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, 30 March 2012

Anxiety hero trading cards #4

#4 Kim Basinger

'I'll be safe here inside this hood...'

Vital anxiety statistics: My God she's gorgeous. And she's so southern and husky and pouty and b-yooti-ful. But she is also very ANXIOUS, poor lamb. She has twice been housebound for six month stretches with severe panic attacks and agoraphobia. (And that bastard Alec didn't really understand, pffft. You know you can't trust the Baldwins.)

Career highlights: LA Confidential. Hands down.

Why she's an AWESOME anxiety hero: She won an Oscar. She won the beauty and charm lottery.  She dated Prince. She wore a tux to some Parisian awards ceremony. She's poised and talented and confident. She campaigned for PETA. She tried to buy a whole town. Is there anything she can't do?!

What you can learn from her: DON'T BE ASHAMED. Kim is not crazy. Kim is not drooling into her porridge and sloping around the house in slippers. Kim does not have straggly, greasy hair and a lack of gentleman callers. She just has panic attacks. (And she's not afraid to talk about them).

Best anxiety quote: 'I was in a healthfood store...I was sweating so profusely and I just could not move...I stumbled into the parking lot, got in my car, drove home, and did not leave again for six months'

Further reading: She made a documentary called America Uncovered: Panic about her agoraphobia, and I think there's a clip on YouTube somewhere. You could also just watch LA Confidential and swoon. And maybe even try Never Say Never Again for some classic 80's Basinger/Connery magic.

'You're jusht sho gorgeoush and sh-weaty Kim...'

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wednesday's anxiety shopping list...

'Oh, good lord...not my itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-yellow-polka-dot bikini...'

A list of today's sunny anxieties.

1. Blog performance.

The awesome, amazing, hilarious, superb Jon Ronson tweeted about my blog (yes, I can now die happy), and now thousands of people are looking at it, and I'm petrified of what to write next. I am exceptionally talented at managing to turn a good thing: 'brilliant writer I have admired for years endorses my writing' into a bad thing: 'thousands of people looking at my blog and, oh God, what if I can't think of anything funny to say, oh my God no' etc.

2. Shark attacks.

I was thinking about shark attacks on the train this morning. Seriously. And wondering about how I felt about the statistics - i.e. even if it is very rare, do I still want to take the chance, are they odds I would gamble on, and would I be particularly bad at coping in that being-eaten-alive sort of situation (i.e. worse than a non-anxious person), and just generally about how awful it would be to be eaten by a shark, and how I would very, very, very much not like that to happen. (Not sure why this came up, but think it was a combination of the sun coming out, and an ad for a holiday to Sharm el Sheik (Sharm el Shark) that did it.)

3. Kidnappings.

In a similar vein, I was thinking about kidnappings in Mexico (I'm going in September), and wondering if it happened, if my kidnappers would let me get a prescription for Xanax (seriously), and if they would let me call my family, and if I would just die of fright and craziness before anyone stumped up the money for me. 

4.  Spiked Latte

I ordered a decaf coffee and entertained the vague, back-of-the-mind worry that the barista might have got the coffees mixed up by accident, so I said 'yes, can I have the DECAF coffee' please (with strong emphasis) and then when she brought it over, said 'great, is that my DECAF coffee? Thanks so much' (with strong emphasis). And then felt a bit of a freak. 

In other news, it is a beautiful day, and I just got a little bit toasted in the sun ('oh no, that will increase my chances of skin cancer' etc etc etc ad infinitum...)

'Goodness, I hope he lets me pop into the pharmacy on the way to the kidnapper's lair...' 

Monday, 26 March 2012

What's new pussycat? Whoah-a-oh...oh.


Hilarious. Read 'em and weep!

Friday, 23 March 2012

You're feeling verrry sleepy (you control freak) vol II

Another day, another trip to Hypno Joe's. Elevator conquered, I find myself back in his now familiar little chamber of weirdness. Big letters spell out RELAX on the wall (totally counter-productive, stuff like that - just so you know*) and the patient's chair is super uncomfortable (way to put us at ease, Joe!).

This time we're doing a combination of something with initials (EMDR?) and something else with initials (NLP). Hmmm - WTF? Essentially, this seems to involve tapping your face and saying reassuring things. Apparently it rid Joe of his hayfever (whaaaat? Is he insane?) and sounds like a massive load of old hogwash to me, and I'm disappointed in him for being so...weird. And gullible.

