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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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!'


Isabelle Nuts said...

Hello, have read your blog from cover to cover, and have really enjoyed it. I understand what you are saying about knowing that what you are imagining is not the same as stopping what you are imagining, I too suffer from intrusive self loathing thoughts. However, refering back to your medication post, have any of those you have mentioned ever helped with this? I take pretty much the same as you, and have never found that they make the blindest bit of difference! Much love A x

Anonymous said...

I have learned to stop imagining scary and awful things - it is possible! But I've yet to master imagining good things, hopefully that's the next step. Are you good at this Viv? If so, a column with tips would be very welcome!

Edie P said...

I've heard this school of thought before - but as usual with your posts, never as humorously and enjoyably expressed as when you tell it. Is there any research out there to back up this theory? If so, could you direct me to it please?

Sheryn Wilson said...

I am a new reader of your blog and i LOVE it..

Anonymous said...

I love your blog! I've gone back and read quite a few posts, and I wanted to ask are you on Lorazepam long term? I take them every now and then because I do find it helps to calm me down, but like you I don't want to end up addicted!!

Vivre Sa Vie said...

Hi Isabelle - thanks so much for your lovely comments, and welcome!

Of all the medications I've tried for anxiety, Lyrica (Pregabalin) is the one I can really point to that made a significant difference for me, but everyone responds to these drugs in their own ways, so you must try and see what works for you personally. From everything I've read, you need to do an awful lot of shopping around until you find the right combination of drugs that work for you. I'm not sure I've found my holy grail either, so I'm still in the process of chopping and changing to see what works and what doesn't.

Also, Lorazepam and other benzos are incredibly and stunningly effective, but obviously can't be used as a long-term treatment, only for blips and occasional bouts etc.

Looking forward to chatting with you more on here!

V x

Vivre Sa Vie said...

Hi Anonymous - you're doing much better than me on that front then!! I'm absolutely TERRIBLE at preventing my mind from lurching down morbid paths, and am woefully glass half-empty when I'm anxious.

You'll need to give me some tips instead! I'll definitely give this some thought though...


Vivre Sa Vie said...

Aw, Edie (amazing name) thanks so much for your kind words - I really appreciate it!

I first read about Cognitive Fusion in 'The Worry Trap', but not actually sure what specific research it's based on. A quick Google doesn't really bring much up, but I think CF is the name the ACT therapists give it - I'm sure it must have another more generic name in the neuroscience world.

But it does seem to be borne out by common sense and experience - i.e. you have only to think about sex, and your body responds with all the hormonal and physical changes (pupils dilate, heart-rate increases...I won't mention them all to spare your blushes) it would if you were actually having sex. Your mind can clearly create huge bodily changes by veering this way or that. My boyfriend is a neuroscientist though, so I'm going to stop this wild speculation and ask him for some obscure neuro-waffly explanation that will shed light on it for us!

V x

Vivre Sa Vie said...

Sheryn - thanks so much! So thrilled it's working for you!

V x

Vivre Sa Vie said...

Hi Anonymous (mark II!),

I use Lorazepam very occasionally - obviously you know of its addictive potential if used long term. But I think it's an incredibly amazing and miraculous and wonderful thing to have when you are really, really suffering, or simply when you want to break a panic cycle, or desperately need to get some sleep etc.

I sometimes find if I have a few panic attacks, I start to get stuck in a horrible loop of fear and misery, so I'll take these for a couple of days to stop everything from escalating.

It is always difficult to know when exactly the right time is to take them, and if I'm honest, I always have a mental ransack and a soul-search right before I take one - mostly because my increased anxiety and panic means I start freaking out about becoming an addict/passing out and dying etc. The Americans seem to have a better attitude towards them, and don't beat themselves up for taking them, and treat them as medicine like any other. You have a splitting headache or migraine? You take codeine. Even though it's addictive long-term, you don't stress about it. But it's an emergency, you've got a migraine, and you wouldn't just take one for a mild headache etc, or take them every day etc. I think we should just think of benzos the same way.

Disclaimer: I am very much NOT a doctor, so please, please check all this stuff out with your GP first!!

V x

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