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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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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Anxiety hero trading card #6

#6 Samuel Beckett

'You're on earth. There's no cure for that.'

Vital anxiety statistics: Monsieur Beckett regularly suffered from palipations and strange feelings of suffocation, and had nocturnal panic attacks so severe that his elder brother had to sleep in the same bed to calm him.

Career highlights: I can't choose! Molloy perhaps. Watt. Murphy. Goddamn it, just read them all!

Why he's an AWESOME anxiety hero: I cannot uberemphasise this enough. Samuel Beckett is a genius and a maverick and a hero in all senses of the word. He hung out with Joyce. He wrote some of the best literature of the 20th century. He slept with Peggy Guggenheim. He was a courier with the French Resistance and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He risked his life for his Jewish friends, and smuggled his rations in to them when they were interred. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature and gave all the prize money away.

What you can learn from him: Fear, terror and existential anxiety can give rise to exceptional intelligence, humour and creativity. Panic attacks don't stop people from doing truly terrifying, brave, selfless things. Panic attacks don't make people gurning, pissy-panted scaredy-cats. Courage and fear can co-exist (I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating).

Best anxiety quote: Beckett described his attacks as 'sweats & shudders & panics & rages & rigors & heart burstings'. He also said... 'nothing is funnier than is the most comical thing in the world'. 

Further reading: Everything he wrote. And you can read my final year dissertation too, if you'd like. It's truly FASCINATING and insightful and enthralling and will help you with your anxiety-related insomnia.

I own this poster. Beckett + letterpress = literary nerdgasm.

Friday, 25 May 2012

It's getting hot in here...(don't take off all your clothes)

'Haunting terror' in a heatwave. Is this film about my life?

Some interesting things I learned today:

1. Apparently if you press your nose and say 'beep' when you're panicking that can interrupt the panic cycle and stop it in its tracks. Not sure if this just makes you feel so ridiculous that you can't take your panic seriously, or if it has some more thorough psychological evidence-base, but can't harm, can it?

2. I learned yet AGAIN why I should never read free papers that come on London trains. The headline story was about a tube carriage that got stuck underground last night in the most horrendous heat for THREE HOURS (yes, London is hardly hot above ground ever, but underneath it, where you don't want it to be, it's like the fiery furnace of hell). This is why I must carry more Lorazepam in my purse so that if that does happen to me, I can take a big handful and just curl up on the floor in the foetal position and rock back and forth in the grime and sweat and commuter tears.

3. In the same paper there was a story about how all these children had been maimed and injured falling out of windows in the last few days... because they'd been open due to the 'heatwave'  we've been having.

 People - this isn't news!! This is an absurd, insane scare-fest! No wonder anxiety is on the bloody rise - we're being scared out of our bloody wits by the idea that OPENING THE WINDOWS IN THE HEAT WILL KILL OUR INNOCENT CHILDREN! If you care about your offspring at all, clamp those windows down against the breeze, and usher the little critters back in the centre of the room where it's safe.

4. Apparently pulling faces at yourself in the mirror during panic can help too. For much the same reason as number one, I guess.

So if you happen to be on the London underground in the next few weeks, and you see a slightly red-faced, sweaty woman punching her nose, beeping, closing the miserable excuses for windows, and furiously pulling faces at herself in a mirror, you'll know who it is.

Yours, fretful and hot as always (but more so)

Viv x 


Monday, 21 May 2012

So, you're having the worst day of your life...?

I just thought I'd put together some emergency self-care steps for those days/nights when you really have been wrestling with the hideous dark panic demons, and you feel so anxious and bewildered you could chuck yourself under a truck. You can't do anything, you can't leave your house, you're having panic after panic, and you don't feel capable of even the tiniest thing. You're terrified, sleepless, and at your wit's end.

These are basic, emergency care steps that will help you back on the road to normality (and most of them were told me by my therapist when I was in crisis, so have official psych sanction).

1. If you have one, take a tranquiliser. Just take one now. Don't overthink it, just do it. This is an extreme and horrendous day - and they are specifically made for occasions like this. They will give you a small window of peace so you can collect yourself a bit, and give you a few hours away from fear, which will break the vicious cycle of fear-panic-more fear-more panic etc etc. You probably haven't slept very well, and these will give you space to do that as well (which you desperately need).