But I do it, because I will do ANYTHING even on the remote possibility it works. (And because I'm paying through the bloody nose for it.) And because a girl I once knew claimed that the tapping thing totally cured her of something or other. So lots of good, robust evidence-based reasons then.

So our conversation goes a little something like this...

'Relax, Viv, start tapping your forehead with two fingers, and repeat after me - I am a confident, strong woman'

'I am a confident, strong woman' (tapping, feeling VERY stupid)

'I don't need fear in my life any more' 

'I don't need fear in my life any more' (apparently we're moving all over our face with the tapping thing, so now we're on the nose)

'There is nothing to be afraid of'

'There is nothing to be afraid of' (chin)

'I am going to say goodbye to this fear, and hello to a new life'

I am going to say goodbye to this fear, and hello to a new life' (hands now)

'I am the hunter'

'I am the...whaaat?'

'I am the hunter'

I am the hunter?!' (incredulous, and now laughing in poor Joe's serious, tapping face. Is he for real? Is this really happening?)

'I am the hunter.'

'Uh, I am the...hunter..?' (faltering, tapping, laughing)

'I am not the prey'

 'I am not the prey' (now in hysterics, but also beginning to question the life choices that have led me to this moment) 

Things carry on is this vein for for another surreal ten minutes or so until eventually our time is up. I hand over the best part of a hundred quid, feeling suspiciously prey-like...

Has Joe just shot me with a metaphorical rifle and slung me over his metaphorical shoulder like a plump, metaphorical deer?

I will let time (or maybe you guys) decide...

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Anxiety hero trading cards #3

#3 Charles M. Schulz

I *heart* widow's peaks
Vital anxiety statistics: Snoopy's doting Dad hated to travel, loathed hotels and was plagued by anxiety, panic attacks, loneliness and depression. According to his wife, he 'worried constantly'. Sound familiar?

Career highlights: 

Why he's an AWESOME anxiety hero: Five reasons. Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, and Woodstock. 

Oh, and he fought in WWII and beat those nasty Nazis (not single-handedly, admittedly). And one of the Apollo 10 command modules was named Charlie Brown after his amazingly depressed and neurotic self-portrait.

What you can learn from him: You too could create some of the best-loved cartoon characters ever, win the Congressional Medal of Honour, kick some Nazi bum, and earn a cool $1.1 billion in the process (if you so choose).

Best anxiety quote: 'The most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood by only a few.  I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running down the road frantically pursuing the family car. He is not really being left behind, but for that moment, in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive.'

Further reading: Just have a look-see at these. He may have been sad, but he was also pretty, pretty funny...(and you know how much I love that in a worrier).

...I got carried away. They're all just so goddamn good. The one above is definitely a panic attack, no?
Monday, 19 March 2012

Like a Weeble from the ashes...

Victory is mine, my friends!

Just in case you were thinking of sending me an emergency care package of paper bags and pills (and perhaps an award for outstanding alliteration), I can now exclusively reveal the sequel to Thursday's plaintive pre-travel post.

*Clears throat nervously* 

I, uh, had a fantastic time. 

A couple of panic attacks here and there, and a bit of pill popping, but overall everything was wonderful and shiny and amazing and fabulous. Who would've thunk it? Certainly not old jitter-bowels Viv.

I was chatting to the boyfriend about it - describing my triumphant return from the panic spiral, and I said: 

'I'm like one of those things, you know, those things that keep on boinging back...what are they called?

'A phoenix?'

'No, a round, squat thing - the pushy-over things that you can never push over completely'

'A weeble? 

'Yes! A weeble! Weebles wobble but they don't fall down!'

'Really? I see you as more of a beautiful phoenix, rising from the ashes...'

'No. A weeble. I feel more like a weeble. I am a surprisingly resilient, surprisingly svelte, surprisingly wobblesome-but-never-falling-down weeble'

So there you have it kids. You can pick your side - phoenix or weeble - depending on your tastes, but the result is still the same. Every day you pick yourself up and keep on plugging on, your triumphant inner phoenix/weeble soars. 

So take that to the war against panic bank and bank it!

Repeat after me: 'I am a weeble warrior not a feeble worrier...'

Thursday, 15 March 2012

In which Viv admits she's scared...

I suddenly thought I should clear something up.

I've tried to make this blog as funny, light-hearted and full of helpful hints, tips and stories as I can - but that doesn't mean I'm always being fabulously flippant about this condition, or laughing heartily and with gusto at my silly little predicaments (what larks etc).

Au contraire kids. Sometimes I get absolutely furious, and I mean FURIOUS, with the whole kitten caboodle, and don't find a single element of the bloody thing funny at all.  

