUR BREATHING.  It was completely at odds with all the other stuff I'd been reading and trying (breathing in for 5, hold for 4, out for 8 - that sort of thing), and with loads of other panic advice I'd been given.  

The guy asked me to hyperventilate with him so he could prove it to me. I cried and refused (why the hell would I do that?! I literally spent every second trying NOT to hyperventilate!) so we tried it in another session once I trusted him a bit more. He did it with me, and promised nothing bad would happen to either of us. We deliberately hyperventilated together (one of the stranger experiences I've shared with a complete stranger) and watched what happened afterwards. Essentially, your body regulates itself. It does not need you to sit and watch your breath. It does not need you to count each one in and out. It does not need you to DO anything. It just does it on its own! Miraculous, hey?! If you hyperventilate and go out of whack, in a short space of time it will come back into whack - without your help or control or vigilant inspection. 

I cannot tell you what a huge, unbelievably liberating relief it was just to LET GO of the goddamn breathing thing and just let it do its thing. It was like taking off a 100kg backpack and leaving it at the door. It sounds obvious to non-panickers, but it certainly wasn't to me then. I don't think I've ever fully hyperventilated (in an out-of-control way) since then. I may have got strained, and struggled, and started to breathe quickly, and worried I was going to run out of air, but the less I tried to control it, the quicker it came back round to normal in the end.

That's it. Don't control your breathing. Just let your body do its thing.

Sorry for a tortuously long, and possibly slightly dull post, chaps, but the fundamentals are important too, right?! 

A successful, non-panicked breather will look relaxed and beatific, like so.

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