2. Drink a huge glass of water before you do anything else. You've probably been crying (which apparently dehydrates you more than you think), and dehydration makes anxiety (and everything) a lot worse.

3. Have a warm shower, rub yourself down with some nice lavender moisturiser, and get into some fresh, clean, soft cotton clothes (pyjamas etc). These tiny things you would never normally notice can mean so much when you're at rock bottom. Sometimes the pleasure of clean skin and clothes is all you're going to get in a day.

4. If you can't eat, try and drink a Complan (Ensure) or a smoothie. Just get even half of it down. The body produces adrenalin when your blood sugar drops below a certain level, so getting anything down will make you feel so much less jittery.

5. (This one's courtesy of my Dad) Do something small that gives you a sense of control and mastery. It can be absolutely tiny - doing the crossword methodically is what I did when I was beside myself with terror. It's something to do, it's something you know you can do, but it's manageable.

6. If you're on your own, call someone - family or a good friend. If you're with someone, explain what's happening - don't be ashamed - and get yourself a big-ass hug.

7.  Do whatever you need to make you feel good, and don't censor yourself. Watch gentle comedies if you can sit still. Hug your favourite soft toy (and don't feel stupid about it). Read your favourite kids' book. Call your mum. Leave the light on if you're scared and you need to. Don't judge yourself for regressing a bit - you're at rock bottom and you need these things, but you won't always.

8. If you're at this stage, go for a little walk. Round the block is fine, to get a magazine from the newsagents is fine. Don't worry, you'll be travelling to amazing places soon, but for today, a walk round the block is all you can manage, and it's enough for now. If you can't - DON'T WORRY. You're not going to end up housebound - you are just looking after yourself indoors for a couple of days, and that is OKAY.

9. Know that THIS WILL PASS. I know exactly what this feels like, I've been there, but I also know that I'm not there now, and it passed. You have to hold on, you have to be patient, you have to grit your teeth and BEAR IT, just like you would have to bear some sort of physical pain.

10. Check out the anxiety heroes here, and remember how many brilliant, beautiful, brave people have suffered with anxiety and depression, and remember that you are not alone. You're amazing and courageous for dealing with this, and you will come out the other side stronger. YOU CAN DO IT!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

To be (anxious), or not to be (anxious)...

People with panic disorder LOVE it when you tell them there's no escape. It's their favourite thing.

I went to see a special arty, much-hyped mash-up of Hamlet the other night. It was in an abandoned warehouse way out of town, and I really didn't want to go. I didn't want to go for the obvious anxiety reasons: it would be too crowded, there would be no easy escape route (different town and I had to be driven back by someone else), and besides, it just sounded ridiculously creepy.

But my boyfriend convinced me all would be well, so I plucked up my cowardly lion 'noive' and went.

When we arrived in the middle of nowhere, in the industrial estate, in the pouring rain, we were given a laminated card that said the following:

1) Make sure you use the toilets before the production begins, because there will be absolutely no readmittance during the show.
2) If you have to leave for any reason, bear in mind it will be dark and disorienting, so find your way to an usher near an exit - they only will be identifiable by a reflective armband.
3) You will have to stand for 90 minutes.
4) There will be a loud bang during the production.

I'm not joking. It's as if they looked up the symptoms of panic disorder and agoraphobia and literally created an event specifically designed to cause maximum panic. 'So - just when you think your diarrhoea won't stay in any longer, a loud bang will occur, and you will lose your shit in the most literal sense. You will not find it easy to escape once said shit has erupted, because an exit won't be immediately visible, and you will need to beg a strange dark figure with an armband to do so'

Obviously I wanted to run away, but it was too late. I was in the bloody industrial estate. No escape.

Then we went into the main auditorium. Which was mirrored, all around, so once the doors had closed, it was impossible to see which one was the exit. Then all the lights went out, and they played ominous music, and projected Hamlet senior's death scene all over the walls.

I'm not ashamed to say that in my panic, I closed my eyes and mentally intoned 'naarrrrr schwaaaammmmmm' because I read it in some hippy book somewhere, and it was the first thing that occurred to me, and I was desperate. God, I was desperate. After a number of panty breaths and heart palpitations, I miraculously started to calm down a bit.