I've been visiting my Dad and today I have to leave to go for a couple of nights away with my boyfriend. It's in another city, and I'm nervous about going. I've got a cold, which always makes my anxiety worse, and the claustroholiday extravaganza has made me even more apprehensive about going away again than I would already be.

So this morning I've been battling the runs, and have sobbed into my tea because I'm so frightened of taking this next step. I used to absolutely LOVE travelling and going to new, exciting places (and I know I will again), and so this reduction of my natural personality and abilities drives me crazy.

It strikes me that anxiety and panic is a constant business of re-learning things. I used to be fine on trains - then I got ill, and had to learn how to be comfortable on them from scratch. Then I felt better, then I didn't get on one for a couple of weeks when I had a blip, and then I had to learn how to do it all over again. So it feels like you're getting back up on the horse only to get knocked off, and then having to learn how to ride all over again. But it's the only way of moving forward, because if you don't push through that initial horrible phase, you never re-learn, and end up with your lifestyle severely curtailed (and you never discover that what you fear most is only an illusion).

So I'm going to go and leave this safe place, and jump on that train, and go to a place I've never been before, and try not to worry, and try not to imagine the whole few days ahead in infinite detail (the dreaded 'what-ifs' that plague me at moments like these), and just take things as they come.

And I know I'll find this all funny again in a week - or maybe even a day or so. (And don't fret  - the funnier posts will be back then, too).

Here goes!

V x

PS. And yes, I will be taking a Lorazepam if that's what you were wondering - I'm not a complete masochist... 

PPS. Leave some comments people - I can see you're reading, so join the fantabulous, spectacular party in the comments pages! You know you want to...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Don't worry baby...

...everything will turn out alright.

I was desperately trying not to worry last night (well, hell, when am I not trying not to worry?!), and this came on the trusty old iPod like a squeaky-clean, blonde, Californian angel from on high. It cheered me up no end - let the boys soothe you, too!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

We're all goin' on a claustroholiday...

How bad can it be?!

Just got back from a weekend at a famous adventure holiday camp with my boyfriend's family. Having managed to resist it for two years in a row, this year I decided to bite the bullet, be a good auntie/girlfriend/daughter-in-law (ish) and join in. Everyone (including the boyfriend, who is now in the doghouse and never, EVER to be trusted again) promised me it would be far better than my worst, most fearful imaginings. 'How bad can it be?!' I thought to myself. Oh readers, how wrong I was...

Day 1: Arrived at aforementioned camp (in the middle of a huge forest) in the dark. Became increasingly aware of the remote location, thousands of cabins illuminated with cheap fluorescence and the glow of happy families, obvious impossibility of escape (one needed to walk for half an hour to get out of the forest and back to the carpark and civilisation), strange high-vis jacketed men peering through windows, and unidentified nature rustling in undergrowth. Went into bedroom, proceeded to get on the panic attack express (exacerbated somewhat by my conviction that I was trapped in a weird, Nazi-esque Hitler-youth camp), and only calmed down after my boyfriend managed to chuck a Lorazepam down my throat.

Day 2:  After planning my escape the previous night, I settled down and decided to try to enjoy the day. We took the kids to a massive water-park extravaganza for some swimming and water-sliding action. 'What larks!' I thought. 'Come on Viv, stop being a fretful, paranoid snob and get thee in a wave pool for some chillaxing.'

Now where did I put my Lorazepam again?

Gentle readers, it was in a massive dome. A huge, humid, insane, verruca-fest inside an huge, insane, impenetrable dome. And full of thousands, literally thousands, of screaming children. After retreating under a plastic palm tree I launched into holiday camp panic #2. Berated boyfriend for inexcusable lies and crazy masochistic family. Regretted leaving tranquilizers in damp locker miles away. Calmed down eventually after squashing poor, shivering three-year old niece to my bosom for about 20 minutes (NB. this actually works. If you can find a child to hug, it's just like a stuffed-monkey - only much, much better. I can't vouch for what effect this has on them though)

Day 3: The spa. I don't think I even need to explain why three hours in a succession of tinier and tinier steam rooms and saunas was not exactly what the doctor ordered for his claustrophobic, panicked patient. 

The moral of this story is not that we neurotics are right when we imagine terrible things, or that we should avoid leaving our safe, cosy, non-threatening bedrooms. It is to remind us that if we've ever felt trepidation about visiting an famous, fun-filled, family holiday camp, that we were GODDAMN RIGHT TO FEEL IT , and that sometimes our instincts are not anxiety-addled instincts at all, but the sane, rational instincts of normal, hell-avoiding people.

Thus endeth the lesson.
Friday, 9 March 2012

Anxiety hero trading cards #2

#2 Charles Darwin

Yes, that's right - I said monkeys

Vital anxiety statistics: Apparently poor old Charlie was crippled by panic disorder and agoraphobia - who knew?! He wouldn't leave home without his wife, had a phobia of both crowds and being alone, and used to vomit for 24 hours continuously before he had any sort of speaking engagement (not great news for a world-famous academic and explorer with a pretty big theory to spread).

Career highlights: A little thing called 'evolution'. 'Nuff said.

Why he's an AWESOME anxiety hero: Ummm, evolution? Changing the entire face of human understanding, knowledge, science etc etc. That enough for you?

What you can learn from him: Having pretty powerful panic disorder does not need to stop you from penning one of the most important books ever written, voyaging round the world in a rickety ship, or going down in history as one of the greatest and revolutionary minds to ever have lived. And just think - they didn't even have Xanax then - shudder.

Best anxiety quote: 'Fear is often preceded by astonishment, and is so far akin to it, that both lead to the senses of sight and hearing being instantly aroused. In both cases the eyes and mouth are widely opened, and the eyebrows raised. The frightened man at first stands like a statue motionless and breathless, or crouches down as if instinctively to escape observation. The heart beats quickly and violently, so that it palpitates or knocks against the ribs... That the skin is much affected under the sense of great fear, we see in the marvellous manner in which perspiration immediately exudes from it... The hairs also on the skin stand erect; and the superficial muscles shiver. In connection witih the disturbed action of the heart, the breathing is hurried. The salivary glands act imperfectly; the mouth becomes dry, and is often opened and shut...'

Further reading: 'On the Origin of Species'. Or just look at some monkeys.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

You're feeling verrrrry sleeeeepy (you control freak)...

Wooooo, the scary hypnosis spiral...

Well, hello there loyal readers (love you, Mum). Thanks for popping by and entering the worrisome realm of the occasional teeth-grinders and fist-clenchers.

So what's been happening with you lately, Viv? I hear you ask. Well. There's a pretty ticklesome story there.

In a desperate bid to rid my mind of the anxiety demons once and for all, I've just started seeing a hypnotherapist (let's call him Hypno-Joe, which admittedly makes him sound a bit like a travelling circus-freak). I'd heard of someone who was agoraphobic for years, and was COMPLETELY cured by hypnotherapy, so decided to throw some more money at my neuroses and see what would happen.

For a man who treats people with extreme OCD, anxiety, agoraphobia, claustrophobia (and all the other exciting phobias), he has somewhat inexplicably decided to set up his consulting room on the top floor of a tall building - the only access to which is via the TINIEST, OLDEST ELEVATOR IN THE WORLD.  It's one of those ones that has a screechy cage door you have to pull closed after yourself, and all sorts of sinister, hand-made signs saying 'if this lift gets stuck, pull the red button out and press your floor again. If this doesn't work then pull this other lever etc etc '.

Uh, what do you mean 'if this doesn't work?' Why wouldn't it work? WTF? Is this Hypno-Joe's crazy idea of a JOKE?! Is it a test? Is he just some sort of sadistic bastard who wants to torment neurotic people? (Maybe he's a psychopath who is going to plant weird messages to burn things in my subconscious, or maybe he's a keen rapist with a fake certificate he made in Word on his wall...)

So after a *very* tense few minutes, I gingerly crawled out of the lift, choked down half a bottle of rescue-remedy and wiped my clammy palms down.

I'll have floor number 'sheer terror' please

Hypno-Joe was lovely (not a rapist), if a bit 'starey' (maybe that's part of the job description?) and he explained that we would need to chat for a few sessions before the really exciting stuff began.

He was fantastic actually - loads of really good insights, and funny to boot. When he asked if I might possibly, maybe, at certain points, might be a tiny-weeny bit of a control freak, I very patiently and calmly explained that it was actually QUITE a stressful job controlling the entire universe with my thoughts, and being CONSTANTLY VIGILANT and mentally preparing for all the infinite combinations of bad things that might happen, and that if that counted as being a control freak, then yes, perhaps I was. A little bit.

More about Hypno-Joe’s piercing insights and anxiety recommendations another day. (I need to do something to keep my poor, devoted mother reading, because if she stops following this blog, then where will I be?)
Tuesday, 6 March 2012

If I knew you were comin' I'd've baked a cake...