Anyway, long story short - the show was AMAZING, and I was so distracted by how bloody brilliant it was, I forgot all about the panic.

The moral (for you and me) is this:

1. The annoying thing about anxiety is that you've always got to push yourself further than feels comfortable, and do things you passionately don't want to do. But do them, and MOSTLY things are far, far better than you feared and imagined.
2. I had a really good two, and now I've forgotten it. Just focus on number one then - I think it's pretty good on its own.

PS. How did the writing everything down experiment go? Did anyone try it?

I'm not comparing panic attacks to Nazis. But. You know. They are a bit.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Drag your demons into the sunlight...

'SHUT UP!! No, I will NOT burn down their houses!'

Hi kids. Hope you're looking forward to a splendid weekend full of dandelions, gin and candy-floss - I know I certainly am.

The only thing is, I'm having glimmers of our old buddy the anxiety monster on the periphery of my vision, and it's worrying me just a wee bit.

I can trundle along for weeks or months feeling splendid, and then, every so often, I start to see these ominous black tendrils on the horizon. Like somebody's inky coattails just swooshed around the corner before I got in the room. It's as if there's nothing specifically wrong AT THIS VERY MOMENT, but I get a sinking, swooping feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my skin feels a bit crawly, and I start to feel a vague, undefined sense of creeping terror. As if there's some not very timorous beastie lurking somewhere around a corner up ahead, and I feel unsettled, and gloomy, and nervous, and unhelpable, and very, very alone. As if I'm wandering through a creaking, haunted house, and I haven't happened upon a ghost YET, but my bones and bowels know it's coming.

But hey, this is amazing (and genuinely unexpected, I have to say) - but I feel about ten times better for just writing that. Really. Honestly and truly. Literally, within seconds of having put that down. Bloody hell. That's amazing.

Maybe it's the power of summoning nightmares into the open, and revealing and naming them that takes the sting out their nasty little tails?

Oh God. I can't believe this. I didn't want to have to do this, guys, but I can feel it coming, and I'm powerless to stop it...

...It's like in the Harry Potter books (GARRR, I've done it - oh the shame!) when the kids have to confront the Boggarts. The demons turn into your worst, most feared thing, and have the power to really make you lose your shit.  BUT, if you call them on it, and pluck up your courage and imagine them in some ridiculous or silly situation, they dissolve immediately in a puff of smoke.

So maybe try this, as a weekend exercise (apologies for the sudden schoolmarmish twist): write down what you're afraid of. Put this nasty crap in words. Don't shy away from it, and see what happens. Maybe it will seem ridiculous when it's out, in black and white.

Let's name these bastarding Boggarts and get them in the anti-bacterial sunlight! Let's flush them out and scrape off the mould and festering cankers! Let's wash this shit right out of our hair! Let's have an exorcism, people!     


Thursday, 10 May 2012

An exciting journey through my medicine cabinet...

Me too!

I've got a very special treat for you guys today, so hold onto your pillboxes and lavender sachets...

 I thought I'd give you an quick run-down of the medication I take for anxiety - I'm really nosy and always want to know what other people take (and I assume you're like me), but also it's obviously also really crucial to get a sense of what works on the pharma front and what doesn't.

I think it's also important to be open and frank when discussing this kind of stuff - there should be no more stigma attached to the fact I take anti-depressants for this condition than if I was diabetic and had to have  regular insulin injections. Sadly, there is, but we can all do our bit by being OUT AND PROUD about pill popping for our condition, and not despising ourselves for having to do so.

1. Citalopram 20mg. An SSRI anti-depressant medication (Prozac is probably the most famous in this category). Mostly used for depression, but SSRIs are also very effective for anxiety and phobia related conditions.

Pros: For a lot of people these are the perfect solution - just that extra bit of serotonin is enough to tip them over into a calmer, happier place. But I've been on them for so long, I don't actually know if they work any more. I'm going to experiment with coming off them SLOWLY soon for the reasons below. Then we'll see if they were doing anything at all (eeek, the sword of anxious Damocles dangles above me )

Cons: There are tons, but all I've noticed in my case is their effect on...sexytime. People, they kill your libido. Like stone-cold DEAD. Mine is so decimated that RPatz could turn up at my house in a loincloth with a rose between his teeth, and there'd be nary a flicker in my loins. This is causing me no end of anxiety in itself, so I have to jump off the comfy serotonin cushion and see what happens. I'll obviously keep you updated on this experiment...

Amazingly, this is an actual ad from the 50s...

2. Pregabalin 100mg. A seizure and neuropathic pain medication that works on the brain's GABA receptors (weed works on the same brain bits apparently). They've only fairly recently worked out that this stuff is great for anxiety too, and it's now available on prescription for panic disorder and agoraphobia. Apparently doctors are reluctant to prescribe it because it costs a fortune, so you may have to visit a psychiatrist for a prescription first.

Pros: I found these amazingly effective and calming - much more so than SSRIs. I would highly, highly recommend these to anyone who is really suffering with generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder or agoraphobia.

Cons: Can make you feel a bit stoned and dizzy when you first go on them, but that quickly fades. Also, I put on a bit of weight on these, but as with all of this stuff, you have to weigh* it up . Would you rather be a skinny wreck sobbing into your soft toys and pleading with your  boyfriend to not leave the house, or the calm owner of a spare tyre? (You can tell which one I plumped* for...)

*They can also make you amazingly proficient at creating hilarious fat puns.

3. Lorazepam (Ativan) 1mg PRN . A Benzodiazepine tranquiliser. Valium (Diazepam) is the most famous in this category, but does absolutely nothing for me. These are absolute lifesavers, but are only to be taken sparingly. I take one as and when I need one, but try to keep them in reserve only for very bad panic attacks, as they have huge addictive potential. BUT this doesn't mean you can't take them almost every day for a couple of weeks in a massive crisis, so don't do what I did and freak out and sob and wail each time before you take one because you're afraid of turning into an addict and losing your job/home/family and ending up hooking for cash etc etc etc.

Pros: They are God's/Big Pharma's way of giving us respite when we're going through sheer hell, so don't be afraid to use these (or be intimidated away from them by incompetent doctors) on occasion. If you're worried, seek reassurance from a professional psychiatrist (not therapist or counsellor or doctor) who can explain the pros and cons more thoroughly to you.

Cons: They're very addictive, and are not a long-term, daily solution. But in the short term, they can give you the clarity and respite to seek a more sustainable long-term solution, and can help you to take big first steps (leaving the house, getting on a plane etc) toward recovery.

Hooray for tranquillisers - they bring us peace and enable us to hang out the washing without crying!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Anxiety bites...

'I vant to sark your adrenalin-filled blood...'

Hi guys. Hope all is good in your worlds. Sorry about the tardiness of this post - I've had a hectic week at work, and a jam-packed bank holiday weekend in London.

And I'm stressed! Might be the long week, might be the London mania, might be a million other things, but I have that nasty lump in my throat and and I feel overwhelmed. And as soon as that happens I start freaking out that I'm about to panic, or relapse, or get depressed, which makes things a hundred times worse. This is such a boringly predictable condition, and yet EVERY SINGLE TIME I fail to identify common patterns, and freak out anew about what's happening. It's like Groundhog Day, but less interesting (if that's possible).

In keeping with my recent regression to escapist teenagerdom, I've been watching the Twilight films (not quite obsessively, but approaching that sort of adolescent fervour). And oh my God, I'm not sure if that was a good idea - mental health-wise. I've been yearning NOT to be a successful 27 year-old London career woman, but a sulky 18 year old virgin who is fought over by a bad CGI teen-wolf and a waxy, glittery vampire, so my goals and dreams are obviously just a little off mark at the moment. I was literally watching cast interviews on Oprah on YouTube when I should have been doing work for a CHARITY- how shameful is that?!

I don't even have any brilliant advice. Just sharing my anxiety and general life-dissatisfaction with you because I'm GENEROUS like that. And in the vain hope that either you are not sunk as deep in regressive-anxious-Twilight-fever as me (in which case this will make you feel better about yourself), or you are, and this makes you feel you have an anxious twin (in which case you will feel less lonely, and thus better about yourself.) 

Eighties teenage wolf ...

 Noughties teenage wolf. My poor, deprived generation could never have even dreamed of this sort of lupine hotness. Kids these days don't even know they're born.

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