More lavender crack cake, vicar?

I think it was was Gandhi who said 'cake heals all wounds (apart from gangrenous and leprous ones)'.  Or was it Marcus Aurelius? Whoever it was, was a very clever man indeed, and definitely onto something.

I know some days are so full of anxiety monsters chomping at you that you can't think about chomping yourself, and your stomach feels like it's going to void itself all over your vintage velvet sofa. On those days the best thing to do is NOT FRET about the fact that you can't eat, and just sip at some smoothies or Complan or something. No harm will come to you, and your appetite will return. Honestly, the very worst thing you can do is start to freak out that you'll pass out and die (who moi? Catastrophise? Never!), or never be able to eat again (and slowly waste away and *then* die - you can see a recurring theme here if you look hard enough).

But on the days when you CAN eat, and you're just a wee bit maudlin, or blue, or depressed about your anxious mind, or just plain hungover - you need to march yourself down to your closest cafe, and EAT SOME CAKE and drink some spiffing British tea from the colonies. Preferably with a nice, left-wing, similarly prematurely-aged friend, but this is also a lovely solo pursuit too.

Yesterday I had a 'Lavender Victoria Sponge' (see pic above. I thought consuming a cake's-worth of lavender might be just as good as sniffing it), and I promptly fell into the peaceful, post-orgasmic, post-saturated fat happy state I like to call 'cake bliss'. My boyfriend loves cake bliss time, as this is when my most ardent declarations of love come, and when I am least likely to veto any plans he wants to run by me (but there's no mistaking the fear in his eyes - he knows he's living on borrowed time, and that cake bliss wears off just as surely as a bellyful of MDMA).

Take-home message: marzipan is medicine *or* don't cry - have some pecan pie.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

We're gonna spit in the face of these badlands...

'You wake up in the night with a fear so real...'

As a special weekend treat, I am going to reveal two exciting and seemingly contradictory facts about myself, and they are going to blow your mind. Oh yes.

1) I am 27 years old. 
2)I love Bruce Springsteen.

People who don't like Bruce Springsteen are a) stupid (obviously) b) too lazy to listen to his shit properly c) trying way too hard to be cool.

I've spent quite a lot of my pub life trying to convert people to the Boss side, and I have mostly been successful. Even my boyfriend, who likes lame-ass hip-hop.

The reason I want you to spend some time with Bruce, is because his music is the most uplifting, kick-ass, HOPEFUL, beautiful, powerful, get-out-of-this-shitsville-and-find-something-better stuff in the world.

So when you're having a tough time, and you've been having ten panic attacks a day and you're wondering if it will ever end, and how, and when, I want you to watch this. Then I want you to go and buy his live boxset (1975-85) from your local music emporium, clench your fists, and get your Bruce on.

PS. I don't want to go all EMO on you, but you really need to listen to the lyrics.
PPS. Try to ignore the red-head on the guitar. That's the mistake Bruce made when he married someone who wasn't me. 
Friday, 2 March 2012

Anxiety hero trading cards #1

You are a lucky, lucky anxious person, because from now on, every week I will bring you some highly collectable anxiety hero trading cards. Here you will find some of the world's most brilliant and amazing neurotics and nail-biters, and you will begin to see (yes you will) what a wonderful bunch of creative, incredible and fan-freaking-tastic people we worriers are. 

                                     # 1 Woody Allen

'Early in life I was visited by the bluebird of anxiety...'

Vital anxiety statistics: What isn't Woody anxious about? The godfather of neurotics, Woody's phobias reportedly include (but are not limited to) insects, sunshine, dogs, deer, bright colours, children (hmm, I know what you're thinking, but don't go there), heights, small rooms, crowds, cancer, and every place except Manhattan.

Career highlights: Manhattan, Annie Hall

Why he's an AWESOME anxiety hero: I hope I don't have to explain this to you.

What you can learn from him: Anxiety is FUNNY. Yes, panic attacks are one of the most horrendous experiences anyone can go through, but they are also pretty hilarious if you look at them properly. It is so easy to take yourself too seriously in this game, but finding all this stuff funny is one of the best things you can do for anxiety. Promise.

Best anxiety quote: 'I don't like to go into elevators. I don't go through tunnels. I like the drain in the shower to be in the corner and not in the middle.'

Further reading/viewing: Get stuck in with the films, and let yourself fall down the Woody-worry-wormhole. Perhaps also have a copy of his 'Essential Prose' on your bedside table too.